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Riverside Deputy Fired for Beating Illegal Immigrants

Law enforcement: Tracy Watson was videotaped striking the suspects after an 80-mile high-speed chase.

August 08, 1996|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RIVERSIDE — The Riverside County Sheriff's Department fired Deputy Tracy Watson on Wednesday for his role in the notorious baton beating of two illegal immigrants April 1 in South El Monte after a high-speed chase.

A sheriff's spokesman said Watson was no longer employed by the department at 5 p.m., but declined to elaborate, citing employee privacy laws.

Watson and another deputy, Kurt Franklin, were videotaped by television news crews using their batons to beat two occupants of a pickup truck that led authorities on a harrowing, 80-mile chase that started when U.S. Border Patrol agents saw the vehicle near Temecula.

The other occupants of the pickup fled and were later apprehended. The vehicle's driver was arrested May 3 and faces federal charges of smuggling illegal immigrants.

Franklin, a 20-year department veteran, and Watson, who had been with the department five years, were notified by the department June 11 that they would face separate disciplines for their actions. An administrative review panel recommended that Franklin be suspended without pay for one month and that Watson--who was viewed delivering more blows to the victims--be terminated, sources said.

Both deputies unsuccessfully appealed the notices to Chief Deputy Susan Hanson, sources said.

Franklin has returned to duty and is assigned to a helicopter as an observer, department spokesman Mark Lohman said.

Watson's attorney, Michael P. Stone, could not be reached for reaction Wednesday. But he previously said that if his client was fired, "We will then file an appeal and put the case on track to binding arbitration before a neutral party. I expect to prevail."

Both deputies have said that after the chase in which the smuggler reportedly tried to sideswipe other vehicles on the freeway and struck at least one, the amount of force they used to capture the last two occupants of the pickup was reasonable.

A CHP officer who was at the scene but did not strike anyone has been notified that he is being fired effective Sept. 7 for lying to investigators about whether he had audiotaped the incident. The officer, Marco A. DeGennaro, said he took steps soon afterward to tell investigators that he did indeed have a tape in which another CHP officer is heard calling the immigrants a "bunch of wetbacks."

Both victims of the beating, Alicia Sotero Vasquez and Enrique Funes Flores, have filed lawsuits alleging civil rights violations. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the U.S. attorney's office are considering criminal charges against the deputies.

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