The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday asked Sheriff Robert Luna for a progress report on his promise to root out deputy gangs from the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.
The move came in response to a Times report this month about a violent incident involving a group of off-duty deputies, some of whom allegedly belonged to a previously unreported gang at the City of Industry sheriff’s station.
A motion by Supervisor Hilda Solis requested that the sheriff compile a report about the so-called Industry Indians, including when the group formed, misconduct it has been linked to, and any warning signs of gang activity at the station. The motion also asked for an update on a stronger anti-gang policy, which Luna highlighted as a priority after he took office in 2022.
In a news release, Solis said the motion was a step toward “eradicating” deputy gangs.
"Our communities deserve better,” she wrote. "Not only do these incidents require immediate investigation, but transparency and discipline.”
A 2023 oversight commission report documented deputy gangs at several stations, including South L.A., Century, Lancaster, Compton and East L.A., with names such as Grim Reapers, the Banditos and the Executioners.
The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that it is “actively addressing the issue of deputy gangs” and has drafted a new anti-gang policy that is under negotiation with the unions.
“The issue of deputy gangs is a challenge that impacts only a small percentage of the Department,” the statement said. “The vast majority of personnel are dedicated professionals who are committed to serving our community.”
Last month in an interview with The Times, the sheriff acknowledged both the “outrageous” bowling alley incident and the existence of an Industry station group whose members are said to have tattoos on their ankles, though the department has otherwise released no details about the case. This week's motion asked the sheriff to send answers to nearly a dozen questions to the Civilian Oversight Commission’s ad hoc committee on deputy gangs within two weeks.
“This motion is a step in the right direction,” Sean Kennedy, who chairs the oversight commission, told The Times on Wednesday. “Allowing the LASD leadership to hide what is going on with the deputy gangs perpetuates the problem and is against the public’s best interest.”
Department leaders learned of the Industry Indians during an investigation into a February 2022 incident in which several off-duty deputies drunkenly confronted a group of teenagers in the parking lot of the Bowlium bowling alley in Montclair. One deputy flashed a gun in his waistband and another punched a teenager in the face, according to a police report and law enforcement sources who were not authorized to speak publicly.
During the investigation, two deputies involved admitted to having Industry Indians tattoos, one of the sources said. The ink is described as resembling a character from Shock Top beer labels, a cartoon face in profile with sunglasses and a mohawk.
The teenager who was punched in the face is now 21. He and and four of his friends who were with him at the bowling alley sat down with The Times recently for an interview about the encounter. They all requested anonymity because they fear people affiliated with the Industry Indians deputy gang and the fired deputies.
"The reason why we're so scared of retaliation is because they still have friends in the police department," said one woman present for the incident, also now 21.
While they were bowling that night, the friends said, they noticed a boisterous group inside. The men were loud and throwing their baseball caps in the air.
On his way out, the 21-year-old who was punched recalled telling his friends to watch out; he thought the guys walking out behind them were drunk.
Moments later, one of them — a sergeant — shook the teens' car door as people were getting in, the friends said. Things escalated from there, with deputies hurling racist and homophobic slurs, the friends said.
Two days later, the friends reported the incident to Montclair police. The Times reviewed a short video of the end of the confrontation, recorded by a then-16-year-old in the group, that shows the deputies surrounding the teens’ car while cursing at them.
The boy’s older sister, now 26, said some men who weren’t involved in the fight were standing around laughing.
“You guys are a bunch of 30-, 40-year-old men picking on kids and stuff — like can you at least help?” she said. “Only one person throughout the whole thing helped us and was pushing guys back.”
The sister and others in the group said they were not aware at the time that the men were law enforcement officers. They said they learned that prosecutors had declined to file charges against two of the deputies and that four had lost their jobs only after reading about it in The Times.
The 26-year-old woman wondered why there were not more consequences, and whether the fired deputies would be hired by another police agency.
"So they're going to go look for another job, then what?” she said. “What's that going to do?”
The fired deputies have all appealed their punishments to the county’s Civil Service Commission, according to a county source familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly. In an interview with The Times last month, Luna pointed to those possible appeals as the reason he couldn’t give more details about the department’s investigation.
This week’s Board of Supervisors motion could prompt the release of more information, though it does not require any of it be made public. The motion specifically asks the sheriff to send his written report to a committee that Kennedy said has more freedom to meet in closed session than the full oversight commission.
In addition to requesting details about the Industry station group, the supervisors on Tuesday passed a motion asking the Sheriff’s Department to ban deputies from carrying guns while drinking or from coming to work drunk. The motion cited a recent Office of Inspector General report raising concerns about the number of incidents in which deputies drunkenly brandished or lost their guns.
Aside from the Bowlium case, the report described an incident in which one deputy was pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road with 0.256% blood alcohol level and two loaded guns in the car. Two years later, the report said, that same deputy passed out after going home with people from a bar and awoke in the morning to find his gun missing.
Four supervisors voted in favor of the motion. Supervisor Janice Hahn abstained, saying she wanted to support the sheriff by leaving policy decisions up to him.
In an emailed statement, the department said it was “reviewing the current policy” relating to alcohol and guns.
“There are multiple stakeholders that need to be incorporated into this decision,” the statement said. “Any policy changes need to go through the appropriate meet and confer process.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.