I know you read that headline and thought “OK, but isn’t that generally Los Angeles policing as a whole?” You’re not wrong, but a group of deputies have alleged that there are functioning gangs embedded within law enforcement that target Black and Latino neighborhoods.
According to CBS News, the deputies allege that the “Banditos” are one of the most active gangs within the sheriff’s department. They mostly consist of Latino deputies who patrol Black and Latino neighborhoods in East L.A. Some members of the gang have gained promotions, resulting in their influence spreading throughout the county.
“They operate as a gang. They commit crimes, they assault people,” one deputy told CBS News. He added that many of the recruits are looking to get a “shooting” as a way to gain initiation within the gang. “If you get in a shooting that’s a definite brownie point,” the deputy said.
The deputies making these accusations allege that members of the Banditos have planted weapons on victims after these shootings in an effort to justify them. “There’s been multiple occasions where … they say, ‘Hey, we got a guy that has a gun and he’s running from us.’ In reality that person never had a gun,” one deputy told CBS News. “And they would say, oh, it was a phantom gun. It was something that really wasn’t there.”
Lisa Vargas believes that one of these initiation shootings are what led to her 21-year-old son, Anthony Vargas, being shot 13 times on his way home from work, killing him. Sheriff Deputy Nikolis Perez and Deputy Jonathan Rojas, the officers who shot Vargas, are alleged to be “prospects” of the gang by Vargas’ mother and some deputies within the force. For their part, Perez and Rojas have denied being members of the gang.
Vargas has since filed a lawsuit against Perez and Rojas, alleging they “were members of the Banditos gang or prospects, and that membership in the Banditos gang included using excessive force and shooting those who are unarmed.” A federal grand jury has been convened to investigate Vargas’ case.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has publicly denied that there is a gang operating within the department, while also warning deputies against joining any gangs. “Any employee who aligns with a clique or subgroup, which engages in any form of misconduct, will be held accountable. I do not want you joining these alleged cliques anymore. Period,” Villanueva said in a video on the LASD’s website.
I just think it’s kind of funny how Villanueva had all this energy coming for LeBron James over some bullshit, but allegations of an actual gang being embedded in his department could only be met with “Hey guysss, I don’t mean to bother you, but could you maybe not?” Clowns gonna clown, I suppose.
In contrast, recently elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has said his department takes these allegations seriously. “If in fact we believe that there is criminal activity within the sheriff’s department then we will deal with it accordingly,” Gascón told CBS News.