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Family Claims Racial Bias by Police, Seeks $10 Million in Lawsuit : Courts: Latinos say they were attacked by Santa Monica officers as part of officially sanctioned prejudice.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A family has sued the Santa Monica Police Department for $10 million, saying they were victimized by a racially motivated police rampage outside their home six months ago.

Two brothers, Jose and Octavio Franco, allege in the lawsuit that they were enjoying a peaceful Valentine’s Day at their Pico Corridor-area home when officers “came crashing” into their yard and beat them with batons, flashlights and closed fists.

Authorities then arrested the brothers and kept them in jail for five days without filing charges, according to the federal suit. Under law, a person must be formally charged within 48 hours of arrest or let free.

The brothers’ 76-year-old grandmother, Maria Vialvazo, is also party to the suit, which was filed Aug. 1 in U.S. District Court against the city of Santa Monica, its Police Department, and Police Chief James F. Keane.

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At a news conference at their lawyer’s Venice office Tuesday, Vialvazo broke into tears when describing how police allegedly threw her to the ground as she tried to protect her grandsons.

The lawsuit alleges that the “brutal, unprovoked attack” was in part a result of officially sanctioned, anti-Latino bias in the Police Department and at Santa Monica City Jail. While arresting the two brothers, police officers joked among themselves, saying “These stupid Mexicans--they’re not going to do anything about this,” according to Octavio Franco.

Octavio Franco, 21, said he was clubbed in the face and now has a permanent scar under his eye. Jose Franco, 23, has permanent damage to his left shoulder, and their grandmother suffered cuts, bruises and acute emotional distress, according to the suit.

Keane referred all calls regarding the incident to Assistant City Atty. Joseph Lawrence, who said, “No one should be subject to undue police force, but even if you believe everything they said, it seems at most a relatively minor incident.”

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After the family filed a complaint with Santa Monica police, the department conducted an internal investigation and exonerated the officers involved after determining that all force used to subdue the two brothers was “justified, lawful and proper.”

In a June 3 letter to the Franco family, Keane said his officers were responding to a call of a narcotics sale that had just occurred and that the brothers “were uncooperative” and “physically resisted” efforts to detain them.

V. James De Simone, a lawyer for the family, said even though there might be some drug activity in and around the Pico Corridor, “certain police take that as license to harass and abuse anyone of Latino descent.”

“We fear, and deep inside we know, that the Rodney King incident was not an aberration within the Los Angeles Police Department,” said De Simone. “Police brutality is endemic in many of the police departments throughout Southern California.”

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The brothers said they have been trying to find lawyers to take their case for months, even before the March 3 Rodney King incident.

“We didn’t do anything wrong,” said Octavio Franco, who does car body repair work.


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