Sheriff's clique may have celebrated shootings with tattoo, sources say
The investigation into a secret clique within the Los Angeles County sheriff's elite gang unit has uncovered allegations that members had matching tattoos of a gun-toting skeleton, which deputies would modify to celebrate their involvement in a shooting, according to sources close to the internal probe.
One deputy, who has admitted belonging to a clique called the "Jump Out Boys," has identified about half a dozen other deputies as members, one source confirmed. Those men are expected to be summoned for interviews with internal affairs investigators, the source said.
Suspicion about the group's existence was sparked several weeks ago when a supervisor discovered a pamphlet laying out the group's creed, which promoted aggressive policing and portrayed officer shootings in a positive light.
The pamphlet was found in the vehicle used by the deputy who acknowledged his association with the clique, according to sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.
At some point, one deputy came forward, and he has since named about six others, the source said.
Internal affairs investigators are trying to determine whether the deputies violated Sheriff's Department rules or committed serious misconduct.
The deputies under scrutiny all work on the Gang Enforcement Team, a unit divided into two platoons of relatively autonomous deputies whose job is to target neighborhoods where gang violence is high, locate armed gang members and take their guns away.
The design of the tattoo, confirmed by two sources, includes an oversize skull with a wide, toothy grimace and glowing red eyes. A bandanna wraps around the skull, imprinted with the letters "OSS" -- representing Operation Safe Streets, the name of the larger unit that the Gang Enforcement Team is part of. A bony hand clasps a revolver. Investigators suspect that smoke is tattooed over the gun's barrel after a member is involved in a shooting.
To the left of the skull are two playing cards -- an ace and an eight -- apparently an allusion to the "dead man's hand" in poker, sources said.
One source compared the notion of modifying the tattoo after a shooting to a celebratory "high five."
Celebrating shootings and sporting matching tattoos were hallmarks of anti-gang officers in the LAPD's troubled Rampart Division in the late 1990s.
A corruption scandal erupted after one disgraced officer implicated himself and others in covering up bad shootings, planting evidence, falsifying reports and perjuring themselves to rid the streets of gang members and drug dealers.
In fact, the tattoo allegedly embraced by the Jump Out Boys is reminiscent of the one inked on Rampart officers, which consisted of a grinning skull in a cowboy hat with pairs of aces and eights fanned out in the background.
Sources say there is no evidence that deputies alleged to be in the clique have been involved in improper shootings or other misconduct. But the new revelations have heightened concerns.
The modified tattoos could also pose problems for the department in future litigation, making it more difficult for county attorneys to argue against lawsuits alleging bad shootings.
Sheriff Lee Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, declined to discuss details of the investigation because it is ongoing. "We take this very seriously," he said. "This is absolutely no joke whatsoever."
-- Robert Faturechi
Photo: Officials suspect that this tattoo is modified when a member of a deputies' clique is involved in a shooting. Credit: Handout