LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently moved forward with a plan to give a civilian oversight board better access to internal documents from the sheriff’s department, amid concerns groups of so-called deputy gangs are undermining the department. 

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The motion will allow the Civilian Oversight Commission the power of subpoena through the Inspector General, which is also investigating the sheriff’s department. 

“You’re trying to investigate an organization that can be very insular,” said the group’s executive director Brian Williams.

Williams’ work has new urgency as the county faces two lawsuits alleging a deputy gang called the “Banditos” ran the sheriff’s station in East L.A. 

In one case, whistleblower detectives allege workplace harassment by the Banditos because they refused to join. Two deputies say they were assaulted by other sworn officers at a party at Kennedy Hall in 2018. If the allegations are true, Williams says it’s not an isolated incident.

“We’ve heard allegations of violence, we’ve heard allegations of hazing, we’ve heard allegations of unfair treatment of prisoners,” Williams said. 

Gang expert Humbert Guizar says deputy gangs are a problem that extends into the community and have led to excessive force. 

“How in heaven can we trust law enforcement officers who are behaving in that manner?” Guizar asked recently in his office in East L.A.

Guizar represents the family of Anthony Vargas, a 21-year-old man shot in the back 13 times by East L.A. deputies, according to an autopsy report leaked to Guizar. 

Vargas died at the scene, a few months before Sheriff Alex Villanueva took office. Since then, Villanueva told reporters he’s cracked down in East L.A.

“Sheriff Villanueva had the unit commander replaced, in addition to key supervisory personnel. The new unit commander has met with staff members and made it abundantly clear that activities that violate workplace policies or the law will be immediately addressed with swift and appropriate action,” the department said in a statement. 

But it’s not clear whether any of those deputies were fired. 

“You’re just transferring the problem to another station,” Williams said. “You’re not really resolving the issue.”

Williams said the Sheriff’s Department has stonewalled his efforts, refusing to hand over documents that could help him figure out the magnitude of the problem. 

To Williams, the bedrock of society is at stake – the rule of law.