Cops crack down on Castroville gangs, some community members say it’s excessive force.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Cops and medics surround Francisco “Frankie” Torres in front of the Castroville fire station. His face bleeds after Monterey County Sheriff deputies arrested him at his nearby home. The Sheriff’s Office says Torres is a Norteño gang member who ran from deputies and resisted arrest. The pack of deputies and county Gang Task Force members surrounding the bloody 25-year-old, however, fuels anger among the crowd of onlookers.
Torres’ family shows up at the scene crying and cussing. They say deputies repeatedly hit Torres while he was on the ground and unconscious. “I know they are cops and they have to do their job, but this is cruel,” says Graciela Rodriguez, Torres’ aunt. “They want respect. What respect are we going to give them when we see what they do to our kids?”
Deputies arrested Torres on June 26 in a joint police sting called Operation Disrupt, launched in response to a recent rise in Castroville gang-related shootings. Three days earlier, Sheriff Mike Kanalakis held a press conference with the North Monterey County League of United Latin American Citizens, urging residents to call the anonymous tip line. While Operation Disrupt netted 13 arrests, including an attempted murder suspect, it may have further frayed trust between cops and residents in a community with long-held misgivings about local law enforcement.
“This is exactly what we didn’t want,” says Diana Jimenez, president of North County LULAC. “Beating up a kid when he was already surrendering, allegedly – how does that help build trust in the community?”
Sheriff Cmdr. Mike Richards says deputies didn’t beat up Torres. “[Torres] shouldn’t fight with the cops,” he says. “If somebody fights with us when we are trying to lawfully do our job, we are going to use whatever force is necessary to affect arrest and overcome resistance and prevent escape.”
When deputies arrived to conduct a probation search on June 25, Torres ran out the back door, Richards says. Police returned the next day, this time ready should Torres attempt to escape. Four deputies apprehended Torres in his house, and in the process he received a gash above his left eye, Richards says. The arrest report doesn’t specify how Torres got hurt, he adds.
There is no evidence that the force was excessive, Richards says, but if a formal complaint is filed, the Sheriff’s Office will investigate. Torres was one of six North Side Castro gang members arrested during the three-day operation, Richards continues, adding Torres admitted to using a police scanner to monitor deputies and was also charged with possession of illegal fireworks. As for the family’s concerns over police brutality, Richards responds, “Where were you when he was growing up and needed guidance when he became a gang member?”
In addition to Torres, authorities arrested Alex Alejo and Pierre Santana on suspicion of a June 15 attempted murder that took place on Castro and Wood streets. Alejo, a NSC member, allegedly shot at rival gang member Carlos Santoyo while in a pickup driven by Santana, Richards says. “People in Castroville are all worried and up in arms about crime running rampant in their town,” he says. “We come in and take care of it, and now they are up in arms that we take care of it.”
Though LULAC doesn’t condone heavy-handed enforcement and still has concerns over racial profiling, Jimenez says the civil rights organization wants to work cooperatively with police. LULAC will host a July 6 community meeting to brainstorm ways to restore peace in Castroville. “We don’t tolerate abuse from the handful of law enforcement individuals that are abusing their authority,” Jimenez says. “We should not tolerate abuse from a resident who doesn’t care about somebody’s life.”