The FBI is investigating a secret society of tattooed deputies in East Los Angeles dubbed The Banditos, who allegedly use gang-like tactics to recruit young Latino police officers into their fold.
The Banditos, who brand themselves with matching tattoos of a skeleton wearing a sombrero, bandolier and pistol, are accused of beating and harassing young police officers who rebuff them.
It is understood that new members of the gang are required to commit criminal acts to prove their loyalty, such as planting evidence or writing false incident reports, an LA Times investigation suggests.
The Banditos, who brand themselves with matching tattoos of a skeleton wearing a sombrero, bandolier and pistol, are accused of beating and harassing rookie officers who rebuff them
According to reports with anonymous police officers, the group has a gang-like hierarchy and may even have rival gangs within the department numbering around 10,000 law enforcement officials.
The anonymous informants claim the Bandito leaders control key elements of the station including choosing whether back up is dispatched during dangerous calls.
The deputies say Bandito leaders, who are alleged to control key elements of station operations, put others’ lives at risk by not sending backup to help on dangerous calls, enforced illegal arrest quotas and carried out other forms of harassment.
Such is the growth of the gangs that investigators are looking into the possibility of there being rival gangs within the state, including one called the Reapers in South LA, and another dubbed the Spartans and Regulators in the Century Station.
The investigation represents another black eye for a police force plagued with accusations of corruption and criminality, dating back to 2011.
The FBI investigation appears to have been initiated after a group of deputies filed a lawsuit against the county accusing sheriff’s officials of failing to tackle a hostile atmosphere in the East LA station.
According to reports with anonymous officers, the group has a gang-like hierarchy and may even have rival gangs within the department, which numbers around 10,000 law enforcement officials
In one instance, it is alleged four Banditos harassed a rookie and when other deputies stepped in, were punched, kicked and choked unconscious, the legal files claim.
‘There’s people getting, you know, stomped on… being choked out… it was just crazy, crazy to believe they’re all cops,’ one deputy told Eyewitness News.
The lawsuit implicates Deputies David Silverio, Gregory Rodriguez and Rafael Munoz, and Sgt. Mike Hernandez, who were placed on paid administrative leave after the incident.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has repeatedly downplayed the importance of tattooed deputy groups within the LA law enforcement ranks, calling them a ‘cultural norm.’
Complainers can face retaliation. Some who have resisted the Banditos have seen the word ‘rat’ written on their windshield or received a dead rat
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has repeatedly downplayed the importance of tattooed deputy groups within the LA law enforcement ranks, calling them a ‘cultural norm’
He also pointed to intergenerational hazing between lawmen. He said there is nothing wrong with the clubs as long as they don’t promote unlawful behavior.
Villanueva condemned the Banditos of East LA however, saying they ‘ran roughshod’ over the previous captain and dictated where deputies would be assigned, enabled by the weak leadership of past administrations.
‘Pretty much they were calling the shots, they were dictating the decisions of the station and that has a very bad outcome obviously,’ Villanueva said.
Complainers can face retaliation. Some who have resisted the Banditos have seen the word ‘rat’ written on their windshield or received a dead rat.
These allegations are not the first against the Banditos. In 2014, the department was forced to pay a female deputy assigned to the East L.A. Station $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit.
The woman claimed she had been physically and mentally harassed by some of the clique’s 80 members after refusing to go along with their ‘traditions and initiation rituals.’