When El Monte Police Officer George Fierro was seen on video kicking a prone, heavily tattooed gang member in the head at the end of a televised high-speed chase, he received some criticism but also a good amount of praise.
Then the 15-year police veteran's side business made the news, and no one advocated giving him a medal for that.
When he's not fighting crime and chasing gang members, Fierro sells a line of clothing. His company's website is known "for its authentic jailhouse wear."
Among the shirts he sells is one with a black handprint dripping blood -- a symbol of the Mexican Mafia prison gang. The shirt includes the names of members of "the EME" who "wore this tattoo logo." Another shirt has a logo that reads "Green Lighters" with a splatter of blood in the background. The term refers to someone who has defied the Mexican Mafia and has been put on a hit list.
While reserving judgment on the videotaped kick, Councilwoman Patricia Wallach criticized Fierro's business.
"Our police officers spend their time doing everything possible to prevent gang members promoting themselves and here is an officer who is doing his best to glorify gangs," she said.
Fierro's business is called Torcido Clothing. The Police Department's lawyers are looking at the issue, said El Monte Police Chief Tom Armstrong, but only as an "advisory matter."
"There are people who are certainly upset," he said. "They feel that it's inconsistent with a police officer's position within their community to sell those kinds of items."
Fierro could not be reached for comment, and his attorney did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
The videotaped kick is being investigated by the Sheriff's Department. While not confirming who the officer was, a union attorney said the kick was a justified "distraction blow" after the officer allegedly saw movement. The man he kicked, Richard Rodriguez, was a parolee and a member of El Monte's largest gang.
This is not the first time Fierro's side business has caused controversy. In 2007, Fierro filed a lawsuit against an LAPD officer who sent out an e-mail criticizing his business. According to the complaint, the officer wrote: "Has anyone seen or know about this gang clothing that a police officer is selling to gangsters. . . . I understand the clothing has hiding places for contraband, guns and dope. Things that can hurt our real cops on the street."
Fierro said the statement was untrue and libelous. When Armstrong read about the alleged "hiding places," he said, he examined his officer's clothing website.
"I went there to specifically look for that, because that certainly would be disconcerting if it was true," the chief said. "But I didn't see that."
In the end, the lawsuit was dismissed.
Some gang intervention experts said they were surprised anyone would sell clothing referring to the Mexican Mafia, or that anyone would buy it. Mike Garcia, a former Boyle Heights gang member who works to prevent gang violence, said wearing such clothing can be dangerous in many neighborhoods.
"You're not even supposed to talk about them. It doesn't matter if you're a member or not," Garcia said. "You can get in a lot of trouble. That's dumb."
Chief Armstrong said Fierro is a good gang cop. "He is very adept at gang enforcement and narcotics enforcement. He knows his stuff."
Referring to the shirts, Armstrong said, "I guess it's a freedom of speech issue if you want to call it that. But I certainly wouldn't wear it."