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Sheriff's deputy claims colleague pointed gun at him

It was just minutes into his workday when Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Moffett saw a gun aimed straight at his head.

The man gripping the gun, he told investigators, was a fellow sergeant staring at him from a glass office inside the Compton's sheriff's station.

"I'm gonna kill you," Moffett said his colleague mouthed at him. "I'm gonna kill you."

Moffett said the threat was one of many that Sgt. Timothy Cooper directed at him over the years, a vendetta he alleges was motivated by Cooper's ties to a secret deputy clique. The sergeant's allegations — of public threats made with impunity, of deputies divided by cliques, of a code of silence — mirror the challenges facing the Sheriff's Department as it tries to change its culture amid a jail abuse scandal and intensifying outside scrutiny.

The case was taken to the department's discipline committee, with a recommendation that Cooper be demoted. But the group of executives opted for a more lenient punishment: a 15-day suspension, sources said.

Sheriff Lee Baca questioned the committee's decision when he learned about it, according to sources familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it involves confidential discipline.

Earlier this month, Baca dissolved the committee and created a new system in which he plays a larger role in determining significant punishment. The move comes after Baca, and other officials, said in recent months that the sheriff often was kept in the dark by his top executives about bad behavior inside the department.

In an interview, Baca said he could not comment on the gun-pointing case because of privacy constraints, but he said that his streamlining of the department's discipline structure would ensure that in the future "there aren't any gaps in the decision-making process."

Moffett, who is suing the department, said that for years he stayed mum about the abuse because he feared being labeled a snitch and the possibility of retaliation from others inside the Sheriff's Department. But he came forward after that morning at the station in May 2009.

His allegations were investigated internally by the department. Prosecutors declined to file charges against Cooper, saying that he could claim that his actions were "just another in an ongoing series of pranks."

According to district attorney's records, Moffett believed Cooper had ties to the Vikings, a deputy clique that in the 1990s was alleged to have brutalized minorities, falsely arrested suspects and engaged in wrongful shootings.

As part of a 1996 settlement, the county agreed to retrain deputies to prevent such conduct and pay $7.5 million to compensate victims of alleged abuses. In addition to the Vikings, the department has identified other cliques with names such as the Cavemen and the Regulators.

Recently, there have been fresh allegations of deputy cliques operating in the county jails. A group of jailers, who were known to brandish gang-like hand signs, were involved in a brawl with other deputies at a 2010 department Christmas party.

They were known as the 3000 clique because they worked on the third floor of Men's Central Jail.

Cooper's attorney in a civil lawsuit declined to say whether her client was affiliated with the clique, or comment on the case.

Bradley Gage, Moffett's civil attorney, said the department had grounds to fire Cooper.

ALSO:

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Union blames Marine killed by deputy for fatal shooting

TV producer ordered to stand trial in Mexico in wife’s murder

-- Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard

 
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