Authorities were having some trouble investigating a brawl that erupted during a weekend meeting of local politicians at an Indian Wells resort, noting that “many individuals on scene were uncooperative.”
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that detectives were still trying to talk to an individual who witnessed the violence at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa during the annual meeting of the California Contract Cities Assn., an advocacy group for cities that contract for public services.
“The search for details is ongoing, and we are still attempting to locate and identify those who may have been involved or have information about the incident,” the department said.
It was not clear who started the fight early Saturday morning, but it involved members of the Commerce City Council and other public officials, according to a statement from Mayor John Soria and several witnesses who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the incident.
Some witnesses said the melee involved more than seven people — including some who were trying to break up the combatants — and included political consultants, government vendors and elected officials from the Los Angeles area. One or more women were screaming, the sources said.
“It was a hectic scene,” one witness said.
A photo circulating among local politicians appeared to show Commerce City Councilman Leonard Mendoza lying on the floor with drops of blood at his feet. A man is seen in the photo checking his pulse.
Soria said in his statement that he was told that Mendoza and a council colleague, Ivan Altamirano, were having a conversation that had “become elevated,” so he “went to the area to defuse any potential conflict.” He said that when he approached, he saw Mendoza on the floor “apparently unconscious” and Altamirano “standing nearby with a facial injury.”
Soria, a civilian law enforcement technician for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said he and Altamirano were then attacked “from behind by two individuals.” He did not identify the assailants, saying he wanted to let law enforcement conduct a thorough investigation. He said he would file a police report and press charges.
“I want to be clear in condemning the violent behavior from the individuals who initiated these assaults,” Soria said. “Once additional information is available, I intend to call on my council colleagues to take appropriate action regarding any individuals that represent the City of Commerce who were involved in the incident.”
In an interview with The Times, Mendoza said he recalled having a heated exchange with Altamirano, who he said interrupted a conversation he was having.
“I asked him if he could step away, and he wouldn’t step back,” Mendoza said. “I guess he didn’t like that, and it got heated and it got loud.”
Shortly after the exchange, Mendoza said, he felt a blow from behind and woke up in a hospital. In the room were his wife and a law enforcement officer.
“It must’ve been one of those things where I got knocked out with one punch,” he said. He said he didn’t know who struck him.
Mendoza suffered a large cut to the back of his head and cuts to his face.
In a statement Monday, a lawyer for Altamirano said the vice mayor had received an “outpouring of support” and called Mendoza the “physical aggressor” in the confrontation.
“Vice Mayor Altamirano has been threatened by Councilman Mendoza before, and this incident fits an unfortunate and documented pattern of misconduct,” the statement read.
The Sheriff’s Department said it was still investigating the melee and did not provide any information on possible suspects.
“Many individuals on scene were uncooperative and did not provide statements,” the department said in a statement.
Staff writers Adam Elmahrek, Richard Winton and Anh Do contributed to this report.