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California

Huntington Park police officer found not guilty of child abuse at San Luis Obispo boot camp

A Huntington Park police officer facing multiple charges of abusing children at a police-sponsored boot camp in San Luis Obispo in 2015 was acquitted of criminal charges Tuesday.

Marissa Larios was a staffer at a $400-a-week camp sponsored by the South Gate and Huntington Park police departments that promised parents that the experience would improve their children’s behavior and discipline.

But in 2015, a 13-year-old boy suffered a bruised windpipe at the camp and children accused officers of taking them to dark rooms to beat them and standing on their backs while they performed pushups.

The allegations prompted a two-month investigation by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies interviewed campers, reviewed photographic and video evidence and determined that 15 male and female campers were victims of abuse.

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Larios; another Huntington Park officer, Patrick Nijland; and two South Gate police officers were arrested on suspicion of multiple misdemeanor counts of emotionally and physically abusing children.

The San Luis Obispo County district attorney did not file charges against Nijland. In June, South Gate police Officers Carlos Gomez-Marquez and Edgar Gomez pleaded no contest to most of the charges against them and were sentenced to 60 days in jail and four years of probation.

Larios’ attorney, Michael Schwartz, successfully petitioned for Larios to be tried separately from the other officers, arguing that they had no charges or alleged victims in common. She was acquitted after a jury deliberated for an hour and a half.

“She had no real relationship to the other officers at all except for working at the camp,” Schwartz said.

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Larios declined a request for comment through her attorney.

Both South Gate officers were placed on paid administrative leave shortly after the abuses came to light. Larios was briefly placed on leave and has since returned to the department in an administrative role. Nijland, who was never charged, has retired, said Huntington Park Police Chief Cosme Lozano.

The boot camp ended in 2015 after the charges came to light, said Capt. Darren Arakawa of the South Gate Police Department.

frank.shyong@latimes.com

Twitter: @frankshyong


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