Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose tenure was largely defined by refusing to enforce local government’s vaccine mandates for deputies amid a soaring crime wave, deemed an oversight commission’s latest report on so-called “deputy gangs” just another “political hit job.”
Villanueva contends that a 70-page report by the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission, which comes several months after he stepped down in the wake of November’s election defeat, was meant as “character assassination” from defund-the-police supporters who are afraid he’ll pursue elected office again. The report found “deputy cliques,” which often devolve into “deputy gangs,” undermine the chain of command and operate as several active groups “engaged in harmful, dangerous, and often illegal, behavior.”
“They’re politically motivated. That’s all. They don’t care about the truth,” Villanueva told Fox News Digital about the commission in a phone interview this week. “It’s not just defund. . . . [T]hey want to discredit and they want to delegitimize law enforcement. What better way than to say, ‘Hey, they’re all a bunch of crooks’? That’s the implication when they’re trying to accuse people of being deputy gang members without a shred of evidence. Real evidence.”
Villanueva called on Special Counsel Bert Deixler, who led the county watchdog’s investigation, “to testify under oath about all the false information he provided.”
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“I’ve been speaking to that oversight commission since I took office, and they grew increasingly hostile to the sheriff’s department, and they lost any legitimacy, because it became a political arm of the Board of Supervisors like an attack dog,” Villanueva said Thursday. “And I participated with their ad hoc committee about the issue. We gave them all the information that we had.”
“They deliberately excluded anything that countered their false narrative. And that the whole thing was a farce from the very beginning,” Villanueva said, claiming he had volunteered to speak before the special counsel to offer counterarguments, but the commission allegedly refused. “They didn’t want anyone to cross-examine their alleged witnesses because their whole testimony would fall apart.”
Deixler’s probe asserted the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department under Villanueva “at minimum tolerated, if not rewarded” deputy gangs, including the Banditos, Executioners, Regulators, Spartans, Reapers, Rattlesnakes, Cowboys, Vikings, Wayside Whities, 3000 Boys, and 4000 Boys,” which operated at the “highest levels.”
“Some of these groups have engaged in acts of violence, threatened acts of violence, placed fellow Deputies at risk of physical harm, engaged in acts celebrating officer involved shootings, and created a climate of physical fear and professional retribution to those who would speak publicly about the misconduct of such groups,” the report says.
“Most troubling, they create rituals that valorize violence, such as recording all deputy involved shootings in an official book, celebrating with ‘shooting parties,’ and authorizing deputies who have shot a community member to add embellishments to their common gang tattoos,” it adds.
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Villanueva contends that the commission relied on anonymous witnesses whose allegations could not be corroborated and involved several cases thrown out of the court system for lack of evidence.
“Because the allegations are one thing. But if you’re doing your entire report on allegations, well, you have to show the evidence in court. And again and again, these cases get thrown out of court for lack of evidence,” Villanueva told Fox News Digital. “The oversight commission refuses to admit the simple fact. It was fake, designed to discredit the sheriff’s department and to discredit the profession of law enforcement. This is part of the Democratic Party agenda.”
While the Civilian Oversight Commission publicly put their faith in new Sheriff Robert Luna on eradicating “deputy gangs,” Villanueva told Fox News Digital that Luna’s own undersheriff, April Tardy, has a station tattoo herself, which she failed to acknowledge when she was interviewed by the oversight commission in a special hearing.
“She went on to say that these station groups were exclusionary. They did not allow women or people of color to participate. And she said it while she has her own station tattoo,” Villanueva said. “So she basically she lied under oath.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission told Fox News Digital it “stands by” the report, which “outlines decades of issues in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department related to deputy gangs, including the negative impacts on both the community it serves and those honorable deputies working in public service.”
“The Commission looks forward to partnering with the Sheriff’s Department to implement the recommendations to eradicate deputy gangs from the ranks. These gangs put a stain on all the positive work that is being done by honorable deputies each day.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told Fox News Digital, “Sheriff Luna was aware of her tattoo, and as Undersheriff Tardy has said, she was not in a Deputy gang. April Tardy was selected as the Undersheriff through a thorough and extensive process, and Sheriff Luna is proud of her work history and experience. He has full confidence in her.”
“More than 20 years ago, when I was assigned to the Temple Station, I got a small tattoo on my ankle that says ‘TEM V LASD’ to commemorate my service at that station,” Tardy said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “It has no Deputy gang affiliation, meaning or design. The roman number V is because Temple Station was the Department’s 5th station, when it opened in 1926. I’ve never been in a Deputy gang, and am committed to eradicating them from this Department.”
On Tuesday, Luna met with the leaders of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association to discuss the report and recommendations of the special counsel.
“I am pleased that our labor partners will work collaboratively with us to ensure 21st Century policing principles are the cornerstone of our work, that we protect public safety and enhance public trust, and that we protect the due process rights of our employees,” Luna said.
Villanueva pointed to a California State University, Los Angeles, study finalized in November, just a little too late for the election, which found no correlation between deputy tattoos and misconduct.
The research, titled “Trends in Deputy Misconduct: A Reflection on 2012-2022,” posed questions to station captains or watch commanders regarding the topic of “deputy subgroups.”
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“Station tattoos have long been a tradition among sworn personnel, like that of military branches or units who wear tattoos as a symbol of pride, and to commemorate a point in time,” the study found. “While conducting interviews in the field, the researchers observed station insignia on the walls, which often reflected attributes of the communities they serve, or other identifying characteristics.”
“Participants were asked to discuss the correlation between tattoos and misconduct, if any, as well as potential impacts that declining to receive a tattoo would have on station operations. Among participants who spoke on this relationship, all remarked that the presence or absence of a tattoo does not impact the level of support of respect for the individual,” the report says. “One participant declined to receive a station tattoo many years prior but stated that it made no difference in terms of station dynamics, nor did they feel excluded as a result.”
The Cal State LA study further discovered, “Finally, one hundred percent of interview participants felt there was a false correlation drawn between the presence of tattoos, and the occurrence of misconduct. Misconduct is an individual behavior and occurs independent of tattoo status. Rather, cases involving the presence of a tattoo and allegations of misconduct are coincidental.”
The findings were determined by analyzing data linked to public complaints over a 10-year timeframe as well as misconduct reported from an internal source or external agency, conducting a qualitative assessment of 100 randomly selected Internal Affairs Bureau summaries from eight of 24 substations, and through individual interviews with station captains or watch commanders.
The report says that 21 of 24 stations participated, resulting in a response rate of 87.5%. It also involved a review of relevant policies, resources and budgeting.
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