LANCASTER — A bloody, painted cow's tongue found outside the entrance to a welfare office represented "a Santeria or voodoo ritual" but not a death threat, concluded a report by Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators released Thursday.
Scraps of paper bearing the names of 14 workers at the county Department of Public and Social Services office were pinned to the yellow-painted tongue, which was discovered hanging from a tree at the department's office on East Avenue K early on July 28.
Two or more department employees carried out the ritual, which they considered would "prevent certain employees from gossiping or speaking badly about an administrator at that facility," according to Sheriff's Deputy Tonia Bower.
Sheriff's Sgt. Jerry Wolf said office politics had created a "hostile work environment," and some of those who sympathized with the administrator left the tongue in an attempt "to make someone stop talking evil."
Investigators believe the ritual was timed to immediately precede an employee demonstration against the administrator, which was scheduled for the afternoon of July 28.
Authorities lack sufficient evidence for criminal charges, Bower said, and instead referred the case to the social services department's internal affairs unit.
Susan Aguilar, director of the social services office, would not comment.
Ritual animal sacrifices are commonly part of Santeria, a religion that originated among Caribbean slaves. In the United States, it is most popular in southern Florida, where an estimated 70,000 people practice it.
Bower said the welfare office has run smoothly since the tongue's discovery.
"A voodoo ritual can be a little bit unsettling to some people," she said. "But there haven't been any more problems."