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Santa Fe Springs, Sheriff's Officials Begin Inquiry Into Melee

July 17, 1988|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

SANTA FE SPRINGS — City and Sheriff's Department officials have begun separate investigations into allegations that deputies used excessive force to break up a late-night party two weeks ago.

Edward Trejo, 23, Kenneth Ramos, 24, and Margaret Duran, 23, all of Santa Fe Springs, were arrested in connection with a brawl that erupted after deputies responded to neighbors' complaints of loud music during a July 2 graduation party at the home of Pedro Leon, sheriff's Capt. Ronald C. Black said.

The department received three telephone calls from neighbors complaining that the "party had gotten out of hand," Black said.

The melee that involved more than 35 uniformed officers and 25 party-goers began about 1 a.m., shortly after deputies arrived at Leon's Glenworth Street home and ordered the guests to leave, Black said.

Stories Differ

But they "resisted being told to go home," and began fighting with deputies, Black said. "(They were) running around all over the place shouting and screaming," he said.

However, members of the Leon family and witnesses contend that police descended on the party and began pushing, hitting and dragging party-goers out to the front of Leon's single-story house. Leon said the deputies "incited a riot" by using foul language and challenging his guests to fight.

Ramos and Duran were taken to Norwalk Community Hospital for treatment of minor injuries, officials said. Ramos was treated for bruises on his ribs and face. Duran was treated for skinned knees and a bruised right elbow, where she was struck by a police baton, officials said.

The couple and Trejo were later booked at the Norwalk sheriff's station.

The 25 relatives and friends had been celebrating Trejo's recent completion of an electronics program at the ITT Technical Institute. Leon's daughter, Denise, 23, threw the party for Trejo, her boyfriend, at her parents' home in a normally quiet neighborhood of the city, family members said.

Court Appearances Set

Trejo and Ramos are scheduled to be arraigned July 29 at Whittier Municipal Court on charges of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, officials said. Ramos also faces a misdemeanor charge of assaulting a police officer, Black said. They were released on personal recognizance.

Duran, Ramos' girlfriend, is scheduled to be arraigned the same day on a felony charge of attempting to free Ramos from a patrol car--one of 25 units that responded during the incident, Black said. She was released on a $3,000 bond.

None of three had been arrested before, officials said.

Among other things, the Leon family, several neighbors and others who attended the party charge that deputies hit Trejo repeatedly after handcuffing him. The deputies then began hitting Ramos, Duran and at least a dozen others with their fists and batons, witnesses said.

"Nobody resisted arrest," said Leon, 51.

Black, in an interview last week, said deputies conducted themselves properly. "We are investigating the charges (of brutality by deputies), but at this time I don't feel the officers were out of line," he said

Leon disagreed. He said he was so upset that he urged city officials to launch an investigation of their own. Leon, Black and city administrators have met once to discuss the incident.

"(Deputies) were in a frenzy," Leon said. "The police acted like sharks when they are thrown raw meat."

Several neighbors who were interviewed last week said that although there was loud music at the house, the party-goers were well-behaved.

They complained that deputies acted irrationally, shoving people into cars, dragging them along the street and chasing them into neighboring yards without provocation.

Ruben Lunez, 64, a next-door neighbor, said deputies entered his back yard and kicked open his back door after demanding identification from his granddaughter, Anna Verdugo, and her husband, John. The couple, who live with Lunez, had been attending the party, John Verdugo said.

Neighbor Was a Witness

Louis Booth, who lives across the street, said he saw a deputy pushing a "young man face first into the hood of a blue car."

"I was shocked by the scene. I was terrified," said Booth's wife, Norma, a longtime friend of the Leons. "These people don't do anything. They never have a party. This is a quiet neighborhood."

Black said he "won't deny that some people were pushed" during the melee. But he maintains that despite the charges by the Leon family and the suspects, he believes deputies did not use excessive force. "I believe the investigation will bear that out," he said.

The investigation has disclosed no previous run-ins between deputies and the Leon family, Black said.

Assistant City Administrator Fred Latham said the city "will leave no stone unturned" in its own inquiry. A report could be issued as early next week, he said.

"We are investigating the concerns that the Leons and others have expressed," Latham said. "And there are many of them."

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