The top watchdog for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has identified more than 40 alleged members of gang-like groups of deputies that operate out of two sheriff's stations.
In a letter dated Monday, Inspector General Max Huntsman said his office has compiled a partial list that includes 11 deputies who allegedly belong to the Banditos, which operate out of the East L.A. sheriff's station, and 30 alleged Executioners from the Compton sheriff's station.
He wrote that the list is based on information gleaned from investigations conducted by the Sheriff's Department. Huntsman did not name the deputies and said his office has identified additional possible members from other sources.
"LASD has never thoroughly investigated allegations of gang corruption, and this case is no exception," Huntsman told The Times.
In a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday, the Sheriff's Department said Huntsman's letter "failed to provide any actual evidence or new information" and noted that the agency has provided the inspector general with "all legally obtainable information requested."
"This is another irresponsible attempt from Mr. Huntsman to discredit the organization, through omission and misrepresentation," the department said. "The timing of this letter suggests Mr. Huntsman is using his public office and resources to campaign against the sheriff leading up to the June primaries."
The inspector general's new figures add to a growing body of information about the secretive groups, which have existed in the Sheriff's Department for decades. Members typically get matching tattoos and go by names such as the Grim Reapers and Jump Out Boys.
What has previously been known about the groups has often been stitched together from allegations and testimony in lawsuits.
In a retaliation lawsuit filed by a sheriff's lieutenant, a deputy associated with the Executioners testified last month that he had participated in deciding who could get a tattoo and had attended seven so-called inking parties.
County lawyers instructed the deputy not to answer questions about whether he has the Executioners’ tattoo, which is a skull with a rifle and a military-style helmet, surrounded by flames.
The Sheriff’s Department has long faced allegations that the groups run roughshod over several stations, controlling commanders and glorifying aggressive policing tactics.
Huntsman told The Times that about a third of the 41 deputies on his list admitted that they had tattoos or belonged to the groups; the rest were identified by other sworn personnel in statements to sheriff's investigators.
In his letter, Huntsman requests that the Sheriff's Department cooperate with his investigation into the groups by providing investigative files and other documents.
"The Sheriff's Department may not refuse to produce the records requested below by unilaterally declaring that no deputy sheriff is a member of a 'law enforcement gang,'" Huntsman wrote, adding that the Banditos and Executioners may fall within the state's definition of such a gang.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has downplayed the issue, saying problems associated with the groups are often the result of drunken deputies getting into fights and taking issue with those who refer to them as “deputy gangs.” Last month, Villanueva sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Board of Supervisors, demanding that they and others stop using the phrase.
But he has also taken credit for addressing the problem by instituting a policy that prohibits deputies from joining groups that promote behavior that violates the rights of others.
In response to questions from The Times earlier this month, Villanueva said the Sheriff's Department's investigation into the Compton Executioners led to two terminations and 13 transfers out of the station.
He said he did not know how many deputies were identified as having tattoos and said the name "Executioners" was coined by an attorney.
"It was never used on the department at all. No one had any knowledge of that name," Villanueva said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.