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South Bay Digest

Rancho Palos Verdes : Attorney Accuses Sheriff's Deputies of Brutality

May 09, 1985

A complaint alleging police brutality was filed with the city and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department by a Rancho Palos Verdes man who claims that deputies slammed him face-first to the ground when he tried to determine the whereabouts of his son, who he said also was brutalized.

Fred Wright, 49, an attorney, asked the City Council on Tuesday to consider switching its contract with the Sheriff's Department to another police force. In a motion preceding Wright's statement, the council authorized Mayor John McTaggart to sign the 1985-86 Regional Police Agreement with the Sheriff's Department for contract police services.

Wright said that on the night of April 19, a Friday, he was awakened by four youths who said his 19-year-old son, Brett, had been "creamed" by sheriff's deputies at a condominium clubhouse party at Highridge Road and Scotwood Drive.

Wright said he drove to the site and when he asked for the watch commander, other deputies approached him and one twisted his wrist. A scuffle ensued and another deputy tried to choke him from behind with a baton, Wright said. He said several deputies wrestled him to the ground and his face was smashed into the pavement, breaking his glasses.

Wright was charged with resisting arrest and interfering with a police officer. He was taken to the hospital emergency room to receive treatment for a badly stubbed toe. His son, who Wright said was hit on the head with a night stick for asking for a deputy's name and badge number, was not badly injured.

Witnesses and Wright's wife, Karen, who went to the scene to look for her husband and son, said after the meeting that police had been called to break up a fight among people not associated with the clubhouse party. The deputies were attracted to the nearby party and, witnesses said, tried to force their way through a locked gate. It was at that point that Brett Wright, once of the 40 party-goers, asked for the deputy's identification and allegedly was struck by one of them. Witnesses said party-goers who were trying to open the gate were jabbed with a night stick, and when the stick was knocked out of the deputy's hand he drew his gun and summoned additional help.

City officials voiced concern over the incident, but they did not permit testimony from the other witnesses. Councilman Mel Hughes told Wright the city is powerless to act on such grievances other than to make sure an internal investigation is launched by the Sheriff's Department. The city has no control over sheriff's personnel and internal affairs when it contracts with the sheriff, he said. "It's a right we give up."

Hughes said the city has investigated other methods of law enforcement "and frankly there are not many alternatives." The Sheriff's Department "is the only agency that's providing contract services," he said.

Capt. Elmer A. Omohundro, commander of the sheriff's Lomita Station, was at the meeting and confirmed that a preliminary investigation is under way. He asked for the names, addresses and phone number of additional witnesses.

The complaint, which Wright filed April 22, involved eight deputies, a sergeant and a watch commander, Omohundro said. The investigation will not be completed until each criminal charge arising from the incident has been adjudicated.

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