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CALIFORNIA : A rude awakening for youths out too late : O.C. authorities round up teenagers and call their parents to stress curfew enforcement.

November 14, 2009|Paloma Esquivel

The black-and-white patrol cars headed out at 10 p.m. carrying hundreds of officers from nearly every law enforcement agency in Orange County.

Their mission: round up minors out after curfew, put them on a jail bus and scare them.

Sgt. Mike Haggerty and Investigator Brian Browne of the Anaheim Police Department's gang unit headed straight to neighborhoods known for gang crime. About 10:15 p.m. they came across their first offender: Andres, a 17-year-old senior who will be going to Cal State Fullerton next fall. He was headed home after visiting an aunt.

Andres was soft-spoken, kept his hands in the pockets of his Yankees sweater and looked disappointed.

"Have you ever been arrested before?" Haggerty asked.

"No."

"Ever gotten a ticket before?"

"No."

"We're doing a curfew sweep."

"Oh, OK."

The officers handcuffed him and escorted him to a patrol car.

The young man was one of 67 underage teens rounded up in the massive countywide curfew sweep late Thursday.

Curfews in Orange County begin at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., depending on the city, and last until 5 a.m. During that time, minors are banned from going out in public without a parent or guardian unless they qualify for an exemption.

"It's a very good thing if we get kids when they're young and we get them off the street," Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas told officers before the sweep. "Clearly, they're not doing anything good if they're out there after 10 o'clock."

The offenders -- who ranged from 13 to 17 -- were taken to one of three headquarters and put on a jail bus to await a parent. Among them were college-bound students, gang members, a 13-year-old on probation for kidnapping and more than one drunk teenager. Most were let go with a warning, but some who were on probation would face greater consequences.

About 10:25 p.m., Haggerty and Browne drove down the streets of an Anaheim neighborhood they described as a stronghold of the Pauline Street gang.

The streets were dark and quiet, a mix of apartment complexes and small homes. Two young men stood outside one of the complexes.

One of the youths saw the officers and ran. Browne sped down the street, pulled into an alley lined with chain-link fences, got out and chased him.

Minutes later, a 17-year-old named Cesar stood with his legs spread and his hands behind his back. He called the officer "sir" and looked away when he spoke. His mother and sister stood outside, watching.

"What were you doing?" Browne asked.

"Having a good time."

Cesar told the officers he was a member of an Anaheim gang. He and his friend Omar, also 17, were put into the patrol car with Andres and the three youths were taken to a command post in Orange. When they got out of the car, the lights from a local TV station's camera shined on them. Other offenders had already arrived. A few parents waited in a makeshift reception area.

The boys were searched twice and led to the bus.

"These guys will have the right to vote soon," one officer told another.

"Scary, isn't it?" the other said.

Cesar, Andres and Omar waited while other parents picked up their children.

One waiting father pounded his leg and shook his head. His daughter, a 16-year-old with straight blond hair, a striped sweater and trendy jeans torn at the knees, was drunk.

When parents arrived, they and their children met with representatives of the district attorney's office and the county Probation Department. They were asked to look at the photos of corpses of young men who authorities said were killed after curfew. "Is this how you want to end up?" they were asked.

Just before 1 a.m., Cesar was pulled off the jail bus because he was laughing. He sat on the asphalt, his knees pulled up to his chest.

An officer with the Anaheim Police Department asked him where he went to school and what gang he was with.

"I don't wanna hear you guys talking no more," Cesar told the officer. "I plead the 5th."

"What is the 5th?" the officer asked.

Cesar looked away without answering.

"Can't we just talk like adults?" the officer asked.

"I'm not an adult yet so I can't say that."

"Don't your parents have any control over you?"

"My dad does," he said. "You guys don't."

Andres' parents arrived after 1 a.m. The mother put her arm around her son.

"He has good grades," the mother explained in Spanish to probation officials. "He plays sports. He's a good kid. All he does is study."

They were allowed to leave after a few minutes.

It was about 1:20 a.m. Cesar, whose mother and sister arrived about the same time as Andres' family, was kept waiting for being rude to a deputy district attorney.

Almost everyone else was gone. A voice came on a loudspeaker, thanking the officers for working through the night.

--

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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