The Real Gang Violence Epidemic

August 2016, Donta Taylor was walking down Wilmington Avenue in Compton to go buy cigarettes before he was stopped by two members of the sheriff’s department, deputies Mizrain Orrego and Samuel Aldama. The sheriffs testified that he flashed a gun, yet no weapons were found anywhere near the scene, afterwards, they opened fire, and murdered Taylor. The deputies were working “gang suppression” duty, however, the irony is that Aldama himself was a member of a police gang, the Compton Executioners.

There are at least four confirmed active gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, higher estimates put the number upwards of 18. One of them, the Little Devils, have been active for over 40 years. Despite the shocking severity of this problem, there is relatively little coverage by mainstream media and even less governmental concern. Rep. Maxine Waters only called for an inquiry into the executioners in 2021, five years after Taylor’s murder, and he was far from the only casualty. There have been 19 police murders on record with links to these gangs, all men of color.

The origin of the police gang epidemic started shortly after Aug. 29, 1970, when an anti-war march by predominantly Latinx residents of East LA was attacked by riot police, injuring hundreds, and killing four. The then sheriff Peter Pitchess instructed deputies to “keep a low profile” while monitoring the march and the ones who brutalized protestors anyway went on to form the first LASD gang, the Little Devils. Three years later, the department released a memo acknowledging the gang’s existence. In this memo, 47 known members were identified but it is unlikely that any action was taken. As said previously, there could be upwards of 18 gangs to discuss, such as the Wayside Whities, a now-defunct gang of jail deputies that was active in multiple prisons and detention centers who could have been responsible for the murder of a mentally ill black man in 1998. However, the biggest and most dangerous ones still active are the Lynwood Vikings and Los Banditos.

The Lynwood Vikings are the largest gang in the LASD, they are based primarily in the Century (formerly Lynwood) police station, and despite the area’s predominantly black population(or because of it) the officers stationed there are primarily white. Private Investigator David Lynn has been investigating LASD gangs for decades, and he believes that the high quantity of Vietnam veterans in the force allowed racist ideas to flourish in the early 80s when the gang was founded. “In Vietnam, we served in a place where we didn’t belong. We really didn’t care what happened to the people who lived there,” wrote Lynn. “We were taught that the lives of the Vietnamese didn’t carry the same weight as ours and that of our fellow soldiers.” Lynn, a veteran himself, argues that these veteran officers carried this logic to Lynwood.

Regardless of the gang’s exact origins, by the 80s, it was a paramount to a terrorist organization. Their activities include murder, assault with deadly weapons, unauthorized raids, and torture. They have intimidated whistleblowers, launched racist attacks on Lynwood citizens, and broke into people’s houses over 10 times in 1990. They have a tag (LVS25) , a gang sign (a backwards L, even appearing in their department newsletter), everything associated with a stereotypical gang. Part of their initiation ritual is getting a tattoo, a picture of a viking, and it is not uncommon to see the number “998” next to it, this is earned by being involved in a shooting (998 is the code for officer-involved shootings). From 1996 to 2011, the Lynwood/Century station had double the amount of shootings compared to the second most violent LASD station.

Another gang that has influence up to the top, and with which sheriff Alex Villanueva may be an associate, is Los Banditos. As the name implies, Los Banditos are one of the only major non-white gangs in the LASD, comprised of Latinos—emphasis on the “o,” non-male officers are not allowed to be members of the gang. This gang is one of the newest in the LASD, only gaining prominence in the early 2010s, they are based primarily in the East LA station. A tactic they especially enjoy is “working backwards,” members often make arrests, then plant false evidence to fabricate probable cause, this is often done just for fun. As Villanueva said himself “they (the banditos) were calling the shots, they were dictating the decisions of the station” and non-members are often asked to prove their loyalty via acts such as illegal arrests—with a quota—forced overtime, and “taxation” to gang leadership. In March, several deputies filed a lawsuit stating that they had been harassed both physically and sexually by members of the gang (pgs. 21 & 32). Vincent Miller, the deputies’ attorney, stated that nothing had come of the complaint, and the harassment of the whistleblowers intensified.

This all brings us to Sheriff Alex Villanueva. While it is unlikely that he himself is an official member of the Banditos, he has been suspiciously close to several members of the gang. According to the complaint filed by the deputies as well as other court documents, the Banditos view Villanueva as a “friend”. Villanueva has also hired one of the founders of the gang, Danny Batanero, as head of his security team, and has also hired known member Manny Navarro as his driver.  Even though Villanueva has denounced the gangs before, he has also stated that it is an “individual problem” and not systemic despite his own admission that the East LA station is controlled by the Banditos. Villanueva’s actions are even more contradictory. On Sep. 28, 2018 a brawl broke out between members of the Banditos and uninitiated officers. Villanueva stated that he transferred 36 officers and disciplined 26 others as punishment, however, the Captain of East LA station Ernie Chavez stated to journalists that the transfers never happened. Even worse, in a court document (page 492) former undersheriff Ray Leva testified that high-ranking gang member Gregory “G-Rod” Rodriguez was later reinstated with 6 months back-pay after the incident.

A single article can not cover the entire scope of the Sheriff’s department’s crimes, but over 40 years of incompetence, lies, and brutality have proven one thing: The sheriff’s department can not be trusted to regulate itself, it must be abolished. Sheriff Villanueva portrayed himself as a reformer compared to the previous sheriff, and his actions have shown that the department has no potential for “reform.” There is simply no need for such a corrupt organization alongside our police department, which does practically the same job. While the county can not directly abolish the department, they can simply reduce their funding. Getting rid of a brutal, corrupt, and often racist organization, would also free up money that can be invested into LA’s communities, which could deter crime significantly better than the sheriff’s department. While DVC’s students can not directly stop the sheriff’s department, they can join the protests against qualified immunity, and other laws that entrench police brutality. These measures will save lives and work towards building a better LA.