BOYLE HEIGHTS : Project Residents Claim Police Abuse
Residents of the Pico Gardens and Aliso Village housing projects met last week with representatives of Police Chief Willie L. Williams, alleging abuse and misconduct by police officers.
The residents have filed 15 to 20 complaints with the police since June. They marched to Parker Center two weeks ago to protest abuses they said occurred last month during a sweep of the neighborhood after a motorcycle officer was shot and wounded, said community organizer Leonardo Vilchis. They plan to hold additional meetings with police community liaison officers and form a community board, he said.
“It will take a couple of more meetings to settle these matters, but the response has been positive,” Vilchis said.
On July 10, about 100 police descended on the neighboring housing projects after the officer was wounded nearby shortly after midnight. No arrests have been made.
Community residents told Officers Warren Winston and Raul Zorrilla that police threw old women to the ground, pushed and spat on gang members and yelled racial epithets at the mostly Mexican-American residents. They said the incident was indicative of police conduct in general.
Nancy Gomez said police in May put a gun to her 17-year-old son’s head, drove him to an industrial area near her Aliso Gardens apartment and tried to get him to say he was a gang member. They held him for 2 1/2 hours but did not arrest him, she said.
“What happened to my son can happen to anyone here,” Gomez said. They just shook it off as a mistake. I want that officer to know that you can’t just harass someone and get away with it.”
The officers asked the residents to provide as much written detail as possible.
“If there is enough information to file a complaint, we will notify the supervising officer and follow up on them,” Zorrilla said. “We need these people on our side. Without them, we lose our support base.”
Another meeting of police and residents has been scheduled for Aug. 17.
The recent troubles with police come in the midst of a truce among five of the approximately eight gangs that claim the area. A cease-fire was declared two months ago and the truce has been in effect for about three weeks, residents say.
Isabel Cortez, who marches weekly with other parents in the area as part of Dolores Mission’s Comite Pro Paz, a group formed three years ago in an effort to reduce gang violence, said she has seen police randomly stop and question teen-agers.
“They come in like a round-up, like they’re rounding up cattle and afterwards, no apologies,” said Cortez, who has lived in the neighborhood 29 years. “Some kids see their mothers pushed or mistreated and they naturally want to defend them. The older kids, they don’t have respect for the police, and the younger ones see someone getting pushed around and how are they going to have respect? Here, when the police come in, you’re guilty.”
Still, the meeting left many hopeful that their complaints will be heard.
In the meantime, the parents say they will support the gang truce. “It’s nice that we can be outside. You see kids riding their bicycles,” Gomez said.