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Lawsuit accuses 'gang' of sheriff's deputies of harassing female trainees in East LA

Interim LA County Sheriff John Scott speaks after being sworn in at the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room at the Hall of Administration on Jan. 30.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Interim LA County Sheriff John Scott speaks after being sworn in at the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room at the Hall of Administration on Jan. 30.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy claims female trainees at the department's East L.A. station were routinely harassed by a "gang" of male training officers, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

Guadalupe Lopez, who brought the claim, is suing the department and 100 unnamed deputies for alleged sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation in 2011 and 2012.

In a statement, Interim Sheriff John Scott said some of the allegations in the lawsuit are entirely new and that an internal investigation into Lopez's claims two years ago was "exhaustive" and resulted in "appropriate administrative action for several employees."

In her lawsuit, Lopez claims some of the deputies involved were transferred to other stations after she complained, but that didn't stop the harassment.

Scott vowed to conduct a thorough investigation into the new claims. He would not comment on specific allegations in the suit, but pledged to "share our findings" when an investigation is complete.

Lopez started as a sheriff's deputy in 2003. After eight years in the jails, she transferred to patrol and was sent for training to the sheriff's station in East L.A. 

There, the lawsuit claims, her field training officer, Eric Valdez began harassing her.

During training, Lopez "was made aware by other female deputies that it was expected of 'female' trainees of [Valdez] to 'submit' and provide sexual favors for male training officers and their associates," according to the document. Lopez "was expected to be 'One of the Girls,' which included drinking, partying, and the fulfillment of the 'sexual needs' of her male training officers and their associates, including but not limited to, the performance of oral sex."

The lawsuit goes on to allege deputies in the station had formed a clique to "exert control over the station." Called the "bandidos," about 80 men were part of the group, and showed their allegiance with tattoos of a skeleton with a sombrero, bullet sash, and pistol.

Lopez's claims include a series of incidents involving alleged members of the bandidos and their inductees sexually harassing her, berating her, and sometimes physically assaulting her. 

In court papers, Lopez said she eventually told a supervisor about the incidents. The supervisor filed a formal complaint which led to some transfers, according to the suit.

Lopez said in court papers she later went on medical leave for stress and when she returned, she was assigned a nominal job considered a "dumping ground" with "no possibility to advance in her career."

A timeline for the investigation was not given. Lopez's attorneys served the department with the lawsuit Friday. The sheriff's department has 30 days to file a formal response.

Scott said in his statement he's "concerned about the negative perception of monikors, tattoos, or any form of hazing and will not tolerate conduct contrary to our Department policies and the law."