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FBI to Aid Probe of O.C. Teen's Beating

Community activists gather to question the police delay in publicizing the Feb. 22 incident. City officials defend the decision.

March 05, 2003|Scott Martelle and William Lobdell | Times Staff Writers

As complaints mounted over a nine-day official silence, police on Tuesday agreed to consult the FBI in the investigation of a violent, race-related clash between two groups of Yorba Linda teens.

Police and Yorba Linda city officials said they decided not to disclose the Feb. 22 beating of Rashid Alam, an 18-year-old Arab American man, in order to investigate it.

But community activists Tuesday questioned the delay in publicizing the case, which became news Monday when the victim's family came forward. Some saw a double standard.

"There's a feeling in our community that crimes against [Muslims] are not treated the same way" as crimes against others, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He spoke Tuesday at a news conference attended by human rights activists, religious leaders and police.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Yorba Linda beating -- An article in Wednesday's California section about the beating of a Yorba Linda teenager incorrectly reported that police are not investigating the incident as a hate crime. They are. The story also mistakenly reported that five suspected hate crimes have occurred in Yorba Linda since January 2001. Brea police, who also patrol Yorba Linda, said three of those crimes took place in Brea and two in Yorba Linda.

A 16-year-old from Placentia and a 17-year-old from Yorba Linda were arrested on misdemeanor assault charges three days after the incident, but the lack of further arrests has incensed some Arab American and human rights activists.

"A few [of the attackers] are allegedly going around their schools bragging about how they almost killed or disabled this Arab boy," Ayloush said.

The incident occurred in Yorba Linda but is being investigated by the Brea Police Department, which covers the city under contract. Brea police did not inform the FBI about the attack, which they categorize as a possible hate crime, but said they would meet with federal officials today.

Local officials generally have discretion to involve federal authorities in hate crimes.

Brea police said they are trying to interview about 50 witnesses and have identified primary suspects.

"We're still trying to develop evidence so we can make the arrests," said Sgt. Jack Conklin.

The assault, which left Alam with a broken jaw and fractured facial bones, is the fifth suspected hate crime Brea police have investigated in Yorba Linda since January 2001, Conklin said.

Citing a perceived lack of action, though, Ayloush and other human rights advocates Tuesday urged federal investigators to get involved.

"Our community needs this protection and is awaiting strong immediate protection from the FBI," Ayloush said.

"The American Muslim community is scared and looking for answers."

It is also tasting fear.

"The kids are just in shock," said Fawad Yacoob, a history teacher at Orange Crescent School, a Muslim school in Garden Grove attended by Alam's two young sisters.

"We have parents who are scared."

FBI officials said they plan to monitor the investigation and will meet with Brea police and the Orange County district attorney's office before deciding whether the incident warrants federal charges.

While members of Alam's group said the attackers yelled white supremacist slogans during the attack, they also said the two groups had a months-long history of race-tinged antagonism, including a fight at a party last summer between one of the assailants and Alam's brother, Mohamed.

The latest fight became a prime topic of conversation at Anaheim's Esperanza High School, where students said many of those involved either attend school or have graduated.

Some were surprised by the allegations of a hate crime, viewing the incident as a violent clash between two rival groups of friends, more "West Side Story" than anything else.

"We just thought it was a bunch of kids who don't like each other," said senior Jenae Suite, 17.

School officials learned of the beating through a police officer assigned to the campus, said Principal Dave Flynn. If students were involved, he said, "then we will take appropriate steps and any necessary disciplinary action."

Yorba Linda officials defended the police decision to keep the incident quiet while investigators worked. Council members were informed of the incident a few days ago through an e-mail from Brea Police Capt. Bill Hutchinson, the Yorba Linda police liaison.

"Public disclosure is very important," said Councilman Ken Ryan.

"We need to make people aware. However, at the same time, we're going to make sure the investigation is done right."

Yorba Linda officials said the Alam beating was an isolated, but not unexpected, occurrence in the predominantly white city of 59,000 people with a median family income of $96,000, compared with about $59,000 for the county overall.

"We don't have gang problems or hate crime problems to the magnitude that other communities have. But also, they're not absent from our community," said Councilman Jim Winder, a retired Brea police captain.

"There are many neighborhoods in Yorba Linda that know or should know that an element like that is present in their neighborhood. Some of this -- or much of this -- is a youth-going-through-stages kind of thing."

Yet some racism experts said incidents like the Alam beating are cause for concern as American society becomes increasingly diverse and complex.

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