An exclusive Knock LA investigation reveals more details of a 2015 off-duty shooting in Kern County.
CONTENT WARNING: The following article includes a graphic photo of an open wound on the leg of a Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy. Please exercise extreme caution and self-care if you choose to view this image.
Deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department attempted to shoot a deputy gang tattoo off of a man during a camping trip in Kern County in 2015. Department sources say the deputies shot the tattoo off because an unauthorized change had been made to the design. All deputy gang tattoo changes must be cleared with deputy gang leadership, several sources told Knock LA.
The tattoo appears to show a skull wearing a cowboy hat positioned in front of two playing cards — a two of diamonds and a six of clubs. Beneath the skull is a roll of parchment with the calligraphy letters L and A, and under that is the number 35. Deputy gang tattoos are traditionally numbered in the sequential order they are received. Once deputy gang membership reaches 100, a new gang is introduced.
The shooting occurred when a group of deputies held down the tattooed man while another fired off several rounds of his off-duty weapon and attempted to burn the design off the man’s ankle with the hot barrel of the gun. When the deputy was unable to burn the tattoo off, he fired the gun directly at the other man’s tattoo, according to a source familiar with the incident. The injured deputy was transported from Dove Springs to the Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster in a private vehicle, according to lieutenant Bill Smallwood.
A source within the LASD says that the deputy who was shot recently received a medical retirement for the injury, despite the fact that the deputy was wounded while he was off duty.
A source familiar with the incident identified Wyatt Waldron of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station as the deputy who pulled the trigger. Waldron was promoted to sergeant in 2021 under Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Waldron is local to the Antelope Valley area, and graduated from Quartz Hill High School.
Before joining LASD in 2007, he served in the United States Marine Corps as a corporal from 2002 through 2006. Between January 12 and July 31, 2005, he participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Waldron was awarded a Silver Star for his role in the so-called ”Father’s Day Massacre” on June 19, 2005, where he personally killed five people, and led his unit to kill 16 more. “He’s a crazy bastard, and he’s awesome at what he does,” one of his company members told a reporter for the Marines. Two years after shooting a fellow deputy in the leg, Waldron was given the “Lifesaving Award” by LASD.
In 2015, the shooting was widely reported as an accidental discharge of a weapon. The department stated at the time that LASD detectives from the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Homicide Bureau had responded and conducted a departmental investigation. The Kern County Sheriff’s Department also investigated, because the shooting happened in their jurisdiction.
The investigations into the shooting were later examined by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), who found several issues with the manner in which they were carried out. Following the shooting, an LASD deputy drove home from the site of the incident with Waldron’s gun hidden inside a compartment in his trailer. The gun was then handed over to a third deputy who turned it over to investigators. The deputy who transported the gun told LASD’s Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigators he couldn’t remember who gave him the gun or securing it in his trailer. However, he could remember other specific details — that he took the gun for “safekeeping,” as well as the position of the weapon’s slide when it was handed over to him.
While Waldron and the man he shot were interviewed by a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy shortly after the shooting, they were not interviewed by IAB until three months later. The statements given to IAB were significantly different from what they told the Kern County deputy. There was no mention of the discrepancy in the investigation summary.
The OIG concluded that Waldron admitted to IAB investigators he had given false statements to the criminal investigator of the shooting. Although the lies were reported to Waldron’s unit commander, the commander never requested an additional investigation or criminal inquiry into the false statements.
LASD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The lack of serious investigation into the shooting and Waldron’s subsequent promotion underscore the department’s well-documented pattern of covering up deputy misconduct and rewarding those who comply.
“The photograph and the allegations around it require thorough outside investigation,” says Inspector General Max Huntsman. “Because the LASD has chosen to disregard its obligations to cooperate under California law and instead opts to investigate the investigators, a tactic we’ve seen them escalate to frightening levels in recent days, the fight to eliminate gang corruption will be a long one.”