GARDEN GROVE — Lawyers for two Vietnamese girls--described as high school honor students--announced they intend to file a class-action lawsuit Thursday to force the Garden Grove Police Department to stop taking photographs of teen-agers for its police files and gang mug books.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is handling the case, charged that the local police had falsely accused the girls of being gang members because of their dress and ethnicity.
The incident involving Minhtran Tran and Queyn Pham, both 15, happened while the girls were waiting for a ride from a Garden Grove shopping strip one evening last year, according to ACLU officials. The girls, who were dressed in baggy pants and tight-fitting blouses, complained that they were ordered to stand against a wall while their photographs were taken with a Polaroid camera.
Through their lawyer, both girls declined to comment on the case until the lawsuit is filed.
The complaint one of several challenges to a popular police practice in Orange County of photographing suspected gang members for police files. Last fall, the 4th District Court of Appeal criticized the strategy as unconstitutional, but most local police departments have continued the practice after tightening their procedures.
On Wednesday, Garden Grove police defended the practice, saying the photographs have helped track down criminals. According to department guidelines, Garden Grove officers have the discretion to take photographs if they have "a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."
"It's an investigative tool that has been successful in resolving violent crimes," said Capt. Scott Jordan. "We tried to take into consideration all the interests of our citizens and we've made some changes in our policies. And we will continue to use this unless we are stopped."
Jordan declined to discuss the incident involving the girls, but observed that "just because a person is an honor student does not mean they're not a gang member. There is a general belief that honor students are not gang members and that is not the case. Many of them are in a gang."