A group of deputies sporting matching skull tattoos has raised new concerns of a possible secret clique within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
The allegations come some 30 years after a judge accused deputies at the Lynwood station of running a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang” called The Vikings, the Los Angeles Times reported. Now, leaders fear a new clique of deputies who’ve bonded over their aggressive, oftentimes violent police work has formed at the department’s Compton station.
Lawyers for the family of an African-American man killed by deputies during a 2016 foot chase pointed to the matching tattoos as proof that the alleged clique is tied to the fatal shooting, which they argued was racially-motivated.
“… In addition to investigating the police shooting, the department should also look at the culture,” Alex Busansky, a former prosecutor, told the newspaper. “A place where 20 police officers receive matching tattoos is a place where there is a mentality of us–versus–them, and that on its face is concerning.”
Leaders are unsure if the tattoos are a sure-fire sign of the return of a secret deputy group, but the department has long struggled to quell and discourage internal cliques. Groups with names like “The Regulators” and “The Jump Out Boys” once plagued the department while others like the “2000 Boys” and “3000 Boys” oversaw the toughest floors inside the county’s central jail.
According to the L.A. Times, this latest controversy stems from a May deposition given by Deputy Samuel Aldama, who acknowledged that he and 10 to 20 of his colleagues at the station have the skull tattoo. Aldama had the image, which shows a skull with a rifle and military-style helmet, branded on his calf. He denied there was any formal clique, saying that “working hard on the job” was the only requirement to inked.
The deputy told investigators he got the tattoo in June 2016, two months before he fatally shot victim Donta Taylor.
John Sweeney, an attorney for Taylor’s family, cited a response Aladama gave in his deposition and raised concerns about the tattoos, arguing that both showed the deputy harbored animus toward Black people.
We’ve “uncovered another one of those cliques,” like the Vikings, he told the judge.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department declined to comment on the allegations, citing the pending litigation, but said the agency has the highest expectations of its officers. She also noted that deputies have the right to self-expression.
“Our department policy requires deputies to cover tattoos, which have become part of the cultural norm,” spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said in a statement. “However, when it comes to their conduct and their use of tactics, we have multiple systems of review and accountability both internally and externally. Every critical incident is exhaustively analyzed.”
Members of an L.A. County watchdog panel have since called for an investigation into the claims.
“It’s not the kind of culture that you want to foster in the 21st century Sheriff’s Department,” Hernán Vera, a member of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, told the newspaper.