L.A. Now

Lunada Bay surfer gang targeted by class-action lawsuit

An El Segundo police officer who says he has been harassed by a group of surfers known as the Lunada Bay Boys of wealthy Palos Verdes Estates joined other alleged victims to file a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday.

The officer, Cory Spencer, and other plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to prevent members of the gang from congregating at the Bay, one of California most coveted surf breaks. 

Additionally, the suit targets the city of Palos Verdes Estates, asking a judge to require the municipality to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by the group of surfers who alleged victims and witnesses have accused of bombarding outsiders with dirt clods, slashing their car tires and assaulting them in the water -- sometimes coordinating the attacks with walkie talkies.

For years, beachgoers and witnesses have accused the Bay Boys, some of whom are reportedly middle-aged, of bombarding outsiders with dirt clods, slashing their car tires and assaulting them in the water — sometimes coordinating the attacks with walkie-talkies.

“Palos Verdes Estates has a long history of deliberate indifference in not investigating or otherwise policing acts of violence and vandalism against visiting beachgoers,” the suit alleges. “The response is always the same: City leaders acknowledge the problem, promise to do something, and then do little or nothing.”

Police Chief Jeff Kepley, a named defendant, and City Manager Tony Dahlerbruch did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Olu Orange, an adjunct professor at USC who recently won a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who were unfairly targeted by gang injunctions, said it was unusual for a group of private citizens — rather than a government entity — to seek a gang injunction.

“It would be refreshing if this tool is used in a constitutional way,” Orange said. “Too often these affect people who have never done anything wrong in impoverished neighborhoods, but these guys live in an area where the median income is $170,000 and they can vandalize, assault and batter people, and can do it all under the watchful eye of the police.”

Nearly four dozen injunctions are in place throughout parts of L.A.’s roughest neighborhoods. They are court orders that aim to severely curtail gang activity by, among other things, prohibiting gang members and their associates from socializing with one another, carrying weapons or wearing certain clothing inside an injunction's designated area — typically the neighborhoods where the gangs are active.

But, Orange said, it will be more difficult to get a federal judge to order the police to investigate alleged criminal activity by the Bay Boys more aggressively.

“For that, I think they will need to show a conspiracy between the police and the alleged gang members,” he said.

It has been years since police made an arrest at Lunada Bay.

The complaint says police have declined to pursue assailants — including men who the plaintiffs said recently harassed a woman who spoke to The Times for a story about the “localism” at the shore.

The police, the complaint said, “would not commit to a date to identify the … member of the Lunada Bay Boys who poured beer on her and exposed himself to her, or other individual defendants who had harassed her.”

Last month, an enforcement officer for the California Coastal Commission sent a letter to Palos Verdes Estates officials that said the Lunada Bay Boys were so entrenched in that stretch of coastline that they were subject to the commission's watchdog regulations and permitting processes.

The letter said: “Precluding full public use of the coastline at Palos Verdes Estates, including the waters of Lunada Bay, whether through physical devices ... or impediments, such as threatening behavior intended to discourage public use of the coastline, represents a change of access to water, and, thus, constitutes development.”

In an interview Tuesday, officials with the Coastal Commission said they recently met with city officials to discuss ways they might improve trail access and signage at Lunada Bay — although no commitments have been reached.

“It would help people get to the coast, which is our goal, and it would also potentially deter criminal behavior by having more eyes on the ground,” said Andrew Willis, the commission's top enforcement agent in Southern California.

They also pushed to either permit or remove a stone fort at the water's edge allegedly constructed by the group as a party spot and outpost for coordinating harassment of outsiders.

“Just because it’s sturdy doesn’t mean it can’t be removed,” said Lisa Haage, the commission’s chief enforcement officer. “People remove development all the time along the coast.”

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UPDATE

8:09 This story has been updated with material from the coastal commission. 

Follow me on Twitter: @gtherolf 

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