The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office is investigating allegations by a group of children that they were beaten, slapped and tortured last month by Huntington Park and South Gate police officers at a boot camp designed to straighten them up.
The children, ages 11 to 17, suffered cuts and bruises after being beaten in what was described as “the dark room” during the weeklong boot camp in San Luis Obispo, their attorney, Greg Owen, said. One boy suffered broken bones in his hand when an officer stepped on it because he was not performing a push-up properly, Owen said.
After returning from the boot camp, the children remained silent about what happened because they feared retaliation, the lawyer said.
“They were threatened [that] if they told they would be found and get hurt badly,” Owen said, adding that he was representing 10 children but believes that there may be more, including from previous camps.
He said the allegations came to light when a mother took her son to an emergency room and hospital staff called the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services because they believed she had beaten the boy. But he told investigators the bruising was the result of beatings by officers at the boot camp.
San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s officials said about 39 children participated in the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) boot camp May 17-24 at Camp San Luis Obispo, a California Army National Guard base.
Seven children alleged that they were physically abused by drill instructors, who are Huntington Park and South Gate police officers, sheriff’s officials said.
The children’s parents had paid $400 for an educational and physical activity program to improve their behavior, Owen said. He said some of the children were recommended for the intervention program by their schools after talking back to their teachers and parents.
South Gate police officials said the program spans 20 weeks and is designed to “change the destructive behavior of an at-risk youth” by introducing a structured regimen and educational trips. The boot camp took place during one of those trips.
The program was introduced in 1998 to help teens dealing with violence, struggling with drugs and involved gangs.
South Gate police officials said they believed “in complete transparency and take all allegations seriously.”
Police held a meeting with parents Sunday to “provide assurance that any matters of concern will be investigated thoroughly.”
Several parents visited the Huntington Park Police Department to voice their concerns about the program, which is in its sixth week. Parental involvement is mandatory in the program, officials said.
“This is the first time in its 20-year history there have been allegations of this nature,” Huntington Park spokesman Michael Chee said.
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