The Lynwood Vikings were a white supremacist gang in Los Angeles, based at the Lynwood station of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, whose members were deputy sheriffs in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD). Its members have included Paul Tanaka, deputy Sheriff and LASD second-in-command to Lee Baca. After lawsuits repeatedly surfaced concerning the group's activities, the Vikings were described by federal judge Terry Hatter as a "neo-Nazi" gang engaged in racially motivated hostility. According to sociologist Rob Sullivan, its members were committed to the "valorization" of Aryans.
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, are more recent gangs. Sheriff Lee Baca, while objecting to police gang behaviors, has stated that banning them would be unconstitutional.
In 1988, one year after joining the Vikings, deputy Paul Tanaka was named in a wrongful death suit that the LASD settled for almost $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;" Cueva was unsuccessful however 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," which stands for "officer-involved shooting," indicating that the officer has shot someone. Former LASD under-sheriff 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 police brutality in L.A. found that cliques like the Vikings were found especially in areas with large minority populations, but did not "conclusively demonstrate the existence of racist deputy gangs."
Deputy Mike Osborne told the Los Angeles Times that 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 other deputies. Osborne and his wife deputy Aurora Mellado testified about police corruption. They 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 that the LASD pay $9 million in fines for lawsuits caused by the Vikings. Sheriff Sherman Block opposed the judge's decision, calling it "irrational and wrong," and stated that no evidence existed demonstrating that the Vikings was a racist group. When Baca confronted deputies about Viking membership in 1997, LASD superiors cautioned him against angering officers 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.
Other LASD gangs have included the Hats, the Little Devils, the Jump Out Boys, the Grim Reapers, the 2000 boys, 3000 boys, and the Regulators. The Vikings are considered one of the early notorious groups.
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