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'It’s a duty' to protect the vulnerable: Anti-Defamation League's Sherwood Awards honor law enforcement for combating hate

The Los Angeles Anti-Defamation League’s annual law enforcement awards for combating hate crimes on Tuesday shone a light on how some of those honored themselves once faced fear and persecution.

Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Anh Truong accepted a prize on behalf of prosecutors, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for driving a white supremacist gang out of several San Fernando Valley homes. But his acceptance speech quickly turned to his refugee past.

Truong explained that he fled Vietnam on a tiny boat 39 years ago, long before he helped prosecute the Peckerwoods gang, known for trafficking guns and drugs from homes adorned with swastikas and photos of Adolf Hitler, and for violent anti-immigrant rhetoric.

As a young boy, his parents awakened him in the middle of the night to flee retribution from the Vietnamese government. He lost his sandals in the flight, he said.

He hid beneath a fishing net as he and his family were smuggled out of the country in a boat. Once at sea, the boat engine failed, and they drifted for days until a U.S. vessel picked them up, he said.

The America he loves accepted his family with open arms. “When we talk about protecting the vulnerable — it’s not a decision or a choice, it’s a duty. In this America we protect everyone,” Truong told hundreds of Southern California law enforcement leaders who gathered at the Skirball Cultural Center for the Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate. His emotional speech triggered a standing ovation.

Truong comments come as the Trump administration is seeking to enforce tougher illegal immigration policies, restricting immigrants from six Muslim countries and curtailing refugees from many war-torn territories.

The ADL awards are named for Helene and Joseph Sherwood. Joseph Sherwood, age 100, was on hand for the ceremonies. The awards also honored FBI agents, federal prosecutors and Orange County law enforcement officials who investigated, detained and prosecuted two Anaheim men who were on the verge of traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist organization. The two men are each serving 30 years in prison.

El Cajon police Officer Louie Michael was among three individuals honored for their efforts to combat hate. The trilingual Michael was born in Iraq and grew up in a refugee camp in Turkey before immigrating to U.S.

Michael is a lifeline to the Middle Eastern population of San Diego County, said David Miyashiro, Cajon Valley superintendent of schools. “When you know your neighbors, there is only room for love. No place for hate,” Miyashiro said,

Also honored were Asst. U.S. Atty. Cindy Cipriani’s and Yadira Perez, a Riverside County sheriff’s deputy who spotted the 2015 firebombing of the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley.

Perez was off-duty in her car nine days after the San Bernardino terror attack when she saw the Coachella mosque burst into flames. She reported the fire to colleagues and began trailing the suspect. Carl James Dial was apprehended and convicted of arson with a special allegation of a hate crime and is serving six years in prison.

“It was my job to serve and protect, and that is exactly what I did,” Perez told the audience Tuesday.

Iman Reymundo Nour said without her quick action, the mosque could have been destroyed and the people inside seriously injured. After a year, the building has been completely restored, he said.

“I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” he told Perez.

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes

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