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$30 Million Sought in Slaying of Witness, 14 : Crime: Pomona police and the D.A.'s office are named in two claims by the family of the boy who was killed before he could testify in a gang-related murder trial.

November 19, 1992|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Separate $15-million claims against the Pomona Police Department and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office have been filed by the family of Eduardo Samaniego, a 14-year-old witness to a gang killing who was killed before he could testify in a murder trial.

Tim Hanigan, an attorney for the family, said Pomona police detectives and deputy district attorneys lied to the family about the risks Eduardo, a clean-cut Little Leaguer, faced as a witness to the Nov. 10, 1991, shooting death of gang member Luis Lopez, 15, of Pomona.

Eduardo testified at a preliminary hearing shortly after the Lopez shooting and was to testify again at the murder trial in August.

"They deliberately misled the Samaniegos and Eduardo to secure his testimony by grossly understating the amount of danger he faced in testifying," Hanigan said Wednesday during a news conference with the family on the steps of the Pomona Superior Court.

Police and the district attorney "are going to say they told the Samaniegos of the dangers, but that's a flat-out lie," Hanigan said.

Ricardo Samaniego, the boy's father, fought to hold back tears as he told reporters: "I should have listened to my heart (instead of letting his son testify). I felt something was going to happen."

County officials and Pomona Police Chief and interim City Manager Lloyd Wood declined to comment in detail on the matter because of the pending litigation.

But Wood has said before that Eduardo was informed about the risks by police and that county prosecutors provided information about the witness protection program during a conference at the preliminary hearing.

"We did what we were required to do and beyond what we were required to do," Wood said Wednesday. "I feel comfortable with how we handled the situation."

Eduardo, a church-going boy active in sports, was one of 15 youths who witnessed the drive-by shooting in front of his house. But he was one of only three who testified at the preliminary hearing for suspects Joey Philip Salazar, 19, and Arthur Melendrez, 22, both of Chino.

Hanigan said police believe Eduardo left the house willingly on the night he was killed, thinking he was going to meet a girl on whom he had a crush.

A 17-year-old Pomona youth, Patrick Contreras, has been arrested in Eduardo's murder. Contreras, who may be tried as an adult, has a hearing scheduled Dec. 2.

Salazar and Melendrez, whom Eduardo testified against, will be tried in January.

Meanwhile, the Samaniego family has moved from Pomona. They now reside with relatives in Whittier. But Ricardo Samaniego said he plans to move his family to Hacienda Heights to be closer to the cemetery where his son is buried.

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