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The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has long maintained that it has no gang issues. We’re not talking about the many gangs that roam the streets of Los Angeles. We are talking about the cliques formed by MPs who identify themselves with patches, tattoos, tactics and a general disregard for the rights of the people they serve.

LASD has been the subject of multiple federal investigations for violation of rights and laws. Sheriff Lee Baca — who was found guilty of obstruction — no longer leads the department. It is now in the hands of Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a supposed “reformer” who campaigned on a promise to clean up the corruption that plagues the sheriff’s department.

Nothing has changed under Villanueva. The department is facing a federal prosecution for the presence of gangs in its ranks. Sheriff Villanueva continued to deny that the department harbors gangs made up of deputies, but those employed by the department say otherwise. Rather than root out the bad apples rotting his barrel from within, the sheriff has chosen to spend his time and energy attacking his critics.

His “Public Integrity” unit did nothing to increase the integrity of the ministry. Instead, he chose to open criminal investigations into the ministry’s many critics. The sheriff also threatened city council members with libel suits for publicly discussing the department’s gangs. And while the sheriff continues to fight a losing battle against public perception, new details about gang activity within his department continue to leak – such as the account of a deputy camping trip that took place. resulted in a deputy attempting to remove another deputy’s “unauthorized” gang tattoo. with [re-reads allegations] balls.

Dana Goodyear wrote a lengthy exposé on the city’s (relatively) new sheriff, showing how Alex Villanueva’s campaign promises to reform the department were spurned in favor of becoming LASD’s chief enabler. This problem is not new. The only novelty is the installation of yet another sheriff who pretends that the problem does not exist.

Deputies’ gangs, or “sub-groups,” with names like Reapers, Regulators, and Vikings, have plagued the sheriff’s department for fifty years. Members have been accused of serious breaches of department policy and constitutional rights violations, terrorizing the public and harassing fellow deputies, and retaliating against whistleblowers.

You can’t fix a problem you refuse to see. This has been LASD’s modus operandi for decades. The regime changes have not changed the culture of the department, which accepts, protects and refuses the LASD gangs.

If you cross paths with gang members – as Deputy Rosa Gonzalez did – other officers will not only ostracize you, but leave you to die.

IIn a lawsuit Gonzalez filed in 2015, she claims a sergeant — who admitted under oath to being a tattooed Bandito — fired her intern and threatened to sabotage her career if she objected. She filed a grievance, then the punishment began. Fellow deputies, she says, refused to provide her with reinforcements. Once, responding alone to a grocery store robbery, she radioed for help several times, but no one came to her aid.

Deputy Lopez eventually got a $1 million settlement from LA County. But this settlement did nothing to encourage LASD officials to deal with the multitude of problematic officers they were supposed to oversee.

Villanueva upset the incumbent to become sheriff, gaining a lot of support from people who believed he would finally reform the thug department.

Mark Gonzalez, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, told me that Villanueva met the criteria for all of its members. “Everyone felt he was thinking and preaching the Party word,” he said. “He was about reforming the sheriff’s department, cleaning up the house, raising standards, doing community policing and restoring trust.”

But once elected, Alex Villanueva went from being a man of the people to being part of the problem. The man with the power to change things instead deployed his power to insulate his deputies from criticism, investigations and the people of LA County. Villanueva said he would deploy a “zero tolerance” policy to combat the formation of gangs/cliques within the department.

He lied.

[T]he department has made no systematic attempt to determine which of its members have tattoos and has not yet fired anyone for ties to a deputy gang. Instead, according to people familiar with the department, the Banditos thrive under Villanueva. East LA deputies lawsuit claims Villanueva put an alleged Bandito in charge of the department’s communications office; he was later promoted to captain of the Homicide Bureau, and then made commander of the Detective Division.

Sheriff Villanueva — sometimes aided by his wife, a retired LASD deputy — has instead wielded his power to attack whistleblowers, stonewall surveillance efforts and open investigations into critics and rivals. LASD gangs continue to thrive, seemingly convinced that the “reformer” heading the department has no interest in solving LASD’s problems.

Instead of opening up investigations into alleged gang members, Villanueva has become a prominent far-right talking head, appearing on Fox News to say stupid things about the “woke left,” making it too difficult for law enforcement to do their job. He says five decades of departmental gangs aren’t his problem. Instead, he describes the issue he refuses to address as fake news used by his adversaries to attack him.

One of Villanueva’s first moves as sheriff was to rehire Carl Mandoyan, a fired deputy (and suspected gang member deputy) known in LASD as “Creepy Carl”. Mandoyan had been fired for several violations, including suspicion of domestic violence, harassment and lying to investigators. Mandoyan also sported a Grim Reapers tattoo, allegedly symbolic of his membership in this LASD gang – something Mandoyan referenced in a taped call in which he threatened an LASD trainee with ending her career in law enforcement . His threats were also physical: he allegedly strangled the trainee and tried twice to break into her home.

Villanueva compared Mandoyan to the falsely accused Duke lacrosse players. The Public Service Commission upheld the dismissal, but Villanueva quietly hired Mandoyan as a driver during his run for sheriff. Once Villaneuva was in power (thanks to the support of one of the largest police unions in the state, which obviously knew that Villanueva was not the reformer Democrats thought he was), Mandoyan was rehired and rewarded with 18 months of salary arrears.

Villanueva is not the only problem. His wife, Vivian, also had a lot of power. Being an LASD-trained deputy married to the current sheriff has its perks, as those who complain about Villanueva’s refusal to address departmental misconduct have discovered.

At some point, the East LA deputies figured out that Vivian was approachable. “She started building her network,” the mid-career deputy told me. “People associated with East LA have been promoted repeatedly.” The deputy who worked with Villanueva said: “I call it the secret formula – get an introduction from someone in the inner circle, text them and tell them your bloody story.” The arrangement helps Vivian advance the loyalists. According to the former insider, Vivian brags, “I have spies all over the place,” keeping an eye out for those who might undermine her husband.

This is what access and allegiance mean in practice.

One particular friend of Vivian’s, Carrie Robles-Placencia, seems to have had her career saved by her closeness to power. One evening in November 2017, Robles-Placencia, an intern at the East LA train station who reportedly once worked under Vivian, was driving a department SUV to a call. Without turning on her siren, she ran a red light and collided with another car. In the resulting multi-car crash, Robles-Placencia sped onto the sidewalk, where she struck and killed two children, ages seven and nine, who were standing with their mother.

The LAPD, which responded to the crash, found Robles-Placencia at fault, and the county paid out more than $22 million in settlements. But the district attorney declined to press charges and Robles-Placencia reportedly did not face any disciplinary action.

To side with Villanueva or his wife is to be able to step over the chilling corpses of children to collect one’s salary. Robles is not a deputy, but she now works for the sheriff’s “executive project team”, drives a county vehicle, often accompanied by the sheriff’s wife. Taxpayers are not only responsible for Robles County’s paycheck, but also for the $22 million in settlements paid to victims of her reckless driving while training as an LASD assistant.

Beware of self-proclaimed reformers. If and when this sheriff is removed from office, the LASD will be even worse than the one he inherited from a sheriff who faces multiple federal investigations. Problems can’t be solved if the people who have the power to solve them don’t believe they really are problems. Sheriffs in the United States have far too much power. Just because they’re subject to the whims of voters doesn’t mean they don’t have the power to do extraordinary damage while in office. It may be time to make their positions private, which may make them less subject to public ouster, but much more likely to be flouted by local officials when they abuse their positions.

Filed Under: alex villanueva, california, gangs, sheriffs department, lasd, los angeles, sheriff gangs


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