A Latino community organizer has filed seven complaints against the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, detailing incidents she says show a pattern of police harassment and brutality against Latino youths in Camarillo.
Ramona Ayala, an organizer of a Latino parents group in Camarillo, said she plans to file another 13 complaints against the department before May 5, when she is scheduled to meet with a U.S. Justice Department mediator from San Francisco about the alleged harassment.
"This is wrong. This has got to stop," Ayala said. "It's not just one officer. It seems to be a whole attitude here. . . . These children don't stand a chance unless we do something."
Assistant Sheriff Oscar Fuller said it was premature to comment on the specific allegations before they are thoroughly investigated. "I'd obviously be shocked and chagrined if there were truth to them," Fuller said. "But I've been surprised before."
He added that there could be some difficulty investigating some of the incidents described in the complaints because they are at least a year old.
Fuller said he and Cmdr. Ray Abbott, head of the sheriff's Camarillo substation, have met with Ayala several times to discuss her concerns. "We've been trying to work with her," he said.
On Tuesday, Ayala filed two formal complaints in her own name and five in the names of other Latino residents in Camarillo. As word spreads of her efforts to stop the conflicts with the Sheriff's Department, she said, more Latinos are coming forward with alleged incidents of police harassment.
Ayala said she and the others have not filed formal complaints before this week because they were afraid of retaliation. But she said she has made numerous verbal complaints to the Sheriff's Department since 1989. She said these complaints have resulted in deputies keeping a surveillance on her house and following her car on daily errands.
Those named in the complaints include Sheriff's Deputies Miguel Colon, Steven Rhods, Steven Capuano and Daniel Ambarian and other deputies who were not identified.
One complaint, filed by 18-year-old Stanley Figueroa of Camarillo, contends that Rhods twisted his neck, lifting him off the ground, during an arrest in February for vandalizing Valley Lindo Park in Camarillo.
In a signed statement, Figueroa says that while handcuffed he was repeatedly pushed against a police car by Rhods. Then, Figueroa stated, he was hit on his arms, in his ribs and on his back with a flashlight by Rhods, who kicked him in the legs.
Rhods was unavailable for comment. But Sgt. Keith Lazz defended the deputy and called Figueroa's statement "bogus." He said Rhods and another deputy were trying to photograph Figueroa's face, which was covered with wet spray paint. When Figueroa refused to cooperate, he said, some force was necessary.
"The police are entitled to collect evidence," he said. "If someone keeps whipping his head around, how are you going to take his picture?"
As for the allegations of hitting and kicking, Lazz said, "I just don't believe that happened. I mean why would they?"
Ayala's daughter, Annette Olachea, filed a complaint alleging that she and her mother witnessed another incident of excessive force in May. In her complaint, she said she saw several deputies kicking a group of youths and slamming their heads into a police car last May. Olachea said she stopped her car, and yelled, "Stop beating those kids. Arrest them, but don't beat them."
She said Deputy Ambarian cursed at her, telling her to leave and then slammed her body against a police car. Ambarian declined to comment.
In another complaint, Ayala accused Deputy Capuano of pointing a gun at her son's head in October, and trying to provoke him with taunts. Capuano could not be reached for comment.
Another complaint contends that Deputy Colon burst into Ayala's home and searched it without a warrant in 1990.
Colon denied the accusation and said this is the first complaint against him in his 20 years of law enforcement. "What she is saying are categorically lies," Colon said. "It just blows my mind."
Ayala will meet with a U.S. Justice Department mediator, Angel Alderete of the department's Community Relations Service, on Tuesday. Alderete said this will be his second trip to Ventura County to mediate problems between the Latino community and police.
About three weeks ago, Alderete met with about 30 Latino parents and their children in Simi Valley to discuss tensions with the Simi Valley Police Department.
After Alderete meets with Ayala and other Camarillo parents, he said he will try to assess whether the concerns are valid. If so, he said he will try to work with parents and the Sheriff's Department to resolve the conflict.