After seven years of guarding inmates in Los Angeles County jails, Sheriff's Deputy Guadalupe Lopez was transferred to the East L.A. Station to continue her career working in patrol. It was there, she says in a lawsuit filed this week, that she encountered a rogue group of deputies called the "Banditos."
The Banditos, she says, sport matching tattoos and try to coerce female deputy patrol trainees like her into performing sexual favors.
In the 19-page lawsuit, Lopez contends that she was assigned a training officer who was known as the "Godfather" and was a leader of the group. When she refused to comply with the clique's "traditions and initiation rituals" she was ostracized, threatened and harassed.
Interim Sheriff John L. Scott said in a statement released Friday that elements of Lopez's complaint had been investigated by the department two years ago and resulted in "appropriate administrative action for several employees." He said Lopez's suit contains new allegations that she had not previously reported to department officials.
"In fairness to all parties involved, the Sheriff's Department will reserve any formal comment of this case while we conduct a thorough investigation for the new claims alleged," Scott said without elaborating. "As Sheriff, I am concerned about the negative perception of monikers, tattoos, or any form of hazing."
The department has had trouble with unsanctioned deputy cliques in the past. Last year, as part of an ongoing probe into allegations of inmate abuse at county jails, federal prosecutors requested the department turn over information it had regarding deputy cliques, including the Banditos.
According to Lopez's lawsuit, which was first reported by NBC News, the group consists of about 80 deputies. Its members have tattoos of a skeleton with a sombrero, bandoleer and pistol. Deputies who want to get into the group are called "prospects" or "puppies."
The group is known for wanting to "exert control over the East L.A. station, its deputies and operations," Lopez's suit alleges. Members of the group are supposed to have an easier career ladder to climb, the suit contends.
Lopez, a 10-year veteran who started working at the station in 2011, alleges a Bandito associate body-checked her into a wall while she was carrying a loaded shotgun. Two months later, another deputy ran her patrol car off the road and later that year, her car's tires were slashed. In April 2013, the suit alleges, a dead rat was left under the driver's-side door of her car.
The harassment was so severe that Lopez went on stress-related leave, the suit says. She's been working at the Century Station since last summer.
"She was treated like cattle, like property," said Lopez's attorney, Gregory Smith. "The only way to characterize it is as a gang or clique."