Does L.A. County Sheriff’s Department harbor outlaw secret ‘skull tattoo’ group?
Years of rumors have persisted about secret White deputy cliques that often skirted the bounds of legal patrol procedures
Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, currently serving five years in Federal prison for his role a corruption scandal in the L.A. County Jail, admitted to membership in the Vikings clandestine gang while a sheriff’s deputy with the department. KCBS News screenshot
Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka highest-ranking department official to confess Vikings membership since his time as a low-level sheriff’s deputy
KCBS News reported this week that concern is growing over a supposed secret clique of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who brand their members with matching skull tattoos.
The news station reported that a sheriff’s deputy admitted to getting inked two years ago as part of a ritual within the ranks at the LASD Compton station has raised concerns that deputy cliques, long part of a controversial agency subculture, have persisted despite the department’s reform efforts.
But this is hardly a revelation. Rumors have persisted for years of secret cliques of White deputies within the department that often went outside the bounds of legal patrol procedures when dealing with Blacks and Latinos. One group that surfaced time and again under both Sherman Block and Leroy Baca was a shadowy group called the Vikings, who allegedly operated 30 years ago out of the Sheriff’s Department’s Lynwood station.
One could argue that the Vikings were no more harmful than an interdepartmental extracurricular softball team or a club of long-distance cyclists bearing nicknames.
If it were that simple there would be no controversy.
Nearly 30 years ago, a federal judge said the Vikings club was a “neo-Nazi, White supremacist gang. The department has a history of clandestine groups with suggestive names like the Regulators, Grim Reapers and Jump Out Boys that have been accused of promoting highly aggressive tactics and perpetuating a code of silence among members.
But a deposition given in May by Deputy Samuel Aldama, who described under oath a tattoo on his calf featuring a skull in a military-style helmet bearing the letters CPT, for Compton, along with a rifle, encircled by flames, as reported by a local daily newspaper portends something sinister.
The county sheriff department has had its share of excessive abuse issues and questionable shootings and killings of Compton residents over the years, including the recent fatal shooting of Donta Taylor, who was unarmed. Deputies claimed Taylor raised a weapon, but evidence refutes the claim. In fact, no weapon was found on Taylor.
Aldama said he got the tattoo in June 2016, a couple of months before he was involved in Taylor’s fatal shooting, along with his partner Mizrain Orrego. Taylor was unarmed at the time of his death.
Another case involved two reckless Lynwood station deputies in 2015, who fatally shot 28-year-old Nicholas Robertson 17 times on Dec. 12, 2015, in front of an Arco gas station near the intersection of Long Beach Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue in Lynwood. County sheriff’s officials claimed Robertson pointed a gun towards the deputies and that they feared for their lives, but multiple videos showed that Robertson was walking away from the deputies when they began shooting him. In all 33 shots were fired.
An investigation found that at the time of the shooting, Robertson was in possession of a handgun, but the weapon was not loaded.
The County of Los Angeles doled out $3.6 million to the children of Robertson, the result of a unanimous Dec. 4, 2015 jury verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit. The county continues to expend millions of dollars in liability for the wanton behavior of sheriff’s deputies.
Some members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission (SCOC) are calling on LASD to investigate the issue of deputy tattoos. Hernan Vera, who serves on the SCOC, said Aldama’s admission in a lawsuit over a fatal shooting that he and as many as 20 others have the signature tattoos was “thoroughly disturbing,” the local newspaper reported.
Attorneys John Sweeney and Steven Glickman are representing Taylor’s family in what they have categorized as another wrongful death lawsuit against L.A. county.
“We need to shine a light on what’s been going on in Compton,” Glickman said.
In light of the current racial climate and re-surging boldness of hate crimes against Blacks, Latinx immigrants, and Muslims in the U.S., Glickman is dead on. A flood-light must be focused on Compton. It was never determined whether the Vikings or any of the other dastardly secret groups disbanded entirely.
Judging from Aldama’s description of the skull tattoo, violent acts perpetrated by deputies belonging to clandestine organizations predisposed to terrorize Compton residents may not be just a thing of the past.