Lawmakers Call for Investigation Into 'Violent Contingent' of LA Deputies

Some members of Congress are calling for an investigation into allegations that some deputies in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) belong to groups that follow white supremacist ideologies.

The request from members of the Committee on Oversight and Reform came after a wrongful death lawsuit was filed Tuesday against the county by the family of Andres Guardado, who was killed by an LASD deputy in June. In the lawsuit, it was alleged that the deputies involved in Guardado's shooting were potentially affiliated with rogue groups within the department.

In the letter, the Department of Justice was asked to "investigate the actions of a violent contingent of deputies" within the LASD that "adhere to white supremacist ideologies, belong to 'criminal gangs,' and engage in an 'aggressive style of policing' motivated by racism."

"The allegations of abusive behavior by these criminal gangs within the LASD are deeply disturbing," the letter said. "If true, they represent egregious violations of the civil rights of the residents of the communities subjected to their violence and to the deputies who oppose these heinous practices."

Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform California Congressman Jimmy Gomez signed the letter. Eric S. Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, was listed as the recipient of the letter.

In a statement sent to Newsweek on Thursday, the LASD referred to the content of the letter as "filled with unsubstantiated allegations, hearsay, and inflammatory rhetoric."

"Soon after being sworn into office, Sheriff Alex Villanueva began the process of implementing a policy to sternly address these issues," the LASD said. "We take these allegations very seriously and a policy specifically addressing misconduct by illicit groups, deputy cliques, and subgroups has been briefed to the entire department and is being vigorously enforced by unit commanders. The Department is taking aggressive action in disciplining those employees that use their association in cliques to engage in misconduct against others, inside or outside the organization."

alex villanueve. los angeles
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in August he would "not tolerate" rogue groups of deputies within the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Mario Tama/Getty

According to the statement, the FBI and Attorney General had already been asked to "monitor certain investigations with the Department," meaning the request made by the Congressmen had already placed into motion.

Officers involved in Guardado's shooting were identified as LA County Deputies Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez. Guardado was working as a security guard at an auto shop. After Vega and Hernandez observed Guardado speaking to an individual in a vehicle that was blocking the business entrance, Guardado allegedly brandished a firearm at the deputies. After giving chase on foot down a driveway, Guardado allegedly put the gun down and lay face down. As officers approached Guardado to place in him in handcuffs, Guardado allegedly reached for the weapon. Vega then allegedly fired six shots from his sidearm, with five of those bullets striking Guardado in the back.

Vega and Hernandez were not equipped with body cameras. Surveillance footage from other businesses in the area was unavailable, according to investigators.

In August, Vega and Hernandez were described as prospective members of a gang called the Executioners in a deposition given by Deputy Austreberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez filed a claim against LA County claiming that the gang had taken control of the Compton, California division on the LASD. He also alleged that he had faced retaliation from members of the Executioners after instigating an internal investigation against another officer.

The Executioners allegedly bear tattoos such as skulls, weaponry and Nazi symbolism. Some deputies aspiring to join the gang are given new tattoos after prove their loyalty by "breaking the law or violating LASD protocol, often by committing acts of police brutality or being involved in a shooting," the letter said.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in an August press conference that cliques like the Executioners within the LASD would not be tolerated.

"We are holding our employees accountable to the rule of law and I will not tolerate any group of employees that mistreats any member of the community or any member of the department, period," Villanueva said.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice for comment.

Updated 9:59 p.m. EST 9/3/2020: This story has been updated with a statement from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.