LOS ANGELES — With just days left to cast ballots for Los Angeles County Sheriff, challenger Robert Luna pledged to eradicate deputy gangs if elected over incumbent Alex Villanueva.
“I want to make it clear if I’m elected sheriff, there will be absolutely no tolerance for deputy gangs,” Luna said.
After working with Luna for over thirty years in the Long Beach Police Department, former Cmdr. Josef Levy believes Luna is the man to reform the county sheriffs.
“You need somebody who is going to come in with fresh eyes, who is going to improve the current culture of that organization,” Levy said. “And in order for that to be done effectively, you need an outsider.”
Luna was chief of police for seven years in Long Beach, leading a department about a tenth of the size of the sheriff’s department. If he wins, he’ll take over a department with a 50 year history of secret, tattooed deputy groups with names like the Executioners and the Grim Reapers.
Members of the department have testified under oath that the Executiones and the Banditos deputy gangs are still active in the Compton and East LA sheriff’s stations and protected by Villanueva.
Villanueva instituted a policy banning groups that cause harm and says the issue is a smear campaign to undermine the county’s first Latino sheriff.
“I don’t expect deputies to get tattoos of Hello Kitty,” Villanueva said at his re-election campaign kick-off in April. “These are grown men and women and the tattoos they put on themselves. That’s an expression of their First Amendment right.”
In an election that has become a referendum on Villanueva, investigative columnist Stephen Downing says Luna has been let off the hook.
“I don’t have a love letter for either one of them,” Downing said in his home office in Long Beach. Downing retired from the LAPD in 1980, became a screenwriter and has written over 100 columns about corruption, cover-ups and scandals in the Long Beach Police Department.
He’s voting for Villanueva.
“In terms of minimizing the harm that can come from the sheriff’s office to minority communities, Villanueva is a better chess move.
Long Beach promoted a Black woman to a rank above officer for the first time this year, months after Luna retired. The department’s first Black helicopter pilot is suing over discrimination, harassment and retaliation he faced while Luna was chief. Luna said he learned about the allegations when the lawsuit was filed.
“You cannot tell me that there’s not residual racism that wants to keep Black police officers out of that department,” Downing said.
Levy said in his experience, Luna cared deeply about the communities he served.
“He recognizes the importance of building relationships with diverse groups of individuals,” Levy said.
He hopes voters will give Luna a chance this November to bring change to LA County.