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Family of Man Killed by Police Files Complaint : Allegations: Mother, sisters of suspect shot in May say officers broke into their home last week looking for another brother. Neighbors in San Pedro housing project also claim harassment.

August 12, 1993|LISA RICHARDSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The mother and two sisters of a San Pedro man who was shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer in May filed complaints against the Police Department on Wednesday, charging that officers illegally broke into their home last week and assaulted them.

Flanked by San Pedro attorney Diane Middleton and dozens of neighbors, Marisol Garcia, one of the victim's sisters, said at a news conference in front of her mother's 2nd Street home that officers had insulted her family repeatedly after her brother Sergio's death on May 24.

But the harassment culminated when officers stormed the family's home on Aug. 3, she said. The officers were pursuing Samuel Hernandez, another brother.

"We were just sitting here talking on the front steps, when they came running out of the car straight at my brother Sam," Marisol Garcia said. "My brother is scared of them. They give him the same threats they used to give Sergio and so he ran into the house and out the back.

"The police just went running right in after him," Marisol Garcia said. "My mother didn't know what was going on, and when she asked them what they were doing they pushed her down to the ground. She was crying and yelling 'Don't kill my son, please don't kill my son!' "

Showing the crowd a bruise on her shin, Marisol said that when she tried to pull an officer away from her mother, he turned and kicked her.

The Garcias, supported by neighbors' accounts, say officers threatened to jail Rosario Garcia and her daughters Marisol and Lorena and to kill her son Sam.

"I heard LAPD officers use abusive language throughout these proceedings," says Rosario Garcia's complaint. "I fear for my life and the life of my son Sam. (Also) the officers threatened to go to the L.A. Public Housing Authority and have me evicted."

In addition to Rosario Garcia's complaint, 12 others who say they were either directly threatened by officers or say they saw officers threaten the Garcias filed complaints with the Police Department's internal affairs division and Cmdr. Art Lopez of the South Bureau.

Officials at the Harbor Division acknowledge that officers rushed into Rosario Garcia's house last week, but they say her son Sam Hernandez had committed a "violation of the law."

Police would not specify the nature of the violation, but family members say that after the unsuccessful chase, police returned to the house and explained that they had seen Hernandez carrying a gun on three separate occasions.

Marisol Garcia said on Wednesday: "I know they say that, but they didn't find anything and when they came running at him he was just sitting here on the steps minding his business." Hernandez has since left San Pedro, she said.

"If they wanted to arrest him then they should've just gotten out of the car, not (charged) at us, and come over and talked to him, showed him a warrant or whatever," she said.

"This was fresh pursuit and the officers did not need a warrant," said Lt. Alan B. Kerstein, commanding officer of the detective division. "They observed the violation, the officer stopped to arrest Sam, and he fled into the house so they were justified in following him.

"But if the family has any complaint about the behavior of any of our officers, I encourage them to come to the station to talk to me about it. We will conduct a very thorough investigation, and I promise we will call Mrs. Garcia and let her know the outcome of the investigation."

Sergio Garcia, 27, was killed shortly after midnight on May 24 while fleeing officers who pulled him over for driving without headlights. Accounts of Garcia's death differ.

Police say Garcia took the pursuing officer's foot-long flashlight and threatened the officer, Mark Griego, with it in an attack that ended when Griego shot Garcia four times.

Family members do not believe that Sergio Garcia ever had the flashlight. But they say that even if he did, Garcia, who was 5-foot-2 and 124 pounds, posed no lethal threat to the officer.

Sergio Garcia's death enraged residents of the Rancho San Pedro housing project. In the week after his death, residents marched in protest to the Harbor Division police station, held fund-raisers for the family and formed a committee to monitor police encounters.

One of the committee's goals has been to encourage neighborhood residents to file formal complaints with the Police Department if officers mistreat them, rather than just talking about it with other residents.

Police administrators say they have tried to work with the community to heal its wounds. But according to residents at Wednesday's news conference, relations remain hostile. The issue, the residents said, is that officers do not treat them with respect.

"They harass me every day, every day, every day!" said Michael Jaramillo, 20. "They harass me for stepping out of the front door, for driving down the street, for just being outside," he said, while others nodded.

James Davis, the supervisor of gang services at nearby Toberman Settlement House, a private nonprofit organization, witnessed the chase and was present when officers returned to talk to the Garcias after Hernandez escaped.

"Basically they said they can do whatever they want to when they're in hot pursuit," Davis said. "They said that if anybody is in their way when they're in pursuit that they can take a tank and knock down the house.

"But we want the LAPD to understand that we want respect," Davis said. Turning to the neighbors crowded behind Marisol Garcia, Davis yelled "What do we want?"

"Respect!" they yelled back.

"What do we want?" Davis yelled again and then again.

"Respect!" they yelled.

And from the back a woman yelled: "When do we want it?"

The crowd boomed, "Now!"

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