A finding of contempt should be considered against a retired division chief of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who failed to honor a subpoena to testify at a recent Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission hearing on deputy gangs, an attorney for Los Angeles County argues in court papers filed Tuesday.
The subpoena required that Matthew Burson be present for the commission’s June 10 session, which was devoted to finding whether such groups exist in the department.
“The COC has authority to compel Burson’s testimony on this highly important public interest issue, which is within the COC’s jurisdiction of overseeing the sheriff’s department,” Harvinder S. Anand, an attorney for the county, wrote in his court papers.
The county also is seeking an order directing Burson, who retired from the sheriff’s department March 31, to appear the next commission hearing.
The commission subpoenaed Burson because in 2018, he issued an order barring the department’s internal criminal investigators from questioning witnesses about what role an internal clique known as the “Banditos” played in brutal deputy-on-deputy assaults at a department party at Kennedy Hall in East Los Angeles.
“Burson thus robbed criminal investigators — before the investigation started — of their best chance of exposing the Banditos, even though the evidence strongly suggested their direct involvement in the attacks, and notwithstanding that deputy gangs are reported to have plagued the department for decades,” Anand states in his court papers.
Burson could not be immediately reached. But he said in a sworn declaration given in another case that shortly after Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s 2018 election, he was told by a high-ranking official, speaking on behalf of Villanueva, that investigators should not ask questions about the Bandidtos.
Burson says he was told that by the same official as well as the East Los Angeles Station captain at the time that what happened at Kennedy Hall was “not a big deal” and amounted to “drunken mutual combat.”
“But I want to make it clear that if this was a coverup, I had no idea at the time,” Burson says.
The Office of the Inspector General also concluded that the sheriff’s department’s Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau failed to investigate the Banditos’ alleged involvement in the party assaults, according to a sworn declaration by Inspector General Max Huntsman, who further stated that Burson disregarded a subpoena to appear before the Office of the Inspector General on May 26.
The county will file a separate petition to enforce the Office of the Inspector General’s separate subpoena to Burson, according to Anand’s court papers.