Los Angeles, November 18, 2023
Recently elected union board member Jason Zabala has directed renewed attention toward the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, shedding light on a controversial tattoo and a track record of participation in fatal shootings that led to significant legal settlements for the county. This has prompted increased scrutiny on the department’s practices and raised concerns about its overall conduct.
Zabala, a veteran lawman, was elected to the board of directors of the “Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS),” a union representing sheriff deputies. The tattoo in question, described by Zabala as a “station tattoo,” features a skeleton in a cowboy hat wielding a smoking rifle, along with the number 140. Zabala, however, faces allegations that the tattoo is associated with a deputy gang known as the Regulators, a claim he has previously denied.
The concerns arise not only from the controversial tattoo but also from Zabala’s involvement in two fatal shootings that incurred a total of $4 million in legal payouts for the county. The incidents raise questions about Zabala’s fitness for the position and the implications for efforts to address deputy gangs within the department.
During sworn testimony, Zabala asserted that the number 140 indicated that he was the 140th person to get the same design and described the tattoo as a symbol of camaraderie among fellow deputies. Despite his denial of belonging to the Regulators, Zabala’s election has sparked apprehension among oversight officials and justice advocates.
Richard Pippin, president of ALADS, defended Zabala, describing him as a “family-oriented guy with a big heart” dedicated to helping others. However, critics, including James Nelson from the community coalition Dignity and Power Now, express concerns that Zabala’s election could hinder the department’s efforts to address deputy gangs and gang-related tattoos.
The “Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department” has a history of grappling with deputy gangs, including groups with names like the Executioners, the Vikings, and the Regulators. The persistence of these groups, often identified by sequentially numbered tattoos, has prompted calls for policy changes within the department.
Sheriff Robert Luna, in office for nearly a year, acknowledged the need to “eliminate deputy gangs” but has yet to establish a policy explicitly banning such groups or their associated tattoos. Negotiations with labor leaders, including ALADS, have slowed the process, leading to concerns that meaningful change may be impeded.
Zabala’s tattoo gained prominence during depositions related to a 2013 shooting incident. The tattoo features additional elements associated with the Regulators, according to Sean Kennedy, chair of the Civilian Oversight Commission. Kennedy notes that the delay in implementing an anti-gang policy raises doubts about the efficacy of ongoing negotiations with ALADS, particularly with a director sporting a tattoo linked to a deputy gang.
Despite the controversy surrounding Zabala, Pippin insists that the election outcome will not alter ALADS’ mission and values during the bargaining process. The department’s commitment to achieving positive outcomes for both deputies and the communities they serve remains unchanged, according to Pippin.
Zabala’s tumultuous history includes a 2012 on-duty crash settlement for $80,000 and two fatal shootings in 2013 and 2014, resulting in legal payouts of $1.5 million and $2.5 million, respectively. While the district attorney’s office investigated whether Zabala committed perjury during depositions regarding his tattoo, no charges were filed.
In this year’s union election, Zabala secured one of four open seats on the ALADS board, raising concerns among those advocating for justice reform and oversight within the “Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” As Zabala assumes his role on the board, the department faces renewed scrutiny over its commitment to addressing deputy gangs and ensuring accountability among its members.