Advertisement

Compton Executioners deputy gang lied about guns and hosted inking parties, deputy says

A Compton station tattoo.
(Sweeney Firm / Glickman & Glickman)

At the Compton sheriff’s station, it’s called a ghost gun: a weapon a deputy says he spots on a suspect but that is never found when colleagues respond to the scene and search for it.

That’s because the call-out is based on a lie. The deputy didn’t actually see a gun, but his suspect could turn out to be armed and an arrest or recovered firearm could pad his reputation.

It’s the kind of behavior that plays out regularly at the station, according to a whistleblower who worked there for five years and recounted other sensational allegations in a recent deposition obtained by The Times in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

“In reality, they’ve never seen the gun,” L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Austreberto Gonzalez said under oath. “And then at the end when their containments are set up, you know, the gun is never recovered. You know, they’ll call it a day and say, ‘Thank you for rolling. We’re going to call it,’ and a gun was never recovered.”

Advertisement

Gonzalez says the scheme is employed in Compton by tattooed deputies who call themselves the Executioners, the clandestine gang many say runs the station.

His allegations add to a growing body of information about the Compton clique, one of several tattooed deputy groups within the Sheriff’s Department with names such as the Grim Reapers, Banditos and Jump Out Boys.

The Sheriff’s Department has been aware of the groups for decades but has struggled to crack down, despite repeated internal and independent investigations and instances in which members are accused of misconduct.

Gonzalez’s statements were introduced in an excessive-force lawsuit filed against the Sheriff’s Department by Sheldon Lockett. The judge hearing the case cited the evidence when tentatively deciding to advance the case for trial.

Advertisement

“Accepting the deputy’s testimony, there is evidence that the clique existed in Compton and that it routinely violated the rights of suspects,” Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh said in his ruling. “The testimony also establishes that the command staff at the station knew about it and not only did not stop it but it encouraged the behavior and placed its members in positions of authority where they could help other members.”

The Sheriff’s Department said the FBI is now involved in an investigation of the Executioners. Following The Times’ reporting, Compton officials issued formal requests to the state and federal attorney generals to investigate allegations of pervasive civil rights violations.

In his deposition, Gonzalez identified Miguel Vega, the Compton station deputy who killed 18-year-old Andres Guardado in a shooting in June that sparked weeks of protests, and his partner, Chris Hernandez, as prospective members of the Executioners. Their attorneys said Wednesday that those allegations are false.

“Deputy Vega does not have one single tattoo on his body, much less a deputy gang tattoo,” his attorney Adam Marangell said. “He doesn’t have one, nor does he plan on getting one.”

Advertisement

The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that it had not yet received the transcript of Gonzalez’s testimony. “Once we do, counsel will review and we can respond appropriately,” a spokesman said. County attorneys have argued that Gonzalez’s testimony about the Executioners was nothing more than speculation and conjecture, as he’s not in the group and has no personal knowledge about it.

Lockett alleges he was targeted by deputies “chasing ink” when he was beaten and falsely arrested for attempted murder in 2016, his attorneys said. He sued in 2018.

Deputies that day pulled up to Lockett outside his godmother’s home and jumped out of their car with their guns drawn because they said he matched the description of a shooting suspect. Lockett froze, then ran. The deputies, Samuel Aldama and Mizrain Orrego, radioed that Lockett had a gun, which he says was a lie. No gun was found.

They chased him until they found him hiding in a backyard, where Lockett says he surrendered. Even so, he says, Aldama punched him in the head five times while using the N-word. He alleged that one of the deputies rammed the end of a police baton into his eye socket, which caused permanent damage, and that he was kicked in the back of the head. The county has denied the allegations.

Advertisement

Lockett was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and other gun charges and spent eight months in jail. In August, prosecutors dropped charges because of insufficient evidence and after a witness testified that she was mistaken when she identified him, according to a district attorney’s office spokeswoman.

After the arrest, Lockett’s mother filed a complaint to the Sheriff’s Department.

“They did nothing,” Lockett’s attorney John Sweeney said during a hearing this week. Instead, he says, they served a search warrant on her home in retaliation. Several months after Lockett’s arrest and three weeks after charges were dropped, Aldama and Orrego shot at and killed Donta Taylor, 31, during a foot chase. Deputies said Taylor had a handgun, but no weapon was found.

“Had that been investigated ... Donta Taylor would still be alive,” Sweeney said. “This was nothing more than a sport kill and an attempt to getting into this gang. And instead of being prosecuted, what happened? There were inking parties and celebrations.”

Advertisement

Aldama admitted under oath to having a tattoo on his calf depicting a skull with a rifle and a military-style helmet emerging from flames. The letters “CPT,” for Compton, appear on the helmet. Aldama said he was one of as many as 20 deputies selected to get the same tattoo after “working hard” by making arrests and answering calls. He denied being part of a club.

L.A. County settled a lawsuit brought by Taylor’s family for $7 million. Deputies with alleged ties to these cliques, which are accused of using violent and aggressive tactics similar to those of criminal street gangs, have cost taxpayers $55 million in settlements and payouts in incidents that date to the 1990s, according to county records obtained by The Times.

Walsh said three Compton deputies, including Aldama and Orrego, have denied in other court proceedings that they were part of a clique and attributed their matching tattoos to “serendipity.”

The depositions of those three deputies are under seal, but Lockett’s attorney Steven Glickman argued during a court hearing Thursday that their tattoos are numbered. In their depositions, Glickman said Aldama testified that his tattoo’s No. 38 was a nod to his first gun; Orrego’s said his tattoo, which was covered up, was never numbered and he got it in solidarity with Aldama, his friend who had cancer; and Deputy Rogelio Benzor’s tattoo has a No. 40, which he explained as a reference to his retirement in 2040.

Advertisement

The county had argued that Lockett’s attorneys failed to produce evidence that there was a clique and show that the county knew about it.

“Obviously, these rogue officers are not going to simply admit that they had formed an unlawful group bent on assaulting minorities,” the judge wrote. “And, presumably, the clique would not be issuing membership cards, or taking minutes at membership meetings, or doing anything else that normal, lawful organizations do. Thus, it would seem impossible for a plaintiff to find tangible evidence to prove that the officers were lying when they denied the existence of their group.”

Just last week, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he was moving to discipline 26 employees with firings or suspensions for their roles in a fight at an off-duty East L.A. station party at Kennedy Hall, a nearby event space, where deputies say they were attacked by inked members of the Banditos, who allegedly wielded power at the station. But he denied that gangs exist within the Sheriff’s Department.

“There is zero evidence of three or more deputies engaged in criminal activity with a unifying symbol whose primary purpose is to commit crime,” Villanueva said.

Advertisement

Two deputies who said they were assaulted and knocked unconscious are among those facing discipline for policy violations that include failing to report the Kennedy Hall incident to superiors, their attorney Vincent Miller said.

“My guys are in trouble for not reporting the Banditos to the Banditos,” Miller said, adding that his clients did report the incident right away to a lieutenant they trusted.

Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the deputies who Miller says attacked his clients. But an administrative investigation found that some employees at the East L.A. station were acting as so-called shot callers, controlling scheduling and events at the station, Cmdr. April Tardy said, using a term often used to describe top leaders in prisons and gangs.

In Compton, the Executioners ruled the station using a similar structure, Gonzalez testified. About 15 to 20 deputies are Executioners, he said, and at least a handful more are prospective members who are “chasing ink.” He said “it’s the word out” that only two deputies are inked each year — women and Black people aren’t allowed. A vast majority of members and prospects, he said, have been involved in high-profile shootings or beatings.

Advertisement

After a shooting, members will have a party at a bar and call it a “998 debrief,” referencing the code for a deputy-involved shooting. Some say it’s to celebrate that a deputy survived, he said. But often, Gonzalez said, after the party, the deputy and his partner will get inked. Gonzalez said he’d never been invited to nor attended one.

“I think it is some type of reward,” Gonzalez testified. He added later: “So we call it ‘ink chasers’ because they’re out there trying to show the rest of the members, the rest of the inked members that, you know, they’re worthy of that tattoo.”

Gonzalez, 42, joined the department as a deputy in 2008. He was investigated by Los Angeles police in 2012 on an allegation of sexual misconduct. The district attorney’s office declined to file charges. He said in his deposition that he was relieved of duty for the off-duty incident but that the allegation was unfounded and he was not disciplined.

Gonzalez’s attorney Alan Romero said that disclosing the allegation about his client “is totally irrelevant to the heroism of his coming forward to protect the public, and only serves to deter and frighten future whistleblowers from coming forward.”

Advertisement

“The L.A. Times would be sending a clear message: If you want to blow the whistle on public corruption, be warned that we will dig into your history and disclose any false allegations that [were] ever made against you.”

Gonzalez said in the deposition that Jaime Juarez, a deputy he identified as the Executioners’ shot caller, carried out a work slowdown last year when the acting captain refused to install a member as scheduling deputy. The powerful position, which Juarez had previously held, controls scheduling, days off and overtime, Gonzalez said.

“There was nobody being arrested. Very minimal arrests were being done at that time,” Gonzalez said of the work slowdown. “We have a booking line. We would hardly ever see a unit in the booking line with, you know — you know, with suspects in their back seats. It was so obvious that, you know, we all noticed that.”

The Times has requested arrest records from the Compton station to determine whether such a slowdown occurred. Juarez did not respond to a request for comment. Elizabeth Gibbons, an attorney representing Juarez, denied the allegations against him on Friday but declined to comment further, citing the ongoing Sheriff’s Department investigation.

Advertisement

In 2017, Gonzalez said, the Compton station captain at the time had turned to that deputy to boost arrest statistics after the captain was reprimanded for low numbers at the station. Monthly arrests per deputy more than doubled and that captain was eventually promoted, he said.

Gonzalez testified that he faced blowback earlier this year after anonymously reporting an Executioner to the Internal Affairs Bureau for assaulting a fellow deputy. After Gonzalez made his report, graffiti appeared at the station calling him a rat. He was warned by another deputy to be careful.

“They know it was you,” Gonzalez recalled being told. He filed a legal claim against the county in June alleging retaliation.

One deputy told Gonzalez he didn’t want to partner with him out of fear of getting “screwed with,” he said.

Advertisement

Gonzalez testified that he feared for his safety from the clique.

“I think that I now call them a gang because that’s what gangs do. They beat up other people,” he said. " I call that a gang. Their focus is not the station, their focus is not the department, and their focus is not their job. Their focus is their group.”


Advertisement