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Internet Cafes Face Crackdown

Safety: After shooting death, officials in Garden Grove say they'll step up enforcement.

June 11, 2002|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After the weekend murder of a 14-year-old boy who had visited a local Internet cafe, Garden Grove officials said Monday they will step up regulation of such businesses and consider further restricting their operation.

Police also said they would patrol the cyber cafes more carefully.

"We will put some teeth into our ordinance," said Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater, who met with council members Sunday in an emergency session to discuss the issue. "We are going to be very, very tough" on cyber cafes.

The cafes, also called PC rooms, have grown in popularity across the country, especially with young people, who play computer games and surf the Internet for hours.

But officials in Garden Grove and elsewhere say the establishments also attract violence.

Early Saturday morning, Edward Fernandez, whom relatives described as an average boy who loved sports, was gunned down near his home after he was apparently followed from I.C.E. Internet Cafe on Brookhurst Street.

In December, a 20-year-old was stabbed to death outside another Garden Grove Internet cafe.

The City Council passed an ordinance in January that restricted hours of operation and put a moratorium on new cyber cafes. The city has about 20.

Cyber cafes must close by 2 a.m., and, among other things, install security cameras to monitor customers, the ordinance says. No minors are allowed during school hours, past 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and past 8 p.m. on other days. The city also has a 10 p.m. curfew for minors.

Police say Edward and some friends were at I.C.E. past curfew time. The cafe's manager and part owner, Quang Nguyen, said the boys had been there earlier in the evening but left before 10 p.m.

He said he does not allow minors after hours and that he told Edward and his friends when they returned shortly before midnight that they had to leave.

Police said Edward and the friends exchanged dirty looks with the passengers in a black car outside I.C.E. The car followed Edward and three friends who had taken a cab.

Witnesses said a passenger from the black car shot Edward several times as he was preparing to pay the cab driver.

Police are still searching for the suspects.

I.C.E. has a security video system, but when detectives asked for the tapes from late Friday, Nguyen was unable to provide them. City officials said I.C.E. will be fined for that violation and for allowing minors in the business past 10 p.m.

Nguyen said Monday the lack of tape was an oversight.

"That was a mistake on our part," he said, saying the cafe uses its security cameras sporadically. "There were a lot of things going on that night."

Among other things, Nguyen said, suspected gang members were loitering in front of his cafe about 11 p.m. He called police, but when they arrived, the young men left. Nguyen said police found no minors in his cafe, which has signs warning youngsters about the time restrictions. More regulation, he said, is not the solution.

"The kid happened to be here," Nguyen said of Edward. "He could have been anywhere else. He could have been coming back from the movies and kids who didn't like him would have followed him."

Broadwater disagreed.

"We don't see this as a fluke anymore," he said referring to the two killings associated with cyber cafes.

The City Council next week will consider further curtailing hours of operation for Internet cafes and creating a task force to study ways to enforce the law.

"We cannot post an officer on every cafe," police Sgt. Scott Hamilton said. "The kids are smart. They know which managers are lax."

Still, Hamilton said his department will increase patrols around cyber cafes.

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