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Ex-Football Star Freed of Charges : Controversy: Newport Beach police drop their case against Ricardo Aguilar, arrested at game between Estancia, Corona del Mar high schools.

October 07, 1992|BILL BILLITER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — Police announced Tuesday that they have dropped charges against Ricardo Aguilar, a former football star at Estancia High School who was arrested Sept. 25 in a controversial incident during an Estancia-Corona del Mar High football game.

Newport Beach officers said they arrested Aguilar, 18, as they tried to quell what they termed "gang" problems at the game. Officers said Corona del Mar High officials and parents had asked for police help after some people, alleged to be gang members, caused problems in one of the stadium restrooms at halftime.

But officials of Estancia High, which is in Costa Mesa, and others said there was no gang trouble. They charged that police singled out Aguilar because he is a Mexican-American and was highly visible at the time. Aguilar was standing near the football field at halftime, talking to a former Estancia High coach.

Police charged that Aguilar, 18, reviled them with profanities and struck both arresting officers when they asked him to leave the field. He was arrested on suspicion of battery on a police officer and later released after posting $500 bond.

After his arrest, both Costa Mesa Councilman Jay Humphrey and Estancia High Principal Frank Infusino protested the police actions. Humphrey and Infusino were at the game and saw the incident, they said.

In a Sept. 28 letter to Newport Beach Police Chief Arb Campbell, Infusino wrote: "In our view no crime was committed. Had the Estancia staff been requested to clear the sidelines of all unauthorized personnel, we would have done so without incident. Therefore in the interests of justice, I urge that any charges brought against (Aguilar) be dropped."

Police here subsequently conducted an internal investigation. In a brief announcement on Tuesday afternoon, police said charges against Aguilar were being dropped.

"Officers encountered Mr. Aguilar while clearing the sidelines at the game, a task which should have been carried out by school officials," the police announcement said. "Although the officers acted in good faith, prosecution of Mr. Aguilar would not be in the interest of justice. The internal investigation is continuing and will include recommendations for more clearly defined areas of responsibility for police and school officials at high school functions."

Aguilar could not be reached for comment, but family members in Costa Mesa said they were extremely happy that the charges had been dropped.

Aguilar's lawyer, Michael Ponce of Newport Beach, said in an interview Tuesday that he thought the police incident was needless. "I was at that game because my son plays for Corona del Mar," Ponce said. "At the time, my wife said to me that she thought the police were mishandling the situation, and when I found out what the young man was being charged with, I called the principal at Estancia High and offered to be his lawyer, pro bono, because I didn't think what had happened was right."

Ponce said he was pleased that police had decided to drop the charges against Aguilar.

Estancia Principal Infusino could not be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon. But in a letter prepared for publication in the Estancia newspaper, Infusino told students: "Reasoned protest utilizing the proper channels is slow but often effective. Protest letters and comments to the press made by Estancia parents, students and administrators have led to an investigation of the (Aguilar) incident and may very well result in the charges being dropped."

Infusino's letter to the high school paper also said: "This entire episode need not have happened. It may have been sparked by stereotyping and racist attitudes."

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