A sheriff's cruiser
A sheriff’s cruiser. Courtesy LASD

A group of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies Thursday filed legal claims against the county, saying they are the victims of a “Banditos” gang of deputies who work for the department and terrorize young, Latino deputies working in East L.A.

“The hostile environment at the police station has led to the deputies fearing their fellow officers more than the criminals in the street,” said Vincent Miller, an attorney representing the claimants.

The gang of deputies call themselves the “Banditos,” according to the claims, which say that the county failed to rid the department of the gang and to discipline the gang members, who all have matching tattoos of a skeleton with a sombrero, bandoleer and pistol. The Banditos have been the focus of previous lawsuits and media reports, as has the decades-long issue of secretive gangs or cliques of deputies in the department.

The sheriff’s department did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the claims, which were brought by five young deputies and two veterans, department leaders failed to discipline members of the Banditos, and encouraged its members to retaliate against deputies.

The claims further allege that the Banditos exert power over the deputies on the beat in a manner similar to prisoners running a prison yard, and target young Latino deputies, overloading them with calls and not providing back up on dangerous calls in the field when back up is required.

According to the claims, just prior to being elected the new sheriff, Sheriff Alex Villanueva attended a department party on September 28, 2018, where several purported Banditos gang members assaulted young Latino officers while several deputies watched and didn’t intervene as one of the young deputies was nearly strangled, choked and punched in the face by the gang.

Another young officer also was attacked by the gang and assaulted, according to the claims.

Four of the purported Banditos members were placed on leave after the incident and are under criminal investigation, according to the claims, which also state the Banditos have continued to retaliate against the young officers, including by secretly emptying out the bullets from one of the officers’ guns in an effort to set him up to be killed outside in the field.

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