Congresswoman calls for probe into cellphone-slamming incident by federal agent

Congresswoman calls for probe into cellphone-slamming incident by federal agent
Beatriz Paez, 34, holding a broken phone on the 10400 block of San Juan Avenue in South Gate, where her cellphone was snatched and tossed during a reported federal law enforcement operation she had been recording. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

When authorities rolled into a South Gate neighborhood this past weekend and rounded up suspected members of an outlaw motorcycle gang, some of them wore vests that simply read "police" and drove unmarked cars and SUVs.

Resident Beatriz Paez, who was out for a Sunday stroll, came upon the scene and started filming with her cellphone when she said two officers stood in front of her to shield her view.


But if law enforcement officials were trying to keep a low profile that day, what a deputy U.S. marshal did assured that such plans went out the window.

As seen on a video recorded by a person across the street from Paez and uploaded to YouTube, the deputy U.S. marshal rushed Paez, grabbed her cellphone and slammed it to the ground, breaking it.

The video has been viewed more than 760,000 times since Sunday, sparking calls for criminal charges against the deputy who threw the phone and reigniting a debate on how law enforcement reacts to citizens recording their activities.

On Wednesday, Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), whose district includes South Gate, called for an independent investigation by the Department of Justice.

"I was alarmed and upset by the actions of the law enforcement officer captured on the video," she said in a statement. "We must hold all who are sworn to protect and serve accountable and send a clear message that they are not beyond the law."

The U.S. Marshals Service referred comments on Sunday's operation to South Gate police but confirmed the operation involved the Mongols motorcycle group. An officials with the Burea of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the agency has fielded countless calls from the media about the operation but couldn't provide many specifics.

The operation was part of a multi-agency outlaw motorcycle gang task force, said ATF spokeswoman Meredith Davis. But the ATF did not lead Sunday's operation, she said. The operation's lone ATF agent was at a different location Sunday, Davis said.

Authorities declined to say if there were any arrests.

Another video on YouTube shows what appears to be a similar operation in 2010 in a South Gate neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Paez plans to file a lawsuit against the agent who grabbed her phone, the two who stood by and watched, and potentially the agencies involved in the operation, said her attorney, Colleen Flynn.

Paez also asked the South Gate police to investigate the deputy marshal criminally for destroying the phone, Flynn said.

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