The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to calculate the total cost of allegations against members of sheriff’s deputy cliques or gangs over the last three decades.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl asked for a chronological list of all legal claims and settlements dating back to 1990 related to secret societies of deputies accused of violence against jail inmates and harassing fellow deputies.
The motion also calls for an evaluation of “corrective action plans” put in place to try and fix root causes.
“Deputy gangs have cost the county many millions of dollars in claims and settlements, and have fostered a climate of inhumane treatment of inmates and civilians,” Kuehl said. “This motion will give us a much-needed assessment of the county’s past liability, and assess the effectiveness of previous corrective action plans, so that we can sharpen our focus as we strive to eliminate dangerous cliques from the Sheriff’s Department.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion, said it was about more than money.
“It can be very costly to the county but, more importantly, to the people who are looking to be protected,” Solis said.
There have been complaints for years about cliques or gangs within the Sheriff’s Department — one called the “Little Devils” was active as far back as 1971 — and a watchdog panel called for their elimination in 1992.
The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence reported in 2011 that cliques at the Men’s Central Jail were “highly resistant to supervision, committed acts of open insubordination, and sought to intimidate, bully and undermine supervisors whose policies they did not like.”
Members of the secret groups are often identified by tattoos, but Supervisor Kathryn Barger said some deputies get a tattoo as a badge of pride in the station they represent, comparing it to a Marine Corps enblem.
“My concern is trying to dictate or micro-manage those that are getting tattoos that have no correlation to a gang,” Barger said.
Kuehl said the board wouldn’t be dictating rules about tattoos, but replied that it should be easy to discern when everyone in a station has a particular tattoo versus a selective group of deputies who may have to “earn” a tattoo by committing an act of violence.
A report is expected back in 90 days, though it’s not entirely clear how the board might act on it.
“We kind of need to know just how high this price tag is for the taxpayers,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said.
The move comes a week after the watchdog panel that oversees the department asked the county’s inspector general to conduct an inquiry into secret deputy cliques.
That review will focus on “why, how and to what end personnel join these groups” and whether members violate department policy or the law, according to Civilian Oversight Commission Executive Director Brian Williams.
The Board of Supervisors voted in March to have the Office of Inspector General and the COC study the cliques, prompted by legal claims filed by a group of young Latino deputies from the sheriff’s East L.A. Station who say they were terrorized and assaulted by members of the “Banditos.”
Sheriff Alex Villanueva told the board then that an investigation was underway and the results would ultimately be presented to the District Attorney’s Office for review.
Villaneuva has said he will cooperate with any review and said he takes the issue seriously, pointing to changes in leadership he made at the East L.A. Station shortly after taking office. But he drew criticism from the COC for calling the behavior “hazing run amok.”
Commissioner Lael Rubin, a former deputy district attorney, said last week that the accusations go “far beyond hazing and a generational thing … this sheriff, at least for now, appears to be taking this subject lightly.”
The county board has been wrangling with Villanueva over other issues, including his reinstatement of deputies previously terminated for misconduct. The county has filed to seek a legal injunction against the reinstatement of Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan, who was accused of domestic violence.