SOUTHEAST AREA — An investigation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department pointed to the Lynwood station as an example "of what can happen when deputies are inadequately supervised" and criticized at least two other Southeast-area stations.
The chilling 359-page report, released earlier this week, found "deeply disturbing evidence of excessive force and lax discipline" within the department. It devotes an entire chapter to the well-publicized reports that some Lynwood station deputies once formed a brutal, white supremacist gang called the Vikings.
A seven-month examination of 124 lawsuits and internal affairs investigations by Special Counsel James G. Kolts found that in the past six years, the Lynwood and Norwalk sheriff's stations accounted for most of the department's incidents of excessive force. The Lynwood station was involved in 18 incidents and the Norwalk station in 13.
The report also mentions the Lynwood station as an example of how the department has failed to achieve a racially diverse complement of men and women. Less than 7% of the Lynwood station's sworn personnel are women, compared to 12.5% department-wide. In addition, the report noted, only 5% of the Lynwood residents are Anglo, yet more than 70% of the force is Anglo.
However, Kolts and his team of 30 attorneys also single out for praise Norwalk Cmdr. Norm Smith and Lakewood Cmdr. John Anderson, whom they say have established systems to address the problems of excessive force before "a disaster occurs." Neither could be reached for comment.
Anecdotes about use of excessive force pepper the report. For example, the report notes that curiosity got a Lakewood man in trouble. While walking to a friend's house, the man saw a patrol car pursuing another car and then heard a crash. He look inside the crashed car to see if anyone was hurt and then kept walking.
The Lakewood station deputies, however, caught up with him and wanted to take him back to the car. He objected, saying he was just walking by, and began struggling with the officers. The man ended up with a broken arm, and the county paid him $25,000.
The county also settled two lawsuits for a total of $427,000 in incidents involving two Norwalk deputies in 1983 and 1984.
In one of the incidents, the deputies picked up two teen-age boys who were riding their bikes at 4 a.m. The boys said they were going fishing, and although "there was no evidence that the boys were involved in any criminal activity at the time," the report says, the deputies took them to a nearby parking lot and interrogated them. One deputy pointed a gun at one of the boys, threatening to "blow a (expletive deleted) hole in him."
"What if I took your life right now? No one would miss a punk like you," the deputy reportedly told the boy.
In a later incident, these same deputies were accused of harassing a man who had successfully sued the department in an excessive-force case. While arguing with these deputies, he was struck in the head with a flashlight and his father was beaten for attempting to intervene, the report said.
Both deputies were given five-day suspensions as a result of the first incident, and, investigators note, both are still working at the Norwalk station.
But it is the charges that "racist deputy gangs" exist within the Sheriff's Department that focused the investigation on the Lynwood station.
The existence of a clique of deputies who called themselves the Vikings was reported in several newspapers last fall, but received widespread attention when a federal court judge hearing a class-action suit filed against the station found that "a group of Lynwood deputies . . . are members of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang--the Vikings--which exists with the knowledge of departmental policy-makers."
The department has consistently declined to comment on the judge's findings but has said the lawsuit was brought by gang members who want to make the department look bad.
Last month, the Lynwood City Council passed an emergency ordinance creating a special five-member civilian Law Enforcement Review Board to track deputy misconduct.
The move was led by Councilman Paul Richards, who said at the time that residents are concerned that their complaints "just go into a black box, never to be heard of again." In fact, the Kolts report found numerous problems with the complaints system throughout the department ranging from intimidation of those complaining to slipshod investigations.
After interviews with numerous people, including plaintiffs and attorneys in the class-action suit, the former and current station commander and a former deputy, the Kolts report concluded that "while there may be some support for the allegations that a racist deputy gang existed at Lynwood, there is no persuasive evidence to date."