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.
The choir had just finished singing the recessional hymn at the Good Shepherd Family Bible Church on Rugby Avenue. Outside, on a Sunday afternoon, several parishioners were chatting on the church steps when their conversation was interrupted by a police car's loudspeaker.
"Hey you, stop," the voice said.
Down the street from the church, a police cruiser was catching up with Salvador Rodriquez Martinez, a theft suspect, who was running. The chase ended as the car rammed the suspect, knocking him to the ground, four witnesses told The Times shortly after the August 19, 1984 incident.
In a statement given to Martinez's lawyer on Sept. 11, 1984, and in an interview in May, church usher Arthur Limon said that after the suspect was knocked down by the car's left bumper, he got up and tried to limp away. The officer got out of his car, "tackled the suspect and slammed him on the ground," Limon said.
Suspect Reported Kicked
The officer--later identified in a claim filed by Martinez as Officer Daniel Banzet--kicked the suspect several times in the neck and rib area, according to statements by Limon and four other witnesses given to Martinez's lawyer in September, 1984. Limon said the suspect was lying on the ground and offered no resistance.
Limon, who said he was 15 feet from the suspect, recalled that he told the officer, "In the name of Jesus, you stop what you are doing." The officer immediately stopped, Limon said.
As the suspect was handcuffed and led away, he told police, "Hey, you are hurting me," Limon said in his statement. A second unidentified officer then slammed the suspect on the hood of the police car, before "throwing" him in the back seat of the car, Limon said.
In an interview, Limon said he filed a complaint with the Police Department about the incident because "as a Christian, I have to defend life."
Disturbed by Incident
Limon said he was disturbed by the incident and felt that the officer had abused his authority. He said the incident left him wondering "who is the criminal and who belongs behind bars."
Martinez, then 25, of Huntington Park was arrested and charged with theft. Police recovered two clothes irons worth $50 from a nearby trash Dumpster that allegedly were shoplifted from a discount store. Martinez did not appear for a pretrial hearing and is being sought under a bench warrant.
In October, 1984, the City Council rejected Martinez' $175,000 damage claim, which said he suffered numerous cuts, bruises and a broken tooth in the arrest.
In a recent interview, Police Chief Geano Contessotto said that Martinez was a theft suspect who ran into the police car--which was stationary at the time--while he was attempting to escape.
The chief said that Daniel Banzet, 36, the patrolman who made the arrest, is a responsible, veteran officer, who did not kick Martinez. Asked about conflicting reports from witnesses, the chief said, "People see things in a different way sometimes."
Thomas E. Beck, Martinez' lawyer, said: "My guy is not a pillar of the community, but he's entitled to equal protection under the law.
"You cannot arrest a guy by running him down with an automobile," Beck said. "What the police are doing is inflicting their brand of justice on a suspect before he even comes before a judge or a jury, or is proven guilty."
In June, 1985, a U.S. Department of Justice official wrote Beck, saying that an FBI investigation showed "that this matter does not constitute a prosecutable violation of the federal criminal rights statutes."