Paul Tanaka

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, center heads to the federal courthouse on Friday in downtown Los Angeles. Sarah Reingewirtz — Pasadena Star-News

By Sarah Favot, Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 04/04/16 – 9:56 PM PDT |

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka admitted on the witness stand Monday that he has a tattoo associated with a deputy gang known as the Vikings that a federal judge has called a “neo-nazi, white supremacist” group.

Under questioning by a prosecutor, Tanaka insisted that the Viking was merely the mascot of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Lynwood station, where he was a sergeant from 1987 to 1991. Tanaka claimed the symbol was used when deputies played intramural sports across the department.

“I was not a Viking in the sense that you are trying to infer,” Tanaka told Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, raising his voice. “Because you’re trying to make it evil, it does not make it evil, sir.”

Tanaka emphasized that when he got the tattoo, between 1987 and 1991, the group was not referred to as a deputy “gang” or “clique.”

Tanaka, who has been the elected mayor of Gardena since 2005, admitted that he still has the tattoo on his leg. “At the time I received the tattoo, there was nothing sinister… nothing in and of itself about the Vikings was evil,” Tanaka said. In 1991, a federal district court judge found the Lynwood Vikings to be a “neo-nazi, white supremacist gang” and that its members violated the civil rights of those who they were supposed to protect. Prosecutors did not use those descriptors in their questioning in front of the jury.

Tanaka said he was not part of the lawsuit filed against deputies in the group. The Sheriff’s Department special counsel found in 1992 that the Vikings used excessive force and had disciplinary problems.

Also Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson denied the defense’s request to reconsider two decisions it previously made that would have given former Sheriff Lee Baca immunity to testify in Tanaka’s case and admit statements that Baca made to federal investigators about his involvement in the corruption scheme.

Defense attorneys had hoped to show the jury that Baca gave the orders to find out how an FBI cell phone got into the hands of a county jail inmate, not Tanaka.

Prosecutors say Tanaka and others within the Sheriff’s Department in the summer of 2011 conspired to thwart a federal investigation into civil rights violations, including deputies who were allegedly beating inmates and accepting bribes in the county jails.

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