Cerise Castle criminal justice Police Violence

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Second-In-Command Has Alleged Gang Tattoo

Undersheriff April Tardy says her ankle imprint shows allegiance to her former station. Deputies say it represents a deputy gang.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Patrol Car ( Dannyi2yu/Getty Images)

By Cerise Castle / Capital & Main

Los Angeles County Undersheriff April Tardy, the Sheriff’s Department’s second-highest-ranking official, said she has a tattoo on her ankle that signifies her dedication to a station she was assigned to early in her career. But several current department sources say the tattoo signifies membership in the V Boys, a deputy gang.

The V Boys allegedly existed at the Sheriff’s Temple Station in the San Gabriel Valley, where Tardy worked in the 1990s.

L.A. County Undersheriff April Tardy. Photo: LASD.

Deputy gangs have long been a problem in the Sheriff’s Department. A special counsel report to the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission released last week said deputy gangs have been present since at least 1973. 

“It is indisputable that for nearly 50 years, Deputy Gangs and Deputy Cliques have existed within the Department and their existence and negative impacts were known to the leadership of the Department. Yet there was no sustained effort during this period to eradicate Deputy Gangs and Deputy Cliques from the Department,” the report stated. 

The special counsel report found that deputy cliques “run the stations or units where they exist, as opposed to the sergeants, lieutenants and the captain.”

Tardy has said she is committed as undersheriff to eliminating the gangs from the department. 

In an interview with Capital & Main, Tardy confirmed that she has a tattoo. But she says it is not a mark of affiliation with any department gangs or self-selecting social groups. 

She described the tattoo as “a Roman numeral five, which is a V, which means Temple Station is the fifth station for the Sheriff’s Department.” The top displays the letters “TEM” for Temple, and the bottom reads “LASD.” 

Several current LASD members said the tattoo is that of the Temple Station V Boys, a deputy gang that formed in the late 1990s at the Temple Station. At the time, another deputy gang also operated out of the station — the Tasmanian Devils, who share a common tattoo of the Warner Brothers cartoon character the Tasmanian Devil. The V Boys gang was created by deputies who were not admitted to the Tasmanian Devils, the sources say, and the two gangs kept up a rivalry within the station. Two department sources have identified additional members in the V Boys deputy gang, including another woman. 

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Tardy said in the interview that she had no knowledge of the V Boys. She did say that she had heard of the Tasmanian Devils, but that the gang was active in the 1980s, prior to her arrival at the station. Tardy says she “never heard of any nefarious behavior related to any tattoos” while at Temple Station.  

A current department member who worked with Tardy said both the V Boys and Tasmanian Devils were active gangs at the station when Tardy was assigned there and deputies’ affiliations were common knowledge to all working there.

The department member asked to speak anonymously due to fear of retaliation.  “It is widely known that speaking ill of executives in our department can be career ending,” they said. They said that both the V Boys and Tasmanian Devils were believed by other deputies to participate in filing false police reports, which is a crime. 

Another current department member who asked to speak anonymously said that speaking out can bring retaliation and ostracism. The person also said that “some people that have known about [the existence of deputy gangs], supported it and been part of covering it up are part of the highest ranks of the department.” They said Tardy is among those officials. 

A jacket adorned with the Tasmanian Devils deputy gang logo.

On Wednesday former Sheriff Alex Villanueva appeared on Instagram Live and asked, “Is it true that [Sheriff Robert G. Luna’s] acting undersheriff also has a station tattoo? That’s what I am hearing, tell me if I am wrong. Does that mean Mr. Luna has to fire his undersheriff?”

Tardy was assigned to patrol at the Temple Station in 1997, following her time at the Inmate Reception Center at the Men’s Central Jail campus in downtown Los Angeles. She later moved to the Compton Station, where she worked as a gang investigator and was promoted to sergeant in 2006. Tardy served as a lieutenant, starting in 2011, at Men’s Central Jail and at the Carson Station, and was promoted to captain of the South Los Angeles Station in 2017. Prior to being appointed undersheriff, she was chief of the Central Patrol Division. There is no test for advancement beyond the rank of lieutenant in the Sheriff’s Department — those named to higher positions are selected by executive staff.

“It just means where I worked and my dedication to the department, to the station where I worked and to the community that I served.”

~ L.A. County Undersheriff April Tardy

In 2022, the Civilian Oversight Commission, which monitors the department, convened hearings to investigate the issue of deputy gangs. The hearings, which came a year after Knock LA published a 15-part series on deputy gangs, were the basis for the recently released special counsel report. 

Tardy said she has been open about having the tattoo throughout her career at LASD. “There were people in the community that I served who knew that I had a tattoo. I spoke about it in some community meetings with small groups of people who I dealt with on a weekly basis.” 

Tardy said that she informed executives in 2013 that she had a tattoo. She said she also told current Sheriff Robert Luna about it when she interviewed for the position of undersheriff. “I wanted him to know that I did have a station tattoo and how I got the tattoo and what it meant to me … It just means where I worked and my dedication to the department, to the station where I worked and to the community that I served.”

Many department personnel who have testified to being tattooed members of deputy gangs have also stated that they received the tattoos out of a sense of pride for the station. Deputy gang members have been implicated in misconduct including false police reports and fatal shootings that were out of policy. 

Tardy said that her master training officer invited her to receive her tattoo once she completed her training at Temple Station. Master training officers oversee the instruction of all deputies new to a station. Several department members who have spoken publicly about deputy gangs have shared that training officers are frequently affiliated with deputy gangs.  

Tardy said she was told where and when to get her tattoo. When she arrived, there was a group of deputies also waiting to get the tattoo. Several deputy gang members have described receiving their tattoos in a similar fashion, including Jaime Juarez, a so-called shot caller or leader in the Executioners deputy gang, who said he has attended tattooing parties at deputies’ homes.

“We already had an undersheriff with tattoos. Look what it got us: more killings, more deaths.”

~ Helen Jones, community organizer, Dignity and Power Now

In July 2022, Tardy, then chief of the Central Patrol Division, testified before the Civilian Oversight Commission. The commission, which monitors the department, was investigating deputy gangs. Bert Deixler, lead counsel in charge of questioning witnesses, says he knew about Tardy’s tattoo ahead of her testimony. Tardy was not asked any questions about the tattoo. 

“We have worked with Undersheriff Tardy both before she assumed her position and presently, and we have found her to be a person who is committed to the elimination of deputy gangs from the LASD.” 

Helen Jones, a community organizer with Dignity and Power Now, said she was sad to learn of Tardy’s tattoo. Jones’ son, John Horton, was found dead in Men’s Central Jail on March 30, 2009. Initially, the department said Horton hanged himself. Evidence of physical assault to his body led the coroner to rule the cause of death as “hanging and other undetermined factors.”

“We already had an undersheriff with tattoos. Look what it got us: more killings, more deaths,” Jones said. 

Paul Tanaka, a previous undersheriff and tattooed member of the Vikings deputy gang, was later convicted of obstruction of justice. Tanaka was overseeing the operations of the county jails when Jones’ son died.  

Attorney Sarah Moses spent five minutes questioning Tardy about the definition of a deputy gang during the 2022 hearing. Tardy refused to use the term “deputy gang,” opting instead to call them “subgroups,” saying: “Just because we call it a gang doesn’t necessarily make it a gang.” She incorrectly stated that a judge needed to make the determination. Tardy has been in law enforcement for 28 years.

Eventually, she conceded that a deputy gang is defined by California law as a group of three or more people that have a name, common identifying symbol and violate fundamental principles of professional policing. When asked specifically about the Banditos, a gang created at the East Los Angeles Station, she agreed that they met the definition of a deputy gang.

Deixler said, “In fact, she testified under oath that the Banditos meet the statutory definition of a deputy gang, which was an admission that was both important to the commission and suggested her willingness to take a risk given the prospect for retribution that exists within the organization.”

In Compton, Tardy oversaw the transfer to other stations of deputies identified as members of the Executioners gang in the course of outside civil litigation.

Tardy said that she does not believe that department members testifying had any reason to be afraid of retribution. 

But during the hearings Deixler presented photographs of dead rats left at the homes of witnesses, as well as department vehicles parked outside those homes. Larry Waldie, a lieutenant, told the commission that he feared that deputy gang members would take violent action against his family in retaliation for his testimony. 

Tardy testified to the commission that as a division chief, she had been instructed by Los Angeles County counsel not to ask deputies about gang affiliation. She said the attorney told her she could only ask about deputy gang affiliation if an investigation into deputy gangs was being conducted.

Tardy also recounted to the commission that she oversaw investigations into the Banditos and the Executioners, a deputy gang at the Compton Station. The Banditos investigation was opened after several deputies were assaulted by self-admitted members of the gang at an off-duty party. Tardy said that she did not inquire about current shot callers, or leaders in the gang, during the course of her investigation. She also said that she found several victims of the assault worthy of discipline, saying: “There were policies victim deputies violated as far as not reporting the incident, so I dealt with everything across the board.”

Tardy oversaw the transfers of 15 deputies, at least some of whom were perpetrators of the beating. Some of the transfers were voluntary, where the deputies were able to choose a preferred station for assignment. Similarly in Compton, Tardy oversaw the transfer to other stations of deputies identified as members of the Executioners gang in the course of outside civil litigation. “A Bandito is only a Bandito at the East L.A. station,” she told the commission. “At another station just a deputy sheriff.”

Deputy gang members historically have continued their allegedly brutal tactics, including shootings and beatings, in other assignments

Raquel Derfler, a member of the steering committee for Cancel the Contract: Antelope Valley, a group calling for the end of the LASD’s contract for law enforcement services in North Los Angeles County, said she was not surprised by Tardy’s tattoo. “There’s no way you’re going to rise to that level if they think that you’re going to cause problems.” 

In its report, the Civilian Oversight Commission did not mention the V Boys as one of the gangs in the department, which included the Executioners, Gladiators, Reapers and Banditos. But in addition to those named gangs, the report authors stated that what they describe as self-associating “deputy cliques” also “engage in gang-type and criminal behavior directed against the public and other Department members…Deputy Cliques, whether they meet the definition of ‘law enforcement gangs,’ must be eradicated as they are the seeds from which Deputy Gangs develop.” The commission recommends prohibiting participation in both as a condition of employment. 

“The fine distinction, if any, between ‘Deputy Gangs’ and ‘Deputy Cliques’ is not important,” the report said. 

Tardy said she is committed to eliminating deputy gangs during her tenure as undersheriff. “Everyone knows that we have to be better. We are held to a higher standard and our actions have to dictate the same.”

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Cerise Castle

I’m a Los Angeles-based journalist specializing in arts & culture, civil rights, crime, and human interest stories. I have several years of experience as a multimedia journalist across print, television, and audio. I wrote the first history of deputy gangs inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. I’ve produced and hosted segments for the Emmy-award winning nightly news program, VICE News Tonight, NPR and nationally syndicated radio program Marketplace. I’ve also produced podcast series for Audible, iHeartMedia, and Wondery. My reporting and commentary have been featured in publications like The Daily Beast, The Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine and MTV. In 2022, I was a recipient of the International Women in Media Foundation’s Courage Award. In my free time, I’m an avid hiker and stargazer.