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‘Retired’ L.A. Sheriff's Department Logo Deemed Unprofessional Making a Comeback

Shortly before Alex Villanueva was declared the upset victor in his race for county sheriff, he visited the East Los Angeles station wearing a shirt with a logo of a boot and helmet on it. 

The logo, which includes the phrase "Fort Apache," represented the station where he formerly served and was among a host of station and unit logos worn by deputies to represent pride in their job assignments and camaraderie with their colleagues.

The problem was, Villanueva’s opponent, incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell, had deemed the logo inappropriate. It was among 10 "unit logos" McDonnell retired from use in 2015, according to information obtained by SoCal Connected.

East Los Angeles Fort Apache Logo
East Los Angeles Fort Apache Logo, image taken from department memo.

The retired logos for divisions including "Weapons training," gangs and individual patrol stations depicted swords, a gladiator helmet, assault rifles, skulls, old-west cowboys with rifles and long jackets, the headless horseman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and statements including “Those who pray for peace must prepare for war, and "Always a kick in the pants."

Two sources familiar with the logos said they were established over the years as a symbol of pride among deputies, who embraced their assignments. One source said deputies considered them "cool" and "bad-ass." The station and unit logos are not related to tattoos that are allegedly linked to deputy cliques.

After a review of the unit and station logos, McDonnell decided it was time in 2015 to retire some of them amid concerns the images could send the wrong message and be used in litigation against the county, one of the sources said. 

"Over the years, it was decided that some of the logos that some of these guys were wearing were unprofessional," the source said.

Specifically, one source said, McDonnell was concerned about "risk management."

On Friday, the Sheriff’s Department confirmed -- without using McDonnell’s name -- that "During the course of his administration (2014-2018), the previous sheriff opted to have some logos removed."

Questioned by SoCal Connected, the Sheriff’s Department acknowledged "yes," Villanueva supports bringing back the logos that McDonnell eliminated. One already appears to be making a proud comeback under the new sheriff, who recently began rehiring and reinstating deputies fired during McDonnell’s tenure of reforms, raising concerns about the department’s future conduct.

This weekend, deputies and alumni of the East Los Angeles station will celebrate the station’s 95th anniversary with a party at Rudy’s Bar & Grill in Los Angeles. Retired detective, Gil Carrillo, famous for capturing Richard Ramirez, the so-called "Night Stalker" serial killer from the 1980s, is listed as among the masters of ceremonies. 

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"Join us as we bring awareness and discuss the history of the Fort Apache logo," the invitation says. "All retired ELA personnel, alumni and current personnel are invited to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the station and most importantly to welcome back the boot and helmet."

Funds from the event will go to restore the station and "the memorabilia that was lost or taken." Reportedly, the logo was part of the station’s decorations that McDonnell ordered removed.

It’s unknown whether Villanueva will attend the event, but he was photographed with several men in front of a wall papered with the logo at a station Christmas dinner, and wore a T-shirt with the logo stenciled over his heart to the Baker to Vegas relay competition in March. 

SoCal Connected was unable to determine who is sponsoring Saturday night’s event. None of those listed as contacts on the invitation claimed to know the answer.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva visits the East Los Angeles Sheriff Station, with Fort Apache banner behind him
L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva visits the East Los Angeles Sheriff Station, with Fort Apache banner behind him in December 2018. 

At least one civil rights attorney, Cynthia Anderson Barker, said the East Los Angeles logo sends a bad message. Barker described the East Los Angeles station as having a history of violating the civil rights of the local community and immigrants.

"It sends it that it’s open season again under this sheriff," she said. "It means the boots are back and we are going to trample on civil rights. it means what rights do people have if the boot can stomp on them. It shows they are the ones that want the power and are egging to exercise use of force. That’s the message it sends to me."

According to a department memo on the history of the station logo, the round patch includes the boot topped with a helmet. At the top it says, "Fort Apache East Los Angeles." Across the bottom it says in Spanish, "Siempre una patada en los pantalones," and the words, "Low Profile." The Spanish phrase means, "Always a kick in the pants."

The logo, a department memo says, originated from the 1970 East Los Angeles riots. On Aug. 30, 1970, 330 sheriff’s deputies patrolled East Los Angeles’ Latino community when an anti-war demonstration "erupted into a riot," a New York Times article said. The rioting caused extensive damage, more than 50 people were injured, and one person -- Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar, was killed. More than 200 people were arrested in a crowd of marchers said to range from 7,000 to 20,000 people.

Sponsors of  the march accused the police of unprovoked brutality, using tear gas on the crowds. The Sheriff’s Department said the injured included 25 deputies. Twenty-five patrols cars were damaged.

"Some in the media thought ELA deputies took a High Profile during the riots," the historical memo said. "Based on that, Sheriff Pitchess created a Low Profile philosophy."

Park Bureau Retired LA Sheriff Logo
Park Bureau Retired L.A. Sheriff Logo, taken from a memo sent to L.A.S.D. staff in November 2015. It's unclear what the status of this logo is.

During the march, the memo said, East Los Angeles deputies were directed to remain Low Profile, but some deputies were attacked.

"In frustration, East LA deputies placed a pair of boots and a helmet on the captain’s desk with a note stating, ‘Is this Low Profile enough for you?’" the memo said. "The statement posed the perspective that there is supposed to be a deputy somewhere between the boot and helmet."

"Fort Apache," the memo said, "symbolized the East Los Angeles station as 'the last outpost of safety to defend.'" The Spanish words were, "In expression for the joy felt in working at the station."

In today’s world, the memo said, "'Low Profile' reflects a philosophy of having a work ethic beyond reproach, while remaining humble and never seeking attention for one’s efforts." Barker, however, said she viewed the logo as a "step backward."

"I think it sends a terrible message to the community and it’s another in a  long series of events under the new administration of Villanueva. It’s another black eye on the department," Barker said.

Villanueva created controversy recently when he rehired deputies fired by McDonnell, and said he planned to review hundreds of other personnel decisions.

SoCal Connected's Karen Foshay and Tori Edgar contributed to this article.

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