Congressional panel again asks for probe into L.A. County deputy ‘gangs’

A row of L.A. County sheriff's deputies
A congressional subcommittee has again asked the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of systemic abuses by “criminal gangs” within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A congressional subcommittee has requested for a second time that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate allegations of systemic abuses by “criminal gangs” of deputies within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that celebrate shootings and retaliate against whistleblowers.

“The failure to address these deputy gangs not only undermines the safety and trust of the people they are sworn to protect — especially those of color — but also threatens equal justice under the law,” Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote Tuesday in a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick B. Garland and Assistant Atty. Gen. Kristen Clarke.

The Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties first requested in September 2020 that the Trump administration conduct a probe, but received no response.

The renewed request comes as the California attorney general investigates whether the Sheriff’s Department routinely oversteps constitutional lines in its policing and follows a series of reports on the deputy groups, including one commissioned by L.A. County.

For decades, the Sheriff’s Department has been dogged by allegations that gang-like groups of deputies have taken root in several stations, running roughshod over commanders and deploying aggressive policing tactics. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been criticized for not doing enough to confront the issue.

In the past, Villanueva has denied that “gangs” exist within the department and has downplayed the issue, saying problems associated with the groups are instead often the result of drunken deputies getting into fights.


But the sheriff has also taken credit for addressing the problem with a policy that prohibits deputies from joining groups that promote behavior that violates the rights of others.