A gang of sheriff's deputies called the "Executioners, has "permeated" a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department patrol station and has engaged in civil rights abuses against the public, according to a claim filed with county officials last week.
Austreberto Gonzalez, a sheriff's deputy and a Marine Corps veteran, worked at the Compton patrol station for five years where the gang wielded outsized influence, according to the claim obtained by Fox News. He claims the members ink themselves with tattoos featuring Nazi imagery, a laughing skeleton and an AK-47. The gang celebrates deputy shootings and threatens work slowdowns when given unpreferred assignments, according to the claim.
"The gang controlled the scheduling, and therefore even having a sick child that needed nonstop medical care was secondary to making sure the gang members got their preferred shifts," Alan Romero, an attorney representing Gonzalez in his claim against the county, told Fox News in a statement. "This was a practice that punished all patrol Deputies that either refused to join the gang or otherwise resisted the gang’s far-reaching influence at the Station."
He said he also represents three other deputies who've made similar allegations of abuse and discrimination by the clique.
The gang recruits deputies based on their use of violence against criminal suspects and fellow deputies and nearly all its members have been involved in high-profile shootings, according to the claim.
In a Facebook video last week, Sheriff Alex Villanueva denied a gang of deputies were running the Compton station when asked specifically about the Executioners. He added the department has gone through great lengths to rid itself of similar groups.
He noted that he removed the entire leadership of the East Los Angeles station when he was confronted with allegations about a group of deputies in a similar clique after taking office in 2018.
"We're not going to tolerate any clique, any gang-like group of people, subgroup... the only group that is acceptable wearing tan and green are deputy sheriff's serving the community," Villanueva said.
On Tuesday, the department said it launched "multiple investigations" into the matter.
"Early on, the Sheriff invited the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct their own investigation and information is actively being shared with them," a department statement said. "The results of the investigation will be released when legally permissible."
The sheriff's department has long been plagued by allegations of cliques composed of deputies forming what civil rights activists see as criminal gangs.
The subculture includes monikers that indicate members of the Banditos, Regulators, Grim Reapers and Spartans, which allegedly operate out of various sheriff department patrol stations. The "Executioners" is made up of about 20 deputies with another 20 prospects or associates, according to the claim. Black and females deputies are not allowed to join, the claim said.
Members communicate exclusively through the encrypted message service WhatsApp. Gonzalez was never asked to join, Romero said.
"Deputy Gonzalez was never asked to join the Executioners, as the gang identified prospects as those Deputies most likely to engage in violence or shootings," he said. "This created an emergent public safety issue as gang prospects, hoping to get into the gang, would have been incentivized to engage in a beating or killing to gain gang prestige, when the situation may have otherwise been de-escalated to avoid violence."
Because he wasn't a member or a prospect, Gonzalez was allegedly passed up for better assignments and not given a better work schedule so he could care for his daughter, who has medical needs. Meanwhile, other deputies, who are members of the Executioners, were given preference for preferred work schedules and assignments, according to the claim.
Similar deputy gangs have flourished in minority communities for several decades, according to Loyola Law School professor and Los Angeles County Civilian Commission member Sean Kennedy.
"The net result is that the people in those communities end up being shot and stopped, their houses searched at a much greater rate than people in other communities, and it's all because the deputy gangs view themselves as at war with their community," Kennedy told KABC-TV.
Gonzalez was eventually forced to step down from his field training officer position and deputies refused to partner with him, he alleges. When he reported another deputy to Internal Affairs for assaulting a colleague behind the station, the phrase "ART IS A RAT" was scrawled on the keypad to the station's parking lot entrance, the claim says.
The allegations come as the Compton station faces criticism over several high-profile incidents. In May, Dalvin Price was beaten by three deputies, and in June Andres Guardado, 18, was killed after being shot five times in the back.
The Los Angeles Times reported details about the clique that were first revealed in a case brought by the family of Donta Taylor. Taylor, 31, was fatally shot by deputies during a 2016 foot chase. Deputies claimed he had a weapon but none were recovered.
Compton Deputy Samuel Aldama was forced to reveal his tattoo during a deposition about the Taylor case. The county settled the case with Taylor's family for $7 million.
"This is all taxpayer money, so yes, the taxpayers should be very worried," John Sweeney, who deposed Aldama and obtained the photo of Aldama's tattoo, told KABC-TV. "And criminal defense attorneys are going to be lining up making motions for new trials."