A tiled image showing, six times, a low resolution but inteilligible tattoo of a cowboy hat wearing skull encircled by a rattlesnake.
The Rattlesnakes deputy gang logo.

Content warning: this story recounts details of police and intimate partner violence.

Raymundo Rivera was last seen alive on August 5, 2018, fleeing from LA County Sheriff’s deputies. Six days later, his corpse was pulled from inside of a building column outside of a local supermarket in Lancaster. Deputies had chased Rivera, knew he had fallen into the pillar, and “left him there to die,” according to a lawsuit filed this week against LA County by former LA County Deputy Sheriff Aaron Tanner’s ex-girlfriend, accusing him of physical abuse. 

In light of the revelations, Rivera’s family filed a tort claim for wrongful death against the county this week.

“It feels unreal that someone came forward. When it happened, I knew something was wrong,” Rivera’s wife told LA Public Press in a statement. She fears retribution from the sheriff’s department, and her name is being withheld. She said that she learned about deputies’ involvement in her husband’s death when several people sent her an article in the Los Angeles Times about Tanner’s ex’s lawsuit. 

“Because of that, I literally started crying. It confirmed every suspicion that I had,” she said.

Her attorney, Jesse Ruiz, said he is not surprised by the alleged cover up. “It doesn’t shock me that this is going on here in Lancaster. In the last 18 months, I’ve probably had eight different cases with Lancaster sheriff’s [deputies] involved where there has been huge misconduct.”

The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is two years. However, a legal principle known as the delayed discovery doctrine allows for the presentation of a claim if new information related to the incident is uncovered. The family will have to eventually prove to a court that new evidence presented in Tanner’s ex’s lawsuit is relevant to their claim. 

The Sheriff’s department said in a statement that it “has not officially received this claim but emphatically does not condone any acts that violate the civil rights of others or undermines the incredible work performed daily by the majority of our dedicated personnel.” The statement also said the department “has been conducting several comprehensive deputy gang investigations that have never been done before and for the first time we have fired employees for violating the existing deputy cliques and subgroups policy.” 

Tanner’s ex filed the lawsuit under the alias Jane Doe to shield her identity out of fear of retribution. In it, she says their relationship began in March 2020. Tanner allegedly told her that he was the shot caller, or leader, of the Rattlesnakes deputy gang at the Lancaster sheriff’s station.

Deputy gangs are groups of sworn personnel who identify themselves by a name and symbol, like matching tattoos, and engage in a pattern of on-duty behavior that intentionally violates the law or fundamental principles of professional policing, according to the California Penal Code

The allegations in the lawsuit filed by his ex assert that Tanner openly referred to the Rattlesnakes as his gang, claimed that Rattlesnakes members intimidate other deputies, made false arrests, and framed people for crimes they did not commit. The suit also alleges that members would withhold backup on other deputies’ patrol calls “to endanger their lives,” wrote false police reports, and engaged in other “illegal conduct” – all reported hallmarks of deputy gangs.

The US Department of Justice raised concerns about the Rattlesnakes in 2013 in a report resulting from a federal probe into allegations of racist policing. At the time, LASD pledged to stop personnel from displaying the gang’s insignia: a skull wearing a cowboy hat encircled by a Rattlesnake.

In her lawsuit, Doe alleges that Tanner regularly engaged in “sadistic tendencies” and physical abuse. She claims that he choked her to the point of being unconscious several times in order to assert “dominance” over her. In the complaint, an incident is recounted where Tanner instructed her to drive behind him, then proceeded to drive quickly before suddenly slamming on his car’s brakes. When her car crashed into his, a bystander called 911. Tanner then called dispatch and told them not to send help, according to the lawsuit. 

Doe says in the claim that she did not report Tanner because she was afraid of retaliation by the Rattlesnakes. 

In 2022, she ended the relationship with Tanner. Deputies began stalking her at work, “terrorizing and intimidating her.” Then in 2023, according to the complaint, she was contacted by the department regarding an investigation into a DUI stop of another deputy she witnessed while doing an unauthorized ridealong with Tanner. 

When investigators from the Internal Affairs Bureau came to her home to interview her, she alleges a member of the Rattlesnakes was in tow — then sergeant, now lieutenant Clayton Marion. Following the interview, the lawsuit says, the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau opened a probe into Tanner which will be referred to the DA. 

The District Attorney’s office told LA Public Press in a statement that a criminal case had not been presented to the office by law enforcement for filing consideration.

The woman’s claim asserts that Tanner is the subject of internal investigations, including an incident where he allegedly cut the leg off of a dead horse with a pocket knife and made a trainee hold the leg. 

On August 6, 2018 deputies chased a man suspected of driving a stolen vehicle into the WinCo Foods on Avenue K 4 in Lancaster. The man, later identified as Raymundo Rivera, ran up the stairs inside of the supermarket and onto the roof, according to NBC. The deputies in pursuit claimed that he got away. However, Jane Doe claims in her lawsuit that Tanner bragged openly about knowing that Rivera had fallen inside of one of the building’s pillars, and left him there “to die a tortured death when they could have easily pulled him to safety.”

On August 11, the store’s manager complained of a strong smell and called a plumber to investigate the pillar, according to City News Service.

“When they did that they looked down and they could see a shoe and a leg down there at the bottom of the column inside the column,” sheriff’s homicide lieutenant John Corina said, calling it a “horrible way to die.” 

Corina was a documented member of the Vikings, a neo-Nazi white supremacist gang originating at the Lynwood station in the early 1990s. Like other deputy gang tattoos, the Vikings’ ink is sequentially. Corina was documented to have tattoo #1. He died in 2019. 

A man wearing a medal.
Aaron Tanner receiving LASD’s LifeSaving award in November, 2018. (Via LASD Facebook)

Ironically, Tanner was given the sheriffʼs departmentʼs LifeSaving Award in November of 2018 for a separate incident. This is also not the only time one of Tanner’s pursuits ended in a resident being injured. 

On December 9, 2017, Tanner ran after another Latino man suspected of driving a stolen vehicle. While chasing him, Tanner reached out and pushed the man, causing him to lose his balance and fall down. His wrist was fractured, and the use of force was investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau, according to department records. It does not appear as if Tanner was ever disciplined for this action.  

The sheriff’s department confirmed that Tanner was terminated on December 1, 2023. 

The Lancaster station has recently come under renewed scrutiny following the reports of the mysterious disappearance and death of a man last seen in the custody of local deputies. 

The body of Francisco Nunez, a 38-year-old father of eight, was discovered five days after he vanished, just a few feet away from where he was taken into custody. 

An autopsy report from the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner claims that Nunez died of “the effects of methamphetamine.” However, that report doesn’t account for bruising and several markings that appear to be burns that are present throughout his body, and visible in photos of Nunez post-autopsy reviewed by LA Public Press.

Christian Contreras, an attorney for the Nunez family, says that the revelations around Rivera’s death substantiate the claims that deputies were responsible for Nunez’s death. 

“If there is a deputy gang operating out of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station, then this is exactly what they do. They engage in conduct which leads to death or serious bodily injury. They cover it up,” Contreras said. “The facts are eerily similar.”

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