Police Routinely Relocate Transients, Lawyer Says
San Diego police officers, under pressure from downtown merchants, often pick up transients and relocate them to remote areas, an attorney for one of two officers charged with kidnaping and robbing illegal aliens said in court Wednesday.
James Gattey, an attorney with the Police Officers Assn., said Officers Lloyd J. Hoff and Richard P. Schaaf were simply following general police practices when they removed transients from the downtown and are not guilty of kidnaping and robbing a small group of undocumented Latino workers last August.
“They will locate them to areas that they know they will stay,” he said in his opening remarks at the trial in San Diego Superior Court.
“This is a practice,” Gattey said. “There is not an official sanction. It’s not something you read about. It’s employed and has been employed by San Diego police for many years. It is a common police practice.”
However, his contention that the Police Department condones such a policy drew ire from at least one civil rights and Latino activist, who called the practice unfair.
“Those policies are racist, and it’s the manifestation of selective law enforcement on the part of the San Diego Police Department,” Herman Baca, chairman of the Committee on Chicano Rights, said in a telephone interview after Wednesday’s court proceedings. “It’s standard policy and has been for a long time.”
Hoff, 27, and Schaaf, 29, both on voluntary leave from the department, face maximum sentences of life in prison if convicted on the felony charges. They are accused of kidnaping three illegal aliens for the purpose of robbery, and of robbing two of the men.
But Gattey, who represents Hoff, told the jury that “nobody was transporting anybody for the purpose of robbery.”
With crowded jails and complaining shopkeepers, Gattey said, officers working the downtown beat often face a dilemma in dealing with known troublemakers.
“What do they do in response to the department’s saying we have got to get these people out of here?” Gattey asked the jury. “What do we do? They will locate them to other areas.”
However, one of the plaintiffs, Arturo Romero Garcia, testified that Hoff and Schaaf took him from a downtown trolley stop, stole $35 in cash from his wallet, and abandoned him in a dark, isolated area near railroad tracks.
Garcia, who is in jail for auto burglary, has given police a variety of pseudonyms and birth dates on various occasions, and he admitted during a preliminary hearing that he was once a heavy heroin user.
Rolando Carrera Reyes, an undocumented worker, is expected to testify today that the two officers, in separate incidents, took him from downtown, robbed him and dropped him off in a remote area. Like Garcia, he has a criminal record and was arrested at the preliminary hearing on six outstanding warrants, including one for possession of marijuana.
During the preliminary hearing, Carrera Reyes testified that Hoff struck him several times in the testicles with his flashlight, tossed his shoes in a puddle and then pushed him into the water. Another alleged victim, Ramiro Rodriguez, has not been located.
Everett Bobbitt, the attorney for Schaaf, did not give an opening statement. But he has objected to Schaaf’s involvement in the proceedings, saying that no one testified against his client during the preliminary hearing.
Garcia and Carrera Reyes claim that Hoff was the key perpetrator.
But Gattey cited discrepancies in the accounts given by Garcia and Carrera Reyes: The amounts of money they said was stolen has changed on different occasions, and they have given conflicting birth dates and places of birth.