Sheriff Jim McDonnell insisted Friday the department is continuing to investigate a fatal deputy-involved shooting that has led to allegations of a secret society of tattooed deputies within the agency’s Compton station, and any wrongdoing the probe discovers will be punished.
“My expectations are very clear as to employee behavior and performance,” McDonnell said in a statement, adding that the tattoo uncovered during a deposition in a pending wrongful-death lawsuit “is a cause for concern but does not in any way” reflect the culture within the sheriff’s department.
McDonnell wrote on his Twitter page Friday afternoon that the department is continuing to investigate the shooting that prompted the lawsuit, and any details that emerge from that probe — such as the tattoo — will be included in that investigation.
“I want to be clear this incident HAS been under investigation since it occurred,” McDonnell wrote. “As (with) any investigation, any new evidence or info that may be uncovered will be included & reviewed. If our investigation finds any evidence of misconduct, appropriate action will be taken. #LASDTattoo”
The latest revelations, detailed this week by the Los Angeles Times, center on a deposition given in May by Deputy Samuel Aldama, who described under oath a tattoo on his calf featuring a skull in a military-style helmet bearing the letters CPT for Compton, along with a rifle, encircled by flames. He said he got the tattoo in June 2016, about two months before he was involved in the fatal shooting of Donta Taylor, The Times reported.
At a Friday news conference, attorney John Sweeney, who represents Taylor’s family, played for reporters a portion of Aldama’s videotaped deposition. At one point, Aldama is asked if he has any “ill feelings toward African Americans in general.” After a long pause, Aldama responds, “I do, sir,” explaining, “I grew up in the city of Compton, sir.”
“I’ve never heard testimony like that before in my life, and it was bone-chilling that I was sitting across the table from a person who has a badge and a gun,” Sweeney said.
McDonnell told The Times that for the last year, the department has been examining deputy tattoos, logos and symbolism within the organization. He said there is also a separate administrative investigation into the shooting, which may address the deputy’s admissions.
“I’m not somebody from a generation where tattoos are accepted the way they are today,” said McDonnell, who said he was unhappy when he found out a couple weeks ago about the deputy’s admissions under oath, The Times reported. “I’m looking at what’s behind it. Is it just body art? Is it something that reflects well on our core values?”
The department has a history of clandestine groups with names like the Regulators, Grim Reapers and Jump Out Boys that have been accused of promoting highly aggressive tactics and perpetuating a code of silence among members. Nearly 30 years ago, a federal judge said the Vikings club was a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang,” The Times reported.
Sweeney said Friday he was putting up billboards featuring Aldama’s picture to identify other people who may have been mistreated by the deputy in any way. He said tattoos like the one sported by Aldama and 10 to 20 other deputies is indicative of a gang-like culture.
“They say that you earn your ink when you get these tattoos, and you earn them by doing violent acts,” he said.