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Oversight investigators find deputy gang ‘logo’ outside Los Angeles women’s jail

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the sticker has since been removed — and Sheriff Robert Luna faulted oversight officials for not telling him about the image sooner

LA Deputy Gang Sticker

Office of Inspector General investigators reported seeing a Regulators deputy gang sticker in the Lynwood jail parking garage. (Office of Inspector General/TNS)

Office of Inspector General/TNS

By Keri Blakinger
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A deputy gang has left its mark at the women’s jail.

County oversight officials touring the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood late last year spotted a new sticker on the wall of the jail’s parking garage a couple of feet from the elevator. It was a black-and-white image of a grinning skeleton in a cowboy hat — the symbol of the Regulators, a deputy gang affiliated with the Century sheriff’s station next door.

According to the Office of Inspector General, which documented finding the image in a report released this week, the sticker “appeared recent” and investigators “had not seen it previously on regular site visits” to the jail.

Investigators first spotted the grim symbol on Dec. 21. When they returned more than a month later, it was still there, on top of the red paint of an “Emergency Help” sign next to the second story elevator.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the sticker has since been removed — and last week Sheriff Robert Luna faulted oversight officials for not telling him about the image sooner.

“It would be tremendously helpful to the Department’s efforts to eradicate such symbols if we were advised of their existence immediately,” he wrote to Inspector General Max Huntsman in a six-page letter criticizing the report.

“I do not know when your office first identified such a sticker,” Luna wrote, “but any derogatory symbol such as those reflecting a law enforcement gang are inappropriate and need to be addressed immediately.”

In response, Huntsman told The Times that publicly reporting problems will be the “default” now.

“We have repeatedly brought the problem of public displays of suspected gang logos to LASD attention privately, and they have consistently failed to address them effectively, instead endangering Inspector General personnel with responses that shoot the messenger,” he said.

“This logo was in place in a high traffic area for at least a month with no official action,” he continued. “As with previous reports by my office, little if any investigation has been conducted as to when the imagery first appeared and why it was not reported.”

After initiating an inquiry, the Sheriff’s Department said on Wednesday that it opened a formal internal affairs investigation into the matter.

In recent years there have been some indications in reports that the Regulators, one of the older gangs within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, are no longer actively adding members. It’s not clear if the appearance of the group’s logo outside the jail signals a change or indicates that the group has continued to operate within the department.

For decades, county and outside investigations have shown the Sheriff’s Department has been plagued by gangs of deputies running roughshod over certain stations and floors of the jail. The groups are known by monikers such as the Executioners, the Vikings and the Regulators, and their members often bear the same sequentially numbered tattoos with symbols linking them to specific stations.

A photo of the sticker that oversight officials spotted outside the Lynwood jail, for example, showed the skeletal figure ripping through a logo with the letters CEN and the Roman numeral 21. Century Station is the department’s 21st station, and it is home to two deputy groups: the Regulators and the Spartans.

Over the years, a series of elected sheriffs have failed to bring the various tattooed groups under control despite multiple internal investigations, an FBI probe, a variety of oversight hearings, dozens of lawsuits and several outside reports.

According to one of those reports, released last year by the Civilian Oversight Commission after a series of public hearings with sworn testimony, internal department communications documented the existence of the Regulators as far back as 2007.

“The Regulators philosophy is that if a sergeant, lieutenant, or captain was weak at Century Station they would run over them,” a commander wrote to then-Sheriff Lee Baca in October of that year, according to the report. “They would not respect rank. They openly displayed the Regulators logo of the ‘skull and flames’ symbol on their motorcycles as well as body tattoos.”

Witnesses also told the commission during the 2022 hearings that the Regulators and the Spartans had competed for control of the station and engaged in misconduct. In one instance, an anonymous witness told the commission about problems stemming from a Regulator-sponsored fundraising poker game in which female deputies took personal days off to serve as “cocktail waitresses,” according to the report.

That allegedly irked the Spartans, who asked for the same amount of time off, but were turned down. Eventually, the witness said, one Spartan left a threatening note under the door of the captain who denied the request.

One former official said department leadership knew about the Regulators because the group had “installed a large monument honoring themselves on the premises of the Century Station that remained in place for several years,” according to the commission report.

By 2020, an internal county report showed taxpayers had spent at least $55 million settling lawsuits involving deputies who were alleged members of deputy gangs, including the Regulators.

While the prior sheriff, Alex Villanueva, has often denied the groups exist and at one point likened them to mythical unicorns, the county’s current top cop has vowed to eradicate them and last year announced a new office within the department focused on achieving that goal.

Still, in January of this year, a Times investigation revealed evidence of a previously unreported deputy gang, the Industry Station Indians. The group’s existence came to light after several deputies — two of whom allegedly admitted to having Indians tattoos — menaced a group of teens during a boozy confrontation outside a bowling alley.

Four deputies were fired, though they have all appealed their terminations, according to a county source familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Aside from noting the appearance of the Regulators’ imagery outside the women’s jail, the oversight report released this week also highlighted two other major concerns about conditions in the county lockups based on inspections conducted during the last three months of 2023.

In October, the report said, a woman at the Lynwood jail gave birth alone in her cell after medical staff and jail officials failed to notice that she was pregnant, even though she’d been in custody for nearly four months.

Just before the woman — who was not named in the report — gave birth, a deputy noticed that she looked “big in the belly” but wasn’t wearing a pregnancy uniform. When the deputy returned 15 minutes later, the woman was covered in blood and had a baby with her.

Under jail healthcare policy, the woman should have been given a pregnancy test when she was booked in, according to the report. But, oversight officials wrote, after she refused an initial urine screen, the jail’s medical staff ordered a blood test that was never completed.

Over the next several months, the pregnant woman repeatedly saw medical staff for routine visits and was put in high-observation housing where she was supposed to be checked on by jailers every 15 minutes. At one point, the report said medical staff noted in her chart that she refused to wear clothing in her cell. Though she did not often come out for group activities, the report said she left her cell four days before giving birth to take part in a program.

Still, the guards and healthcare workers failed to notice the woman was pregnant.

The county’s Correctional Health Services — which handles healthcare inside the jails — told The Times that it could not provide any information about the case due to medical privacy laws, but that inmates are legally permitted to refuse pregnancy tests.

This is not the first time in recent years the jail has faced questions about its handling of pregnant inmates. Last year, The Times reported on leaked surveillance videos of a woman giving birth in a jail hallway while apparently restrained in a wheelchair.

In addition to the problems at the women’s jail, the oversight report also raised concerns about an ongoing rat problem at Men’s Central Jail, a decaying facility built downtown in the 1960s, which the county has been aiming to close for several years.

Last year, multiple incarcerated people on the LGBTQ+ unit told oversight officials they had been bitten by rats who lived there. According to the report, the Office of Inspector General repeatedly informed the department about the problem. Officials responded by disinfecting and pressure washing the unit, as well as contracting with a pest control agency to set out traps.

But four months later, inspectors continued finding rat feces during their visits and the Office of Inspector General suggested last week that the department shut down the rat-infested unit “until it can maintain a sanitary environment to ensure that conditions do not pose a health risk to persons in custody.”

The Sheriff’s Department did not comment on the suggestion to shut down the rodent-riddled module, but on Wednesday said in an emailed statement that officials had investigated rat-related complaints and did not find any inmate grievances or reports consistent with rodent bite injuries.

“The allegations in the Office of Inspector General report were thoroughly investigated,” the department said in a statement. “The Department strives to provide a safe and secure environment for our entire incarcerated population.”

To Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California who is currently representing inmates in two major lawsuits against the jails, the issues identified in the latest oversight report are indicative of a larger problem and require a more sweeping solution.

“Closing Men’s Central Jail is the only thing that will fix the rat problem,” she told The Times, “but LASD also needs to admit that they have a major deputy culture problem and work to convince their staff that they are responsible for caring for the people in their custody.”


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