Deputy union sues over investigation into Sheriff’s Department gangs, order to show tattoos

Pictures of deputy gang tattoos.
Members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy gang known as the Executioners are alleged to sport tattoos of a skull with Nazi imagery and an AK-47, while members of the Banditos are allegedly known for their matching tattoos of a skeleton outfitted with a sombrero, bandoleer and pistol.
(Office of Inspector General handout)

Days after the county’s watchdog demanded that dozens of deputies reveal their tattoos and answer questions about gangs within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, employee unions have struck back with a formal labor complaint as well as a lawsuit filed in state court.

In a 19-page complaint sent Friday, the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and Professional Peace Officers Assn. together accused the county of circumventing the collective bargaining process, saying that the county created a new condition of employment when Sheriff Robert Luna threatened to discipline or fire anyone who didn’t fully cooperate with the inspector’s general investigation.

Then, late Monday, the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs filed suit, arguing that ordering deputies to cooperate with the inspector general’s investigation and show their tattoos was unconstitutional, and would violate the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches as well as the 5th Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination and the right to privacy under California’s constitution.


Both actions are a bid to prevent the county from using the threat of discipline or termination to force deputies to answer questions about their tattoos, or reveal the names of others who have them.

Inspector General Max Huntsman sent a letter Friday ordering 35 deputies to come in for interviews and show their tattoos.

May 17, 2023

While the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission — listed as the recipient of the unions’ complaint last week — does not have enforcement authority, a union attorney explained that the commission does have the ability to make a decision, which courts can then enforce.

“The Office of the Inspector General exists largely to ensure that members of the Sheriff’s Department abide by the rule of law and treat people fairly and with dignity,” Richard Pippin, Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs president, told The Times in an email. “With this lawsuit, ALADS is simply trying to ensure [the inspector general] operates in this same manner when dealing with our members.”

Late Monday, the county declined to comment on pending litigation. The Sheriff’s Department confirmed that officials were aware of the labor complaint, but reiterated that the investigation was being conducted by an outside entity, the Office of Inspector General.

After learning of the lawsuit, Inspector General Max Huntsman — the county watchdog whose bevy of letters set off the legal wranglings — did not respond to the details of the filing, but instead pointed to a recent state law that gives inspectors general added authority to probe police or deputy gangs.

“We look forward to court rulings on the new California laws providing for external investigation of law enforcement gangs,” he said.


Deputies levied a veiled threat against Inspector General Max Huntsman on a defaced poster in a sheriff’s station. Nothing happened.

May 19, 2023

The Sheriff’s Department has long faced allegations about secretive deputy groups running amok in certain stations and jails, controlling command staff and promoting a culture of violence. A Loyola Marymount University report released in 2021 identified 18 such groups that have existed over the last five decades, including the Executioners and the Banditos.

Members of the former are alleged to sport tattoos of a skull with Nazi imagery and an AK-47, while members of the latter are allegedly known for their matching tattoos of a skeleton outfitted with a sombrero, bandoleer and pistol.

After years of investigations, studies and lawsuits, on May 12 Huntsman’s office sent letters to 35 deputies suspected of being members of either the Executioners, an alleged deputy gang that operates out of the Compton station, or the Banditos, which operates out of the East L.A. station.

The names of the deputies who received the letters have not been released to the public, but Huntsman previously told The Times they were a subset of the 41 deputies his office identified as suspected gang members last year.

Deputies levied a veiled threat against Inspector General Max Huntsman on a defaced poster in a sheriff’s station. Nothing happened.

May 19, 2023

In his May 12 letters, Huntsman ordered deputies to show him their tattoos, give up the names of any other deputies sporting similar ink and submit to questions about whether they’d ever been invited to join a group related to their tattoos. The aim, he said, was to develop a list of everyone in the Sheriff’s Department who belongs to a deputy gang.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the consequences would be for any deputies who received letters and refused to cooperate. Then on Thursday, Luna sent a department-wide email directing his staff to comply with the inspector general’s request.


“Please be advised that all Department personnel who received such a request are hereby ordered to appear and cooperate in such interviews,” the sheriff wrote. “All statements made by Department personnel shall be full, complete, and truthful statements.”

Any employees who obstruct or delay an investigation, the email said, could be disciplined or fired under current county policies.

But the unions took issue with that.

“By unilaterally implementing a system where the OIG can ‘direct’ employees ‘to participate in an interview’ about a matter that could result in discipline, criminal prosecution, or loss of law enforcement certification, with the deputy required to do so as ‘a job function,’ the county has unilaterally changed negotiable working conditions without first negotiating,” union lawyers wrote in Friday’s letter.

The suit alleges several deputies were repeatedly pressured to quit or leave. Some said they were assaulted by alleged members of the Banditos gang.

May 4, 2023

They also flagged another issue: Ever since the county passed a new oversight measure in 2020, the unions and the county have gone back and forth over whether deputies need to respond to subpoenas from oversight officials. According to the letter, late last year the county’s Employee Relations Commission said they did not — at least not until the two sides had finished trying to come to an agreement about how to handle the issue.

“The OIG has made the deliberate decision to not subpoena any of the recipients of the OIG letter but to instead ‘direct’ recipients to ‘appear and answer” questions, the unions wrote last week. “The decision to do so is an attempt to evade this commission’s decision and order directing the county to not issue subpoenas to ALADS and PPOA members pending the completion of the negotiations process.”

To remedy the situation, the unions asked the county commission to rescind the inspector general’s letter.


Though the lawsuit relied on different arguments, it arrived at a similar request, asking for injunctive relief to “prevent the imminent violation” of deputies’ rights.