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Protesters Allege Placentia Police Abuse

Law enforcement: Pickets say officers target Spanish-speaking residents but the force denies bias allegations.

April 09, 2002|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 40 demonstrators gathered outside the Placentia Police Department Monday evening to protest what they called a pattern of abuse by police officers, mostly against residents of Latino descent.

"It's a pattern over time," said Lupe Lopez, spokeswoman for Anaheim-based Indigenous Alliance, which organized the demonstration along with several other groups. . "This [protest] is a steppingstone to give voice to people who have had no voice for so long."

Lopez said the alleged abuse--mostly in the form of harassment, intimidation and what she said is the unwarranted arrest of innocent Spanish-speaking people--has been going on for a number of years. The most recent incident was at a March 30 party, when several people were attacked with pepper spray and three were arrested, she said.

"They didn't like us taking pictures of their badges," said Amalia Cortez, 17, hostess of the Saturday night party. She said she and others were taking pictures to document possible harassment. She said she had her arm pulled by one of about 12 officers, was hit with pepper spray and arrested for an offense she said she doesn't understand. "I don't want this to happen to our community," she said. "I've lived here my whole life and this isn't right."

Sgt. Eric Point, a spokesman for the Police Department, said the officers were responding to noise complaints from neighbors.

He said he was unaware of the details of the confrontation and had not received a formal complaint.

"If we get a complaint," he said, "it will be investigated. Beyond that I can't comment."

Regarding the alleged pattern of harassment and discrimination, Point said, "Our chief doesn't condone it, nor does this department engage in any kind of racial profiling or discrimination."

One demonstrator--who declined to give her name because she said she feared repercussions--distributed police-misconduct complaint forms, along with instructions on how to fill them out. In the past, she said, people who considered filing complaints said they were dissuaded from doing so by officers threatening to counter with lawsuits charging defamation of character.

"We are providing a safe haven," the activist said, "for those who have witnessed or suffered intimidation. We are letting them know that it is within their civil rights to file complaints."

By evening's end, she said, she had given complaint forms to seven people, all of whom promised to fill them out and return as a group to file them, perhaps as soon as Friday.

Meanwhile, other protesters waved signs reading, "No More Racist Attacks," and "End Racist Police Terrorism," while chanting "No Justice, No Peace," and shouting at the drivers of passing cars, some of whom honked back in apparent support.

"I'm here to observe and see what can be done," said Ruth Shapin, a member of the Orange County Unitarian Church's Social Concerns Committee, which supported the demonstration. "Some of the people who have been having these problems are members of our church."

The gathering caused no traffic or safety problems, Point said, though at one point, protesters began surrounding a patrol car stopped at a traffic light in the 400 block of East Chapman Avenue, where the demonstration occurred.

The demonstrators took off as soon as another officer showed up, Point said. "I don't know what their intentions were."

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