Controversial Former LA County Sheriff Villanueva Denies Existence of Deputy Gangs

In a tense four-hour hearing before the Civilian Oversight Commission on Friday, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva strived to minimize the controversy surrounding alleged deputy gangs. He persistently denied their existence, wrongly suggesting that the tattooed subgroups were vanishing from the department. His defiance against subpoenas over the years only succumbed when a county judge considered compelling him.

Key takeaways:
– Former LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva denies the existence of deputy gangs within the Sheriff’s Department.
– Villanueva has refrained from conducting a systematic investigation into the alleged gangs despite the controversy.
– His resistance to acknowledging the involvement of top management in the implied gangs has caused public concerns.
– Despite Villanueva having implemented an anti-gang policy in 2020, it has faced criticism.
– Sheriff Robert Luna, current office holder, vouched to eradicate all deputy gangs, although a clear strategy is absent.
– Stephaine Luna, an audience member whose nephew was killed by deputies, expressed disappointment on Villanueva’s denial.

Controversy over Tattoos and Gang Membership

Villanueva’s skepticism was highlighted as he proposed that eliminating all deputies with controversial tattoos could result in a “gargantuan public safety crisis”. He further confessed to not initiating a systematic investigation into alleged deputy gangs under his tenure. Despite his former chief of staff publicly admitting to being a member of a related gang, Villanueva refrained from questioning employees about their tattoos or top management about their possible involvement.

Legacy of Deputy Gangs

Deputy gangs have been a persisting concern for the LA Sheriff’s Department for more than five decades. Rogue deputies within these groups are accused of promoting a culture of violence. Notwithstanding these allegations, the path to their elimination remains uncertain. Sheriff Robert Luna, who took office in 2022, made a promise to eradicate all deputy gangs. However, this is easier said than done.

Resistance to Investigate

Several steps have been taken to tackle the deputy gang issue. Last year, Inspector General Max Huntsman sought to question about three dozen deputies regarding their gang affiliations and tattoos. But, the unions resorted to a lawsuit, forcing a judge to temporarily halt Huntsman’s inquiry. In parallel, the sheriff is attempting to formulate a stronger policy against deputy gang membership.

Reflection of Misconduct or Gang Culture

Villanueva testified that he had devoted his term to curbing misconduct, which he felt was more significant than investigating tattoos or subgroups. He admitted to the existence of subgroups within the department but rejected the labeling of these as gangs. Instead, he emphasized that misconduct was the real problem.

Public Outrage

Many in attendance at the hearing expressed disappointment his attitude. Stephanie Luna, whose nephew died in 2018 at the hands of deputies, was one such individual. She felt that Villanueva was simply repeating statements he has been making for years. The former sheriff however, might face questioning again as the commission signaled its intent to call him for another hearing in March. This underpins the hope for further investigation into the controversial deputy gang issue within the LA Sheriff’s Department.