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The Huntington Park Police : The Miramontes/dominguez Case

July 06, 1986|RALPH CIPRIANO

HUNTINGTON PARK — These are accounts of five of the 30 brutality claims filed against the Huntington Park Police Department in 1984 and 1985. During those two years, the 30-member department had the highest frequency of brutality claims among 11 municipal police departments in the Southeast/Long Beach area.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 1984, police received several complaints about a noisy birthday party at 7005 Malabar St.

At 1:15 a.m., four officers went to quiet the party.

A short time later, the guest of honor, Oscar Dominguez, was wearing handcuffs and 17 other party-goers were under arrest.

The scene looked like this:

In the front yard, Dominguez's father-in-law, Alejandro Miramontes, 44, lay unconscious. Miramontes, legally blind and suffering from a brain tumor, said he received a concussion that night when a police officer struck him with a baton. Police said the injury was accidental and that Miramontes had assaulted a police officer--a charge that was later dismissed.

Miramontes' wife, Esther, 42, whose hands are crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, was bleeding severely from a scalp wound. She was pushed by a police officer, fell and struck her head against a ceramic planter on the front porch, according to police records. Police said the scuffle with the officer took place as the woman tried to barricade a door.

Dominguez, who had been celebrating his 18th birthday, was bleeding from scalp cuts he said he received when police kicked and beat him. Police said Dominguez was injured while resisting arrest.

Last Dec. 22, Dominguez and the Miramontes were among 17 people who filed an $80-million damage suit against the city.

Defendants are the City of Huntington Park, the City Council, the police chief and eight Huntington Park police officers--Daniel Banzet, Henry Batterton, Carl Heinz, William J. Lustig Jr., Robert Mercado, Jonathan Nerlinger, Dale E. Shields and Ron Whisenant. Also named are the City of Bell and Bell Police Chief Frank Fording, whose officers assisted Huntington Park police.

Reason for Arrests

The lawyer who filed the suit, Ralph D. Fertig, said in an interview that the numerous arrests were made to cover up police misconduct that resulted in injuries to six people.

Of the 18 people arrested, only one was successfully prosecuted: Oscar Dominguez pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace; a charge of resisting arrest was dismissed in Huntington Park Municipal Court by Judge John W. Bunnett as part of a plea bargain. Dominguez was sentenced to one year's probation.

Ten of those arrested were never charged in court, and the charges against the remaining seven--including the Miramontes couple--ultimately were dismissed.

Fertig said that the transparency of the police version of events is illustrated by the case of Alejandro Miramontes, who wears dark glasses and walks slowly with the aid of a cane.

Police charged that Miramontes jumped on Shields' back, choking the officer with his right arm while punching him with his left fist. Shields is 6 foot 5, 210 pounds and Miramontes is 5 foot 9 and 140 pounds. Miramontes is physically incapable of attacking an officer, his doctor said in a written statement.

The assault charge was dismissed on the second day of Miramontes' trial last July in Huntington Park Municipal Court, when officers were unable to identify Miramontes as the person who allegedly jumped Shields.

According to police records, Miramontes' head injury was probably accidental. The report said Miramontes was either struck by a flying beer bottle or injured himself by accidentally striking his head on a patio as he attempted to lunge at Shields.

Different Story

Witnesses and Miramontes told a different story: Miramontes was struck by a police officer with a baton as he was walking up behind several officers to find out why they were beating and kicking Dominguez, his son-in-law.

"The officer turned around and just hit him (Miramontes) between the eyes on the forehead. He just fell down and (was) knocked out," said Judith Dominguez, 21, who is Miramontes' daughter and Dominguez's wife, and one of the plaintiffs.

"They (officers) didn't even pick him up, they just dragged him like a dog on his back" into the front yard, she said in an interview.

Then there is the case of Miramontes' wife, Esther, who was charged with disturbing the peace and obstructing a police officer. According to police records, she had attempted to prevent police officers from evacuating the house by pushing the front door shut and bracing her foot against it.

Esther Miramontes, however, is physically incapable of pushing a door shut and holding even one person at bay, her doctor said in a written statement. In an interview, Esther Miramontes said she was obeying a police officer's order to evacuate the house when she stopped to talk to one of her children and was pushed by an officer.

Charges Dismissed

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