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Arcadia Police Accused of Racial, Sexual Bias : Law enforcement: Four claims charge that the city's 73-member force has targeted young people, minorities and the department's own female officers.

October 06, 1994|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the last year, the Arcadia Police Department has been hit by four separate claims of racial and sexual discrimination.

Those filing the claims accuse the city's 73-member force of unfairly targeting young people, minorities and the department's own female officers for harassment and discrimination.

The accusations are detailed in a $1-million claim against the city, a federal discrimination complaint and two recent lawsuits, including one seeking $1 million in damages.

"I think the face of our community is changing," said 10-year resident Alicia Alfaro, one of the complainants. "We're seeing more and more brown faces in our community and I don't think these officers have been sensitized to that."

City officials deny the accusations.

"The Arcadia Police Department is an extremely professional organization," said Arcadia Police Capt. David Hinig. "We can on any given day make several thousand contacts with the public. The number of people who come forward and make this type of complaint is very small, two or three people, that's all."

City Atty. Mike Miller characterized all the complaints as "unproven, speculative, general allegations without any support."

"I think they have defamed the Arcadia Police Department," Miller added.

Those making accusations against the department are:

* Beverly Hayden, owner of the Burger Palace, who filed a $1-million federal lawsuit in July alleging that Arcadia police discriminated against young people and Latino customers at her "classic car night" by targeting them for increased traffic scrutiny and citations.

Hayden says problems arose in 1989 when she began the car shows Thursday nights at her restaurant on West Las Tunas Drive. The events drew up to 400 people, many of them young Latinos, who displayed their vehicles in the restaurant parking lot.

In response, Arcadia police created a special task force using officers from El Monte and Glendale, as well as Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies and California Highway Patrol officers. The task force strictly enforced traffic and vehicle code violations near the restaurant three Thursdays in a row last year in July. More than 300 of her customers were ticketed, Hayden said, which shut down the car club and discouraged customers from visiting on other evenings.

In her lawsuit, filed July 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Hayden seeks $1 million in compensatory damages, $50,000 in punitive damages and an injunction to end police surveillance and enforcement at the restaurant.

But Hinig said police paid special attention to the business only because it drew alleged gang members and drug dealers, as well as complaints from neighboring businesses and residents. Police arrested one drag racer who, after leaving the Burger Palace, sped at 100 m.p.h. on nearby streets, he said.

* Gus and Alicia Alfaro, who filed a $1-million damage complaint against the city in March, also accused Arcadia officers of harassing Latinos, specifically their son, Gus Jr.

The Alfaros say their son, then 14, was harassed by police officers in August, 1993, as he stood outside a house with his friends; in September, 1993, as he was walking to a football game with other boys, and on Oct. 14, 1993, at a football game at Arcadia High School.

Alicia Alfaro said other youths have told her of similar treatment, but they are reluctant to come forward. Although her son has not been physically harmed, she fears that he could be singled out for more and harsher treatment unless she speaks up.

City officials dismiss the Alfaros' complaints as frivolous and unfounded. Police said that the boy refused to sit down in the bleachers when ordered to do so by officers and that he cursed at the officers, prompting their response. An internal police department investigation of all the Alfaro's complaints found no police misconduct, Hinig said.

* Deborah Pierce, a former Arcadia probationary police officer who filed a discrimination lawsuit after she was fired last year, and a woman cadet who filed a federal discrimination complaint in April both accuse the department of sexual harassment and discrimination.

In her complaint, Pierce, 30, claims that racist and sexist attitudes translated into discriminatory on-the-job actions against women and minority Arcadia residents.

Pierce, who worked for the Arcadia Police Department from June 24, 1991, until her firing on Jan. 20, 1993, said she was shocked to find that Asians, Latinos and African Americans were targeted for extra field interrogations, searches and traffic stops to discourage them from entering the city. Police officers freely used racial epithets and jokes and regularly "roughed up" people of color, Pierce claims in her lawsuit.

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