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Deputy Angel Reinosa Says He Attempted to Whistleblow Before He Was Fired

Reinosa was vilified in the media for allegedly calling in a false sniper report. The truth is more complicated.

(Source: Chris Yarzab | Flickr)

On August 21, 2019, eyes across the United States were on Los Angeles, drawn to the massive manhunt for an alleged sniper who fired at the Lancaster station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Around 2:50 PM, Deputy Angel Reinosa radioed that he had been shot in the shoulder while walking across the station’s parking lot, triggering the large-scale dragnet. One week later, the LASD held a press conference claiming that Reinosa had made everything up.

At least three witnesses, including another deputy, claimed that they had heard gunshots or loud popping noises. Reinosa’s shirt was recovered from the scene, bloodstained and with tears to the right shoulder. No bullets were recovered, but the LASD reported locating nearly 10 airsoft pellets in the area, as well as several metal BBs. But the “deputy fabricated shooting” narrative pushed by the LASD was quickly adopted as the truth by most major media outlets.

Some even reported that Reinosa had confessed to making up the whole thing days after the fact. Reinosa denies this claim, which appears to have originated during a press conference from Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon. In May 2021, Limon wrote a letter on behalf of Sheriff Alex Villanueva to then Assistant Chief Eli Vera, questioning Vera’s ability to campaign for sheriff while serving as a high-ranking official in the department. Villanueva later demoted his political opponent.

LASD also neglected to mention that, days before branding him a liar, Reinosa attempted to whistleblow about criminal activity inside the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station.

On the day of the alleged shooting, Reinosa was working desk duty at LASD’s Lancaster station. During his shift a man entered the station, reporting that he had been accosted just across the street by a man holding a rifle who threatened to kill him. Reinosa stepped outside and spotted a man holding a rifle bag nearby. He asked the man who originally reported the rifleman to sit and wait in the station. According to internal LASD documents, Reinosa generated a service request asking for patrol deputies to investigate the man with the gun bag, then continued to take reports from people coming to the front desk.

A woman approached the desk and asked to file a report on a forgery. Reinosa says he needed to consult some materials stored in his personal vehicle for guidance on the correct way to document the incident, so he headed out to the station’s employee parking lot to retrieve them. As he reached into his car, Reinosa claims he heard a whizzing and felt pain in his shoulder. “I heard another whiz pop out, and it was like someone punched you in the shoulder. That’s when I dropped to the ground with all my stuff,” Reinosa tells Knock LA. “I look to my right and there’s this small cut. I was freaking out like, ‘Oh my god, is this happening?’” 

(ABC via YouTube)

Reinosa radioed in that he had been shot, kicking the department into full gear to find the shooter. But only a few hours into the search, things were called off, according to LASD radio dispatch. One week later, Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced in a news conference that the department had concluded Reinosa had fabricated the entire incident, and he had in fact never been shot. The LASD fired Reinosa as a result. Then, the department began investigating Reinosa. On January 16, 2020, the day after Reinosa’s appeal of his firing was denied, he was arrested and charged with two felony counts of insurance fraud related to a worker’s compensation claim and one misdemeanor for filing a false police report. 

Reinosa had been placed on desk duty on August 19, just a few days before the alleged shooting incident. He’d been employed with LASD for almost a year and a half, and was in the midst of completing his patrol training. Patrol training is generally completed in a six-month period with six different phases. Reinosa went through the first phase of his training without issue, but things changed when he began working with Deputy Anthony Levin. 

Reinosa says that Levin regularly told him he did not belong at the Lancaster station and questioned his dedication to the job. He also says that Levin would make critical remarks about Reinosa’s age — at just 21, Reinosa was one of the youngest deputies inside LASD. He says that he was determined to keep working despite harassment from the man who was supposed to be helping him prepare to be in the field. But when Levin told him to commit a crime, Reinosa says he could no longer keep his head down. 

On August 18, 2019, Levin and Reinosa were called to respond to a stabbing. In the course of their assessment of the scene, Reinosa walked around to see if he could determine the path the suspect had taken to get away. Unbeknownst to him this constituted a foot pursuit, according to department policy. Levin was angry with Reinosa’s actions and instructed him to omit the pursuit from the police report. “He pulls me to the side and then he says, ‘You’re going to write what I say to make you look better,’ which is falsifying a police report. It’s not what happened,” Reinosa says. 

Reinosa says he wrote out a false report as Levin instructed, but never turned it in. Instead, he went to Sergeant Anthony Delia and informed him that Levin had asked him to commit a crime. Then, on August 19, Levin reported Reinosa to Sergeant Delia, for possibly failing to report the pursuit, according to county documents. Delia had been accused of harassing and erroneously arresting Latisha Clayton for trafficking narcotics in 2010 after Clayton attended a court proceeding for a loved one who was a defendant in a drug case. Delia took Reinosa out of the field and placed him on the front desk. 

Reinosa suspects this was part of a larger plan to get him out of the station, claiming he was disliked by deputies who had worked there for years and were local to the area. He characterizes the group as willing to protect each other regardless of whether their actions are illegal, bearing a striking similarity to gangs inside the LASD. Reinosa believes the plan to remove him involved a process called remediation. After completing the academy, new deputies are assigned to the jails. Once their time there is complete, they are able to select a station where they wish to work patrol and begin their six-month patrol training. In remediation, the deputy must retake the course that they have failed to complete. If they cannot do it, they are returned to the jails to start the entire process over.  

After being placed on the desk, Reinosa confronted Levin. “He kept telling me that I lacked integrity. I was enraged. I told him, ‘You’re the one that lacks integrity. You just told me to falsify a police report. And I haven’t turned it in yet.’ He’s like, ‘I’m still going to remediate you. Roll it up and go back to jail and don’t waste our time with this remediation process.’” Reinosa told Levin that he planned to contact the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, to report Levin’s misconduct.

The Lancaster station had already been investigated for impropriety by the Department of Justice in 2011; the federal government found that the station had engaged in a pattern or practice of stops, searches, seizures, and excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law, and placed it under an ongoing monitor. According to Reinosa, the monitor had no impact on longstanding practices of racial profiling and misconduct in Lancaster and throughout LA County.  

Like many other deputies Knock LA has spoken to, Reinosa says LASD has a hostile culture that begins in the academy. Reinosa says it’s a place where you’re taught how to obey commands, rather than operate as a peace officer. “You’re kind of scared to say certain things because you’re gonna get yelled at, so a lot of people didn’t want to ask questions.” Academy courses did not include instruction for working inside of the county’s jails, which is where rookie employees are typically first assigned. He also says that many instructors would openly state that while they were teaching the policy, things would go down differently in the field.  

Reinosa was assigned to the North County Correctional Facility after graduating from the academy. During his three-month training period, he noticed a hierarchy among employees. Deputies who had worked at the jail for a number of years functioned as “shot callers” in charge of making decisions, instead of higher-ranking sworn employees. He also observed hazing: one deputy who declined to shave his head upon receiving a new assignment in the jails was routinely denied backup when breaking up fights. “It’s kind of a scary situation… they don’t like who you are, they’ll get you out of that area. They have that pull with the supervisors, ‘We don’t like him? Boom, he’s out the next day.’ That’s just how it is. They groom you to be like them.” 

Hazing continued when Reinosa was assigned to the Lancaster station. “They do jokes with you, stuff that doesn’t make sense. Like move your evidence. Trainees are also expected to complete all the reports for incidents they work on their shift, which can stretch on for hours past their scheduled end time.” He recounts that deputies undergoing patrol training are forbidden from using a hallway that leads to changing rooms. Instead, they are forced to exit the station and enter the area through a separate door. “Every station has their own certain rules… No one would ever think of questioning them,” Reinosa says. “I didn’t want to create a bad name for myself, so I just followed the rules and kept moving… I accepted that as alright, I got to get this and once I do it, I don’t have to deal with it again.” 

He also saw up close how deputies manipulated policy to racially profile and potentially illegally detain Antelope Valley residents. One regular instrument was the vehicle pursuit policy: vehicle pursuits are generally limited to people who have committed a serious felony, according to the LASD manual. Speeding away from a traffic stop, for instance, would not be grounds for a vehicle pursuit, according to department policy. Reinosa said deputies who broke policy for this were never reprimanded. “No one paid attention to it, no one cares. None of the supervisors get mad at you.” Instead, deputies were encouraged to lie to justify those actions. “Some deputy might say, ‘Oh, he’s swerving and he’s being reckless.’ And then you’re trying to get the pursuit going by saying he’s a drunk driver. That’s how they get away [with it]… just by making something up like that.” He says that deputies would use these tactics almost exclusively on people of color. “The majority of cops profile people. They call it hunting.” 

Reinosa describes “hunting” as searching for an arrest statistic utilizing minor violations in order to stop a vehicle. “They’ll look at who the driver was and how they looked, race, how they’re dressed. You get behind [a vehicle] and start lurking and you try and find something… the majority of people that were brought here were people of color.” Many people were not aware of their rights during traffic stops, and Reinosa says deputies would use that to their advantage. “[Deputies would] go to the car and they didn’t ask for your license and registration, they just told you to get out, they haven’t started any process, and people don’t know, but they listen.” 

To make an arrest, he says deputies would utilize gang injunctions that forbid people, often falsely identified as gang members, from socializing with specific people or around certain areas. While on a ride-along during his patrol training, Reinosa observed deputies stop a vehicle with four young Black men inside for tinted windows. “The tinted windows we didn’t see until they, till one of them put it up because they had it all down.” The car was heading east on Lancaster Boulevard, on the opposite side of traffic from the patrol vehicle. “The deputy I was with, he busted a U real quick. And he goes right behind the car and he lights it up instantly and he’s running the plates.” Once the car was stopped, the young men were ordered out without a request for license and registration. 

“Somehow it led to a search. I started searching the back seat. I’m like, ‘What are we looking for?’ We pulled them to the curb and we requested additional deputies. They all checked out normal. It was all fine. Nothing was wrong. It was really an eye-opener.” He says deputies who have worked at the station for a long time focus their time exclusively on hunting, along with Summer Crime Prevention teams. As a result, many calls for service go ignored. Anyone who questions these tactics is pushed out of the station. 

During Reinosa’s first few days at the station, one deputy told the new trainees in no uncertain terms that if they did not comply with the prevailing culture, they would be punished. “The thing they do is called ‘paper-fucking’ you,” Reinosa says. “Paper-fucking you means, basically, that he will get every call that’s out there — where you end up with 13 reports at the end of the night and you’ll quit.” A story was passed around the station about one trainee who was forced to sleep in his car for just five hours a day between finishing his reports and starting his next shift. The trainee eventually quit. “[The deputy who made the threat] said, ‘I know how to do it where it’s not harassment or hazing. I know how to work around it.’ That was his exact verbiage.” 

Reinosa surmises that the investigation into his shooting was deliberately mishandled in order to get him out of the station and prevent further scrutiny into its policies and practices. There are, in fact, several curious elements of the investigation recorded in LASD records. Thirty minutes into his interview with detectives, additional investigators began speaking with Deputy Levin. During Reinosa’s interview, Detectives Carlin and Montenegro informed him that cameras at the station were functional. They later requested a bathroom break that took 30 minutes. While Reinosa waited for them to return, they spoke with Levin. When the detectives returned, they had Reinosa walk them through the scene of the shooting, something that can only be done when the scene is no longer being actively searched. The search was suspended despite the fact only hours had passed since the alleged shooting. Furthermore, in department documents, the cameras were suddenly reported to be non-operational

Reinosa’s case is still making its way through the legal system. The district attorney’s office and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment for this story. 

Reinosa says that he wanted to be involved in law enforcement since he was a child. “I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and the area I lived in wasn’t the best area. I always wanted to pick a career where I can help someone or help people in general.” He enrolled in college, pursuing a psychology major in order to prepare him for a career as a police officer. When he found an LASD booth at a career fair, he was encouraged to apply to the department. When he was accepted a few months later, he was encouraged to drop out of school to join. While his friends were proud he had accomplished a lifelong dream, he says his mother was worried. “My mother’s main concern was… that I would be changed, and I wouldn’t be myself. But I think with time, it happens to everyone.”