Three attorneys representing defendants in the alleged rape of a Poway girl withdrew from the case Tuesday after it was revealed in court that the girl's father is a San Diego police officer.
All three lawyers said they know the officer, making it inappropriate to continue representing the suspects.
The disclosure that the girl's father is a police officer--and the additional revelation that both her mother and stepmother are also involved in law enforcement--introduced a new element of controversy in the racially charged case, which triggered much-criticized sweeps of undocumented immigrants last April.
The roundups, conducted by heavily armed officers of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and U.S. immigration authorities, resulted in the detention of more than 80 suspects, mostly Latino men. Critics condemned the action as a discriminatory dragnet based solely on skin color, viewing it as another aggravating episode in an already volatile mix involving the large population of alien laborers in an otherwise affluent and mostly white northern San Diego County.
"If the situation had been reversed and the victim had been undocumented, I really have to wonder if they would have made it as big an operation as they did," said Roberto Martinez, an activist with the American Friends Service Committee, social action arm of the Quaker Church.
Martinez, while condemning the alleged rape, said his group is still investigating the police reaction, with an eye toward a civil-rights complaint.
"I'm sure that, when the call went out that the victim was the daughter of a police officer, they were more vigorous about it," said Jess Haro, chairman of the Chicano Federation, who also condemned the alleged rape but has lashed out at the sweeps. "It's a brotherhood."
But law-enforcement authorities, who have defended the roundups, said the victim's police associations had nothing to do with their reaction.
'The Same for Anybody'
"We would have done the same thing for any other person," said R. L. Paceno, an investigator with the sheriff's substation in Poway who worked on the case. For several days after the rape report, Paceno said, he was unaware that the girl's father is a police officer.
The 15-year-old girl told police she was raped on the evening of April 24 after she was forced to dismount from a horse behind a market on Midland Road in Poway, Paceno said.
Six suspects, all in their late teens or early 20s and all illegal aliens from Mexico, are in custody. All have pleaded not guilty. They are being held on bails from $50,000 to $75,000.
If convicted on the rape charges, all could be sentenced to nine years in jail, said Michael Przytulski, the deputy district attorney handling the case.
Apart from the girl's father being a San Diego police officer, Przytulski acknowledged that both her mother and stepmother are also involved in law enforcement, but he declined to be more specific.
On Tuesday, attorneys C. Logan McKechnie, Henry Ramirez and Jose Tafoya all withdrew from the case, citing their previous dealings with the victim's father.
New Attorneys Ordered
Municipal Judge Patricia A. Y. Cowett ordered the appointment of new lawyers to represent the three affected defendants, Jose Luis Romero, Guadalupe Cedillo Martinez and Monica Arce Acevedo. The attorneys of two other suspects, Leonardo Cedillo Martinez and Jorge Luis Mendez Herrera, remained on the case. The sixth suspect is a juvenile.
No defendant can afford counsel.
A preliminary hearing on the case, scheduled for Tuesday, has been pushed back to June 27.