Seven Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies have been notified that the department intends to fire them for belonging to a secret law enforcement clique that allegedly celebrated shootings and branded its members with matching tattoos, officials said.
The Times reported last year about the existence of the clique, dubbed the Jump Out Boys, and the discovery of a pamphlet that described the group's creed, which required aggressive policing and awarded tattoo modifications for police shootings.
The seven worked on an elite gang-enforcement team that patrols neighborhoods where violence is high. The team makes a priority of taking guns off the street, officials said.
The Sheriff's Department has a long history of secret cliques with members of the groups having reached high-ranking positions within the agency. Sheriff officials have sought to crack down on the groups, fearing that they tarnished the department's reputation and encouraged unethical conduct.
In the case of the Jump Out Boys, sheriff's investigators did not uncover any criminal behavior. But, sources said, the group clashed with department policies and image.
Their tattoos, for instance, depicted an oversize skull with a wide, toothy grimace and glowing red eyes. A bandanna with the unit's acronym is wrapped around the skull. A bony hand clasps a revolver. Smoke would be tattooed over the gun's barrel for members who were involved in at least one shooting, officials said.
One member, who spoke to The Times and requested anonymity, said the group promoted only hard work and bravery. He dismissed concerns about the group's tattoo, noting that deputies throughout the department get matching tattoos. He said there was nothing sinister about their creed or conduct. The deputy, who was notified of the department's intent to terminate him, read The Times several passages from the pamphlet, which he said supported proactive policing.
"We are alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf," one passage stated, comparing criminals to wolves. Another passage stated, "We are not afraid to get our hands dirty without any disgrace, dishonor or hesitation... sometimes (members) need to do the things they don't want to in order to get where they want to be."
Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said starting the termination process shows that Sheriff Lee Baca "does not take any of this lightly and will move forward with the appropriate action."
Investigators were less concerned about the tattoos, and more focused on the suspected admiration they showed for officer-involved shootings, which are expected to be events of last resort. The deputy told The Times, however, that investigators reviewed their shootings and arrests and found nothing unlawful.
"We get called a gang within the badge? It's unfair," he said. "People want to say you have a tattoo. So do fraternities. Go to Yale. Are they a gang?.... Boy Scouts have patches and they have mission statements, and so do we."
"We do not glorify shootings," he continued. "What we do is commend and honor the shootings. I have to remember them because it can happen any time, any day. I don't want to forget them because I'm glad I'm alive."
If the firings are upheld, it would be one of the largest terminations over one incident in the department's history. In 2011, the department fired about half a dozen deputies who were also said to have formed a clique. Those deputies worked on the third floor of Men's Central Jail and allegedly threw gang-like three-finger hand signs. They were fired after they fought two fellow deputies at an employee Christmas party and allegedly punched a female deputy in the face.
As part of the widening federal investigation of the Sheriff's Department, a criminal grand jury recently subpoenaed the agency for materials relating to deputy cliques, specifically citing several of the groups including the "3000 boys" and the Jump Out Boys.
When the pamphlet revealing the existence of the Jump Out Boys was initially found, officials didn't know if the group was real. But eventually, one member came forward and named the others, according to an official who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The seven deputies can fight the department's decision to fire them.