Authorities Investigate Child Abuse Claims At Police-Run Boot Camp

From Phil Shuman:

The seven mothers weren't happy to be in front of television cameras and reporters, but they wanted their story told. They say they thought they were helping their troubled teens by sending them to a ''tough love''-style police sponsored and staffed boot camp called ''LEAD'', which stands for leadership, empowerment, and discipline. The moms say the stories their kids told when they came home after a week were outrageous and possibly criminal.

Veronica Bernal has a 16-year-old son and she tells me "he said they beat him, slammed him against bus, and handcuffed him‘'. Aracelli Pulido has two daughters, twelve and 14. "They said they were hit in the face, kicked, and when they didn't do exercises correctly, they were stomped in the back", according to Pulido. Bridget Salazar, the mother of a 13-year-old boy tells a similar story. "They were socking him in the stomach, kicking him, telling him to get up."

The boot camp is operated by Huntington Park Police, South Gate Police, and the California National Guard. It's held in San Luis Obispo at an old military base. It has been operating for some 15 years without any apparent problems, until now. The county sheriff's department in San Luis Obispo is now investigating the claims. They've done interviews. They aren't saying anything more. Huntington Park's Police Chief Jorge Cisneros, when I asked him if these claims of physical and emotional abuse could be true, answered this way. "The intent of this program is to redirect children to a more positive role in society. The allegations that I've heard are not part of the program‘'. That statement should be obvious, even though the program is designed for so-called "troubled'' kids, though not violent and not with any drug problems. So, we'll see if these complaints are substantiated. The accused South Gate officers are off the street. Their counterparts at Huntington Park have not been reassigned as of this writing.

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San Luis Obispo County sheriff's officials said Tuesday the investigation began May 28 after one child claimed abuse by drill instructors at a Leadership Empowerment and Discipline Boot Camp.

The event from May 17 to 24 was put on by Huntington Park and South Gate police using the Army National Guard's Camp San Luis Obispo facilities. The program is for children between 11 and 17 years old.

Sheriff's spokesman Tony Cipolla says when investigators went to Southern California to interview the 39 children who attended the camp they identified six more potential victims.

Police chiefs from both departments met with parents and pledged a thorough investigation.

From Susan Hirasuna:

The mothers of four youths came forward Tuesday to allege their children had been abused at a disciplinary boot camp.

This is a voluntary program called LEAD, affiliated with the Huntington Park Police Department, South Gate Police Department and the California National Guard.

The cost of the program is $400 per child for a 3-month program that includes a one week trip to a camp in San Luis Obispo.

The mothers would only give their last names and each shared a look of distress or guilt on their faces for sending their children somewhere that wasn't safe.

Miss Salazar said she had a 13-year-old son who came home from the trip in tears. He told her he had been taken into a dark room where he was beaten and kicked. He was then handed a towel to wipe away the blood. Salazar said, her son told her he was hurt so badly he couldn't move.

Miss Pulido sent her daughters, age 12 and 14 to LEAD. She claims that the abuse was done by two Huntington Park police officers known as the Gomez brothers.

The abuse included face slapping, hair pulling and when the kids were told to do push-ups, apparently one of the officers would step on the teen's back.

Greg Owen, the attorney, representing the youths say, the Gomez brothers have been removed from the LEADs program but are still on patrol for the Huntington Park PD. At a news conference in Commerce, he said, that if the allegations are true, the officers need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

He said, the abuse was discovered when a boy came back with bruises. His parent apparently took him to the hospital where the injuries were so severe, the hospital apparently called the Department of Child Protective Services. Owen says, 7 to 10 of 30 youths from last month's session have claimed to him some sort of abuse.

I tried to get some kind of response from both the Huntington Park and South Gate Police department, to no avail. I did get a response from the California National Guard. The statement released basically read; no comment while there's an ongoing investigation. And, indeed, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department is investigating the abuse allegations.

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