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7 deputies placed on leave in 'Jump Out Boys' clique investigation

May 16, 2012 |  4:08 pm

Deputy tattooSeven deputies from within the Los Angeles County sheriff’s gang unit have been placed on leave on suspicion that they belonged to a secret clique that celebrated shootings and branded its members with matching tattoos, sources confirmed.

The move is a sign of the intensifying nature of the probe of the “Jump Out Boys.” Suspicion about the group's existence was sparked several weeks ago when a supervisor discovered a pamphlet describing the group's creed, which promoted aggressive policing and portrayed officer shootings in a positive light.

Days after The Times reported on the discovery of the pamphlet, the captain of the division gathered his deputies for a private briefing, during which he told them that they had shamed the department by forming the group and urged those responsible to identify themselves, a source with knowledge of the unit's inner workings said.

At some point, one deputy came forward, and named six others, the source said. All seven were placed on leave with pay sometime this week, sources said. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.

Internal affairs investigators are trying to determine whether the deputies violated Sheriff's Department rules or committed serious misconduct.

The deputies under scrutiny have all worked on the Gang Enforcement Team, a unit divided into two platoons of relatively autonomous deputies who target neighborhoods where gang violence is high, locate armed gang members and take their guns away.

Investigators are looking at whether they sported matching tattoos, the suspected design of which was obtained by The Times and confirmed by two sources: it includes an oversized skull with a wide, toothy grimace and glowing red eyes. A bandanna is wrapped 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 might be tattooed over the gun's barrel after a member is involved in a shooting.

One source compared the notion of modifying the tattoo after a shooting to a celebratory "high five."

Sources say though that despite the disturbing allegations, there is currently not any evidence that the men were involved in improper shootings, or other misconduct. Still the revelations have heightened concerns. What investigators are most concerned about with the Jump Out Boys isn't the alleged matching tattoos, but the suspected admiration they show for officer-involved shootings, which are expected to be events of last resort.

The department has been grappling with unsanctioned cliques in its ranks for decades. Last year, the department fired a half-dozen deputies who worked on the third, or "3000," floor of Men's Central Jail after the group fought two fellow deputies at an employee Christmas party and allegedly punched a female deputy in the face.

Sheriff's officials later said the men had formed an aggressive "3000" clique that used gang-like three-finger hand signs. A former top jail commander told The Times that jailers would "earn their ink" by breaking inmates' bones.

The Jump Out Boys, sources said, was a name coined by Compton-area gang members alluding to how quickly deputies from the unit would jump out of patrol vehicles to stop them.

One source with knowledge of the inner workings of the division said the deputies placed on leave this week consist of current and former Gang Enforcement Team members.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed that seven deputies were placed on leave, but declined to discuss the details of the probe. "We took the appropriate action and we will continue to take the appropriate action," he said. "It's still early in the investigation."

Whitmore said placing so many deputies on leave over one incident hasn't happened since the 2010 Christmas party fight involving the "3000" deputies. He said the action is one of the largest mass leaves instituted by the department in its history.


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-- Robert Faturechi


Photo: Officials suspect that this tattoo is modified when a member of a deputies' clique is involved in a shooting. Credit: Handout