Cursory deputy gang probes at Lakewood, Industry stations criticized in watchdog report

The Sheriff's Department City of Industry station.
The existence of a deputy group with Indian tattoos came to light after a violent altercation at a bowling alley involving sheriff’s deputies from the City of Industry station.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Early last year, investigators at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department learned that a group of deputies at the Lakewood station shared a common tattoo: a spade, with the number 13.

So, according to a new oversight report, officials decided to do a survey: Were the tattoos the sign of a new deputy gang?

When a few dozen deputies said no, the report said, the department took their word for it and stopped investigating.


The existence of the Lakewood station tattoos and the aborted probe into them did not become public until this week, when the county watchdog released a 50-page report examining gaps in the department’s efforts to rein in deputy gangs. The tattooed cliques and their alleged misconduct have plagued the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for decades, leading to repeated oversight investigations, an FBI probe and a steady stream of lawsuits that have cost taxpayers more than $55 million.

But Monday’s Office of Inspector General report found that, even under a reform-minded sheriff, the department is falling short when it comes to investigating the groups. The report said officials still dismiss and minimize evidence of gang activity, failing to conduct complete investigations and allowing cursory inquiries that fail to identify suspected gang members.

“Despite a new California law aimed at addressing law enforcement gangs, and a new administration,” oversight officials wrote, “the Sheriff’s Department has, to date, never undertaken an investigation aimed at identifying every member of any subgroup or determining whether any of those groups engage in a pattern of conduct that violates the law or Department policy.”

The report’s most recent example centered on the Industry station Indians, whose existence first became public this year after Times reporting showed two suspected members were fired after a violent confrontation with a group of teenagers outside a bowling alley.

On Tuesday, the teens — some now in their 20s — and one witness filed suit, saying they fear the “deputy gang will hunt them down” and they are still traumatized from the 2022 incident.

“The public is already aware that there’s no accountability for misconduct by deputy gang members in the Sheriff’s Department so there’s a lot of fear out there,” said Vince Miller, the attorney who is representing the teens. “It’s good that under the current sheriff the department did fire these deputies, but it’s too late for my clients to have been spared this trauma.”


In a statement this week, the Sheriff’s Department said that it had not officially received the lawsuit yet but that it “takes the issue of deputy gangs very seriously” and is “committed to building trust” in our communities.

“While this issue is not reflective of the entire Department,” the statement said, “we are conducting multiple investigations related to deputy gangs and are holding personnel accountable.”

The department has also drafted a more robust anti-gang policy, the details of which are still being negotiated with the unions. Last year, Undersheriff April Tardy convened a now-monthly working group to address deputy gang issues, and in June, Sheriff Robert Luna told an oversight committee that the department is now asking about tattoos and gang membership during promotion interviews for high-ranking positions.

The incident that brought to light the existence of the Industry station Indians started on the evening of Feb. 28, 2022, at the Bowlium bowling alley in Montclair. As The Times previously reported, a group of deputies from the City of Industry sheriff’s station were there, bowling and drinking to celebrate one deputy’s promotion. After the place closed at 11 p.m., they went out to the parking lot.

When they passed by 19-year-old Jay Stevens and his friends sitting in their cars, one of the deputies — a sergeant, sources told The Times — pushed open a car door as one of the teens tried to close it.

The deputies then “escalated the conflict,” according to the lawsuit. One allegedly flashed a handgun, and others mocked the teens or screamed obscenities. One “made blatantly racist statements” and allegedly called Stevens a “monkey” and used the N-word.


“The deputy punched Stevens hard in the face, and several of the other defendant deputies immediately grabbed Stevens to make sure he wouldn’t be able to defend himself,” the lawsuit said. “This was a one-sided attack on innocent victims and not in any way a two-way fight.”

Several deputies later told local investigators the teens allegedly either mentioned a gun or made a threat to “blast” them — though a Montclair Police Department incident report shows no indication that the teens had weapons with them.

At one point, a deputy allegedly grabbed the open back door on the passenger side and started swinging it “back and forth violently” about six times, “shaking the entire vehicle,” according to the police report. Then, the lawsuit says, he slammed the door against one teen’s leg.

Eventually, Stevens and his friends “escaped,” and the deputies “laughed at the teenagers as they drove off.”

The teens said they were too scared to report the incident at first. But once they told Montclair police, the suit alleges, one of the deputies tried to get authorities there to give him the phone number of one witness so he could “call her and intimidate her.”

Four deputies were fired in connection with the incident; the report said two of them admitted to having Industry Indians tattoos. The fired deputies all appealed to the county’s Civil Service Commission, according to a county source who was not authorized to speak publicly.


Once internal affairs investigators learned about the Industry group, they asked the nine deputies involved whether they knew of anyone else with that tattoo. But because investigators “did not press” for names, the report said, they were able to identify only two other suspected members — even though the deputies they interviewed described barbecues and other group gatherings.

Though internal affairs officials notified Industry station leaders about the tattooed group, the station leaders later told the county watchdog they had no plans to investigate who was a member. According to the report, they planned “only to monitor closely for evidence of misconduct.”

On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Department told The Times it is not “only monitoring” but would not say what it was doing instead for fear of negatively affecting “current or future cases.”

The incident outside the Bowlium also led to another line of inquiry: During one interview last year, a deputy told investigators that he’d seen “a lot of” deputies at the Lakewood station with spade tattoos, the oversight report said. The deputy said he wasn’t sure whether the tattoos were the sign of a subgroup or gang — so supervisors surveyed 69 deputies at the station to find out more.

Of the 64 who responded, the report said that 81% said they knew of a spade logo, 13% said they knew of a Lakewood station tattoo and 100% said they were not aware of any gang or subgroup at the station.

“Based on my inquiry, I did not find any potential violations or evidence to indicate we have deputy sub-groups, cliques, or deputy gangs,” a lieutenant later wrote in a memo quoted in the oversight report. “The morale of Lakewood Station personnel is positive, inclusive, and promotes a family atmosphere.”


Oversight officials criticized that response as inadequate, though the department defended its handling of the situation in a statement to The Times this week, reiterating that there was “no evidence to support the allegations of a gang” at Lakewood station.

The oversight report also criticized the department’s handling of several other problems, including a probe into subgroup stickers and emblems at county jails; revelations about deputies allegedly connected to far-right extremist organizations; and an investigation into another subgroup whose name was redacted along with almost every fact about the case, at the request of the sheriff.

In the coming weeks, the Sheriff’s Department is expected to provide a report to the Civilian Oversight Commission detailing when the tattooed Industry station group formed, what misconduct it has been linked to and whether there were any warning signs of gang activity at the station. The report was initially due in February, but on Wednesday the Sheriff’s Department said it asked for an extension to March.