COMPTON, Calif. — During a food drive in Compton, the city’s mayor pro tem Michelle Chambers, helped pass out food and hand sanitizers to residents struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic.
But on her mind was an even larger problem she feels is plaguing the Compton community.
“We’ve been inundated with calls from residents who have experienced either disrespect from the sheriff’s station or excessive force or over-excessive authority,” Chambers said.
Those people, she added, have been coming forward in recent weeks to share stories of alleged victimization by deputies at the Compton Sheriff’s Station. She said many of those residents felt compelled by the current social climate that has put law enforcement under a microscope nationwide in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
Chambers was disturbed to learn of a recent whistleblower complaint alleging a gang operating with vast power in Compton.
“We’re teaching our children to look for authority when you need help. To respect law enforcement. But when we’re not receiving the same respect there becomes an impasse with law enforcement and we don’t want that,” Chambers said.
During an emotional and heated press conference last Tuesday, Chambers and her colleagues called for state and federal investigations into the L.A. County Sheriff’s Compton Station.
At that conference Compton’s mayor, Aja Brown, unexpectedly came forward sharing a confrontation with sheriff’s deputies from a 2019 traffic stop in which she alleged deputies violated her rights.
Brown said multiple units swarmed her vehicle, where her husband and infant daughter were inside with her, and tried to search her car for drugs.
“These deputies are literally rotated in and out of Compton as Sheriff Villanueva sees fit. They have no respect or knowledge of the people they serve. These deputies had no idea that I was the community’s mayor,” Brown said.
The press conference was sparked by reports surrounding that internal whistleblower complaint filed in June by a Compton deputy named Art Gonzalez, who claimed he was retaliated against by an alleged sheriff’s deputy gang in Compton called the “Executioners.”
“For there to be a gang within the sheriff’s department is unacceptable and it hurts the relationship we’re trying to build between the community and law enforcement,” Chamber said, adding that she wants the department to be transparent in investigating the claims.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva addressed those concerns in a one-on-one interview with Spectrum News 1 and said he took those allegations extremely seriously and has already made changes.
“Right now in Compton we’ve relieved two deputies of duty and we’re transferring six deputies, and we’re still just at the starting phase of a very large investigation. And we’re going to take appropriate administrative action as we uncover evidence,” Villanueva said.
The sheriff said he has also initiated a policy that prohibits the formation of subgroups and cliques.
“We’re taking action on that new policy which is being implemented. And we’re holding our employees accountable to a higher standard than ever before. It should have been done by previous sheriffs but they all kicked the can down the road. Well I’m taking care of business the way it’s supposed to be,” Villanueva said.
The Sheriff added that he planned to hold an extensive debriefing on his actions surrounding claims of alleged internal gang activity this week to show the community what the department is doing.
Chambers told us she hadn’t heard of any deputies being dismissed or transferred and suggested Villanueva should contact her city council for a direct meeting on the subject.
“I think the respectful thing would be to contact our mayor and contact our council and say we heard you,” Chambers said. “We want to know we matter.”