Two officers from the Huntington Park Police Department and two from the South Gate Police Department were arrested this week on suspicion of physically abusing children who were participating in a San Luis Obispo boot camp, authorities said.
The arrests follow a two-month investigation by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department into allegations of abuse by children who had attended a weeklong boot camp, according to sheriff’s officials.
Investigators said that of the 37 participants interviewed, 15 boys and girls ages 12 to 17 said they were assaulted by the camp’s drill instructors, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Photographic, video and eyewitness accounts have been assembled to substantiate the allegations, officials said.
“It really gives us no pleasure to arrest police officers or anyone in law enforcement,” said sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla. “It proves that nobody is above the law.”
Eleven of the 15 children have retained attorney Gregory Owens, whose firm said in a statement that the officers “slapped, punched, and stepped on their hands and backs while doing push-ups.” Some reported being taken do a “dark room” for beatings, the firm said.
“The children reported that they were threatened [and] that they would be hurt if they told anyone what was being done to them at the camp,” the firm’s statement said.
Although it is held at the California Army National Guard Military Base in San Luis Obispo, the boot camp is run by the Huntington Park and South Gate police departments. Parents pay $400 for the camp, which is designed to improve behavior and discipline.
Edgar Gomez and Carlos Gomez-Marquez, both of South Gate’s police force, were each arrested on suspicion of cruelty to a child, criminal threats, misdemeanor battery and abuse under the color of authority.
Marissa Larios, a member of the Huntington Park Police Department, was arrested on suspicion of cruelty to a child, criminal conspiracy, misdemeanor battery and abuse under the color of authority. Patrick Nijland, also of the Huntington Park agency, was booked on suspicion of cruelty to a child, criminal battery and abuse under the color of authority.
All four have been released on $20,000 bond, sheriff’s officials said. None of the accused was formally booked; their attorneys posted bail before the arrest, Cipolla said.
In a statement, the South Gate police department said it “supports the members of its police department in the hard work and danger they are exposed to on a daily basis” but that “allegations of wrongdoing” are taken “very seriously.”
This story will be updated.
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