L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca conducts an inspection of Men's Central Jail in Downtown Los Angeles in this photo from December 2011.
The L.A. County Sheriff's Office is facing a new scandal, one seemingly ripped from an episode of the TV show "The Shield."
According to a recently discovered document, a tightly knit group within the elite gang unit apparently rewarded its members for shooting bad guys. The Sherrif’s Office is currently investigating whether or not this group actually exists.
"What happened is that they came across several documents, almost like a brochure, that was kind of like a code of ethics. It named them 'The Jump Out Boys,' and it also made a distinction between deputies who have been involved in shootings and those who haven't, and sort of treated shootings as a badge of honor," explained Robert Faturechi, a reporter for the L.A. Times who has been following this story. "Now this is problematic because, even with shootings that are within policy, they're supposed to be treated as a solemn event, not a way to earn distinction."
According to Faturechi, the documents were obtained somehow, but were not leaked from within the department.
The Sheriff's Department has had a history of problems with cliques. In 2010 there was an incident involving a group of deputies working on the third floor of Men's Central Jail against a group of deputies working another area of the prison. The men in this clique even used gang-like hand signs.
Then, more recently, a sergeant at the Compton station allegedly pointed his gun at another sergeant, which the victim claimed was because of clique resentment.
And these cliques aren't limited to lower ranking officers and deputies. Faturechi says instances like these have made it near the top.
"The Sheriff's No. 2 in fact, had acknowledged that at least in the past, he had affiliated with the Vikings, a group that was the target of much criticism," said Faturechi. "At one point, a federal judge accused them of being a neo-nazi group, and the county actually had to pay out millions of dollars, I think it was about $7 million, to the victims of incidents involving this group, and they also had to retrain their deputies to prevent that kind of thing from happening again."
If deputies have been trained against forming cliques like these, why does it keep happening? Faturechi says it's because they offer support for people working in an incredibly stressful and dangerous profession.
"A lot of these guys are macho guys, but nonetheless, these groups offer emotional support, sometimes physical support – as far as back up goes – and it's a way to cope about a difficult job," said Faturechi. "All of that is seen as positive – it's when this closeness gets to be so extreme that there's potential for dishonesty to cover for your comrades that this becomes problematic."
So what's Sheriff Lee Baca's role in all of this? Baca has pledged to clean up his troubled department, but it looks like he has a lot of work ahead of him.
"His critics have doubted that he'll be able to, but he has shown in the past that once a problem hits a crisis point, [he's able] to take care of it," said Faturechi. "We're seeing problems from multiple fronts now: There are at least three federal investigations. One of his captains is being looked at for being heard on a federal drug wiretap, we've got a pattern in practice in the North County and we've got the jails being investigated. The problems are massive and from multiple directions, we're just waiting to see how he handles it."
Robert Faturechi is a reporter for the L.A. times.