The Orange County Sheriff’s Department recommended Tuesday that criminal charges--including racial hate-crime violations--be filed against some participants in a brawl Aug. 6 in which high school cheerleader Amber Jefferson, 15, suffered a broken jaw and a slashed face.
Assistant Sheriff Dennis La Ducer said Tuesday that the department has asked the district attorney’s office to review a variety of charges that could be filed against 12 people on both sides of the brawl that left the black teen-ager battered almost beyond recognition.
The incident angered the black community, prompting charges that the Sheriff’s Department was slow to investigate because the alleged attackers are white and the victim is black. Tuesday’s announcement was the first time the Sheriff’s Department had said it believes that the assault was racially motivated.
Amber’s family, which has criticized the Sheriff’s Department’s handling of the case, expressed outrage Tuesday upon learning that the case had been “shuffled” to another governmental agency.
According to authorities, the attack against the girl apparently was sparked by a confrontation between one of Amber’s white friends and another white girl over a boyfriend. Violence soon erupted when at least two white men with baseball bats appeared and began beating the group of teen-agers that Amber was with.
Sheriff’s officials are asking the district attorney to consider that charges--including fighting, disturbing the peace, assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism and racial hate-crimes violations--be filed against seven people in the group that fought with Amber’s friends. The Sheriff’s Department is also recommending that charges--including fighting, disturbing the peace and assault with a deadly weapon--be considered against five people in Amber’s group. No charges are being considered against Amber, a freshman at Santiago High School in Garden Grove.
Sheriff’s officials would not publicly identify the suspects because they have not been charged, nor would they specify which individuals could face the more serious charges. The suspects will remain free while the district attorney’s office decides whether or not to press charges.
Sheriff’s officials said the case has been a difficult one from the beginning because of conflicting testimony from the participants.
Amber was with a white girl and three boys--a Latino and two blacks--in the parking lot of a Stanton apartment complex on Aug. 6. She has said that two men approached them with baseball bats and began swinging at them while yelling racial slurs. A 42-year-old man, who Amber says assaulted her, maintains that he armed himself with a bat in self-defense because the two black youths were beating his son with fence posts.
“It was too confounded and compounded and confused and we kept getting different stories at different times,” La Ducer said. “If we could have made an arrest that night, we would have.”
When allegations were made that the fight was racially motivated, the department added more investigators to the case, La Ducer said. Ultimately, nine investigators and two supervisors were assigned to the case, according to the department.
Sheriff’s officials gave this version of events in a press release issued Tuesday:
On Aug. 5, two white females--one 16 years old, the other 19--argued at the apartment complex over a boyfriend. The two, accompanied by friends, did not fight but as they departed, they made threats.
The next night, the 16-year-old was driving through the apartment complex, accompanied by Amber and four friends. The 16-year-old saw the 19-year-old--who was accompanied by two other females--and decided to confront her. At that point, someone ran to alert the boyfriend and his friends, some of whom lived in the complex. The boyfriend, his father and a 21-year-old white male responded, “some of them armed with bats,” the press release said.
The two groups argued and then a fight broke out, with one side using bats and the other side “subsequently arming themselves with 2x4 boards,” according to the press release. “During the fight, some racial slurs were made.”
In the group that fought Amber’s friends, the press release said, charges are being considered against six whites--three men 17, 21 and 42, and three females 17, 19 and 21--and one 24-year-old female identified as a Hawaiian. In Amber’s group, charges are being considered against two whites--a 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl--as well as a 17-year-old black male, a 19-year-old black man and an 18-year-old Latino man.
Although an eyewitness has come forward with testimony that he saw one of the men break Amber’s jaw with a bat, sheriff’s authorities said they need guidance from the district attorney to determine whether there is a case.
“They’ve (the Sheriff’s Department) asked us to look at the situation and see if any charges are merited,” said Assistant Dist. Atty. John Conley. “They’re saying, ‘This is what we think we have, what do you make of this legally and what can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt?’ ”
But Amber’s father was angered by what he considered a further delay in the prosecution of the people who beat and slashed his daughter.
“It’s just the Sheriff’s Department covering its tail,” said William Jefferson, 37.
Jefferson said he has hired a lawyer and plans to file a federal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, alleging that his daughter’s civil rights have been violated and that local authorities have failed to aggressively pursue the case.
Meanwhile, community leaders also questioned why there has been no arrest in the case.
“These kinds of factors can’t be erased by this gesture,” said Mark Ridley Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles. “Why has it taken them nearly a month to come to this conclusion?” Staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this story.