Ex-Sheriff Alex Villanueva Gives Sworn Testimony on Deputy Gangs at LLS

Ninth Special Hearing of Civilian Oversight Commission at Loyola Law School

The Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission (Commission) hosted its ninth Special Hearing on Deputy Gangs on Friday, January 12, in a packed courtroom in Loyola Law School.  The Commission included sworn testimony from former Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who served as the 33rd sheriff of Los Angeles County from 2018 until 2022. Villanueva has repeatedly denied the existence of deputy gangs in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD). 

Former Sheriff Alex Villanueva has questioned the legality of subpoenas for years and has refused to testify under oath about deputy gangs. He finally appeared on Friday at Loyola Law School before the Civilian Oversight Commission to give his sworn testimony that there are “subgroups” within the sheriff’s department.  

This comes after the ex-sheriff's previous statements that such cliques did not exist within LASD. Bert H. Deixler of Kendall Brill and Kelly, and Special Counsel for the Civilian Oversight Committee, began the cross-examination by playing a video interview of Villanueva denying the existence of deputy gangs and referring to them as “unicorns.”  

Villanueva’s stance on deputy gang in LASD contradicts the commission’s report last April that the deputy gangs are a “cancer” that “must be excised.” 

In response to Chief of Staff Larry Del Mese’s sworn testimony that he removed his Grim Reaper tattoo in 2018 because it was a ‘liability,’ Villanueva stated, “He’s a deputy sheriff, not a Grim Reaper. Your production of ‘Fifty Years of Deputy Gangs’ will make a good coffee table book, but you should look at the facts.”  

CJLP Director and Professor Sean Kennedy (LMU '86, LLS '89), author of “Fifty Years of ‘Deputy Gangs’ in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: Identifying Root Causes and Effects to Advocate for Meaningful Reforms,” is the Chair of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and leads four live-client clinics at Loyola Law School that focuses on fostering systemic reform of the Los Angeles juvenile justice system. 

Professor Sean Kennedy is the Chair of the Civilian Oversight Committee, which the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to implement in January 2016 with the mission to oversee and improve public transparency and accountability with respect to the Sheriff’s Department.

Since its formation in 2017, the Commission has been tracking the issue of deputy gangs. There is a long history of documentation on deputy gangs, including the 1992 Kolt Report, the 2012 Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence Report, the Inspector General’s Analysis into the Banditos, Loyola Law School’s 50 Years of Deputy Gangs Report, Knock LA’s Investigative Series into Deputy Gangs, & the 2021 RAND Study on Understanding Subgroups. On March 3, 2023, the Commission unanimously approved the Report on Deputy Gangs and adopted all 27 recommendations. 

During Villanueva’s nearly four-hour-long testimony, Villanueva referenced the LASD Civilian Oversight Committee and this Special Hearing as a “witch hunt on what type of ink [Sheriffs] have on their bodies.”  

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is running for office again, setting his sights on the Board of Supervisors.