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Sheriff’s Department flouts county request for info on alleged deputy gang, report says

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has failed to answer questions about its investigation into a recently uncovered deputy gang, according to oversight officials, flouting a request from local leaders earlier this year.

In a short but scathing report issued Thursday, Inspector General Max Huntsman said the department’s handling of the Industry Station Indians probe created only the “outward appearance” of a crackdown on the controversial groups. He suggested the Board of Supervisors consider bolder steps — including a possible subpoena.

“My hope is that the Sheriff’s Department, upon serious consideration and consultation, will begin to reverse their support of deputy gangs,” Huntsman wrote, “and meaningfully address the systemic factors which allow them.”

In an emailed statement Friday, sheriff’s officials pushed back, saying it was “inaccurate” to suggest the department supports the tattooed groups.

“Sheriff [Robert] Luna has made it clear that such groups are not acceptable and that they violate the law,” the statement said, adding that the sheriff has ordered a “full investigation” into the Industry group.

“The Department does not support, condone, or otherwise accept the presence of any individual associated with a deputy gang,” the statement continued. “Such accusations are highly detrimental to the current efforts of the department to address this long-standing issue.”

The latest developments come amid intensifying scrutiny over the department’s attempts — and failures — to rein in deputy gangs. This year the Civilian Oversight Commission heard sworn testimony from both the former sheriff and the former undersheriff during a pair of hearings about the tattooed groups. And last month, a set of harsh reports from the Office of Inspector General identified major gaps in the department’s efforts to investigate them.

“Despite a new California law aimed at addressing law enforcement gangs, and a new administration,” oversight officials wrote, “the Sheriff’s Department has, to date, never undertaken an investigation aimed at identifying every member of any subgroup.”

For decades, the department has been plagued by allegations about gangs of deputies with matching tattoos running roughshod over certain stations and promoting a culture of violence. The inked cliques and their alleged misconduct have spawned academic reports, an FBI probe and a steady stream of lawsuits that have cost taxpayers more than $55 million.

In February 2023 — two months after taking office — Luna vowed to “eradicate all deputy gangs” in the department. Less than a year later, evidence emerged about the existence of a previously unreported group based at the City of Industry Sheriff’s Station. A Times investigation revealed in January that four deputies there were fired after one allegedly brandished a gun and another was accused of punching a teen in the face during a boozy confrontation outside a Montclair bowling alley.

Two of the fired deputies allegedly admitted to having matching Indians tattoos, and sources told The Times the inked lawmen were let go for violating the department’s anti-gang policy. All four of the fired deputies later appealed their punishments to the county’s Civil Service Commission, according to a county source who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Days after The Times published its investigation, county supervisors approved a motion asking the sheriff to compile a report with answers to more than a dozen questions, including when the group had formed and what alleged misconduct it has been linked to.

That report was due in February — but when the department finally submitted it in early March, oversight officials said it was woefully incomplete and “inexplicably” cited irrelevant laws to justify refusing to turn over more detailed information.

The Board of Supervisors’ motion had called for the Sheriff’s Department to send its report to the Civilian Oversight Commission’s ad hoc committee on deputy gangs. That arrangement would allow the department to keep sensitive information confidential, because ad hoc committees are not required to make all their documents public.

Despite that shield of secrecy, according to Huntsman, the Sheriff’s Department’s March 4 response letter “did not comply” with the board’s request. According to Huntsman, the letter — which has not been released publicly — wrongly implied that by uncovering the Industry group’s existence and disciplining two suspected members, officials had completed a “well-conducted investigation” and that “appropriate action was taken” afterward.

“Neither is the case,” Huntsman wrote in the report released this week. He said that, by failing to identify other suspected members of the group, it’s impossible to know what other acts they’ve engaged in or to tell whether they discriminate in a way that violates the state’s anti-gang law.

Without doing that, Huntsman wrote, the investigation gives only the “outward appearance” of reining in gang activity while “minimizing the chances” the firings will be upheld in court or will “actually impact the alleged gang.”

As Huntsman pointed out, that’s what happened three years ago when several alleged members of the Jump-Out Boys won back their jobs after the department “took isolated action in a deputy gang case without properly investigating.”

This time around, Huntsman suggested department officials meet with county lawyers “to determine whether they truly wish not to respond” to the supervisors’ questions.

It’s not clear whether that would change anything, though. Sheriff’s officials on Friday told The Times the department had already “obtained advice regarding its authority to disclose such material” and determined it could not, “absent legal authority.” The statement did not specify the source of that advice, but said the department “has been actively engaged in identifying a legal remedy.” It was not immediately clear whether the department planned to consult further with county lawyers as per Huntsman’s suggestion.

“Should such a consultation prove ineffective,” Huntsman added in his letter, “I recommend the Board direct the delivery of the records or issue a subpoena.”

If that doesn’t work and the department still refuses to comply, he added, the board should sue.

In an emailed statement Friday afternoon, Supervisor Hilda Solis — who authored the motion — urged the Sheriff’s Department to act, but did not specify whether she would support issuing a subpoena or entering litigation.

“When I first learned of the existence of the Industry Indians, I immediately issued a motion to direct LASD and our oversight entities to investigate,” she wrote. “After reading the OIG’s report back that was issued yesterday, I too strongly encourage the Sheriff’s Department take the necessary steps and actions to eradicate the deputy gang culture that continues to thrive in the department.”

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