Lynwood Vikings, others, comprise racist sheriff’s gang history
The symbol '998,' the code for 'officer-involved shooting' indicating that the deputy has shot someone, is among the Viking tattoo adornments
Logo of the LASD Lynwood Vikings gang. Credit: Darouet – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Criminal clandestine history of racist sheriff’s gangs includes Lynwood Vikings, the Little Devils, Jump Out Boys, Grim Reapers, 3000 Boys, and the Hats
The history of criminal racist activity within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has never been subtle, though many consider them clandestine gangs.
The Lynwood Vikings were a White supremacist gang in Los Angeles, based at the Lynwood station of the Sheriff’s Department, whose members were deputy sheriffs.
Vikings members have included disgraced Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, now serving five years in federal prison for corruption in the department. Tanaka served under ex-County Sheriff Lee Baca, who is also serving three years in federal prison for a jail scandal.
After lawsuits repeatedly surfaced concerning the group’s activities, the Vikings were described by federal judge Terry J. Hatter, Jr., as a “neo-Nazi” gang engaged in racially motivated hostility. According to sociologist Rob Sullivan, its members were committed to the “valorization” of Aryans.
Background and racist history
The first LASD gang the “Little Devils” was founded at the East L.A. station in 1971 and had an overwhelmingly White membership among deputies who patrolled Black and Latino communities.
The Lennox-based “Grim Reapers,” whose emblem is a hooded death and scythe, and the Regulators at Century station in Lynwood, are more recent gangs. Baca, while objecting to police gang behaviors, stated in the past that banning these gangs would be unconstitutional.
Vikings rose to prominence in 1990
In 1988, one year after joining the Vikings, Tanaka, then a deputy, was named in a wrongful death suit that the LASD settled for nearly $1 million; the case involved Tanaka’s shooting of a young Korean man. In the following year, Baca sent Captain Bert Cueva, who is of Latino ancestry, to “stamp out this Viking phenomenon,” but Cueva was unsuccessful and left his post in 1992.
The Vikings first rose to prominence in 1990, when misconduct litigation accused the LASD and its clubs of racism and racist violence. Lawyers suing the LASD stated that their clients were beaten, shot or harassed, and demanded to know if alleged perpetrators had Vikings tattoos on their ankles. Among the Viking tattoos is the symbol “998,” the code for “officer-involved shooting,” indicating that the deputy has shot someone.
Former department Undersheriff Jerry Harper described the 998 tattoos as “a mark of pride.” Lynwood station possessed a map of the district in the shape of Africa, and its walls held racist cartoons depicting Black men. The 1992 Kolts Commission on law enforcement brutality in L.A. found that cliques like the Vikings were especially active in areas with large minority populations, but the commission did not “conclusively demonstrate the existence of racist deputy gangs.”
Deputy Mike Osborne and his wife deputy Aurora Mellado, testifying about police corruption told the Los Angeles Times that an invitation to join the Vikings was considered prestigious, but also meant “you keep your mouth shut and obey the code of silence” about illegal activity by deputies. The Osborne’s and their children were later shot at in their home by what Osborne believes were disgruntled sheriff’s deputies.
In 1996, a federal judge ordered the sheriff’s department to pay $9 million in fines for lawsuits caused by the Vikings. Then Sheriff Sherman Block opposed the judge’s decision, calling it “irrational and wrong,” and stated that no evidence existed demonstrating that the Vikings were racist.
When Baca confronted deputies about Vikings membership in 1997, LASD superiors cautioned him against angering deputies and provoking a backlash.
In 2011, Francisco Carillo Jr., a prisoner accused and convicted 20 years earlier of murder, sued the LASD and one of its deputies, saying he had been framed by the Lynwood Vikings. Carrillo complained that the deputy and fellow Vikings had intimidated a key witness into making false statements.
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