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On this episode of Small Doses, host Amanda Seales welcomes investigative journalist Cerise Castle to the podcast. Castle wrote the first in-depth history of deputy gangs inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, whose existence she says is “common knowledge” in LA despite covertly terrorizing community members with violence and intimidation.

“I’ve heard about deputy gangs from the time I was a little kid growing up out here [in Los Angeles],” says Castle. “From as early as I can remember, I was told, be careful of white deputies with bald heads because they’re probably Vikings. It was common knowledge that this was an issue.”

Investigating the Police Gangs of LA County

Castle was injured in the field while covering the George Floyd protests in May of 2020, by a hail of rubber bullets fired by the LAPD in full riot gear. A reporter at KCRW at the time, she reluctantly went on a six-month bedrest, doctor’s orders.

Castle suddenly had some free time to further explore her childhood curiosity about LA’s police gangs in-depth. She pored over materials from the LA County Board of Supervisors and discovered a report confirming there were over 60 civil cases filed against the county that mentioned deputy gangs.

Castle uncovered deposition testimony given by deputies involved in these cases that confirmed their gang affiliation, many of them influenced by white supremacist principles. “What comes out in these depositions is, yes, I do have a gang tattoo; yes, I am a member of the Executioners,” she says. “The county, historically, has done a really good job at keeping that stuff quiet and making sure we don’t find out about it.”

LA County has paid about $100 million in settling such cases with taxpayers footing the bill, as well as attorney’s fees for both sides. “These cases go on for four, five years, and sometimes even longer than that. And those attorneys’ fees can be in the millions as well. So the real number is probably much, much higher,” Castle says.

Few Consequences for Violent Deputies

The information that Castle uncovered in her reporting only reinforced her misgivings about the police. “I never really had a good outlook on policing structures. I think doing this work just confirmed to me how deeply it goes,” she says.

Deputy gangs have been around since the 1960s and continue to inflict pain and suffering on local communities with little to no consequences. But they’re not doing it alone, Castle says. “It’s not just policing agencies. They are helped along by institutions that we rely on day to day … The federal government, California state legislature, the Board of Supervisors here in Los Angeles County, the district attorney, I could go on and on … Everyone works in concert together to allow these things to happen and to allow there to be no accountability.”

In LA County, the problem is swept under the rug in the form of settlement money for families that have lost loved ones to police violence. “For the past 30-some-odd years, it’s been very easy to just pay people off and make the problem go away,” she says.

Exposing the Truth About Police Gangs

Thanks to Castle’s in-depth reporting, the civilian oversight commission which oversees the sheriff’s department opened the first ever investigation into deputy gangs. “They’ve held eight hearings now where they’ve had deputies coming and testifying about abuses they’ve experienced firsthand in the department. And they just released a report documenting everything that they found,” she says.

But her work is not done. “Everyday I talk to families that still have lost people. I’m meeting new families every month, that’s the other thing. These killings just keep happening.”

Castle describes what should happen next, from firing known deputy gang members to prohibiting participation in deputy gangs. She also discusses how deputy gangs form “petty” deputy gang rivalries, and talking to the so-called “good cops” who are blowing the whistle on their fellow officers.

Listen to the full conversation here.

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