By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
That's when Patel says a man he later identified as Frank Santos gave him the finger.
Although other family members agree that Santos wasn't speaking directly to Patel, according to a statement with a private investigator, Flores recalled that Santos yelled, "Who the fuck called you? Get the fuck out of here."
At that point, Santos and other family members who witnessed the incident say that Patel walked straight up to Santos and jabbed his finger at his chest.
Santos' wife, Gloria, came to her husband's side, hoping to defuse the situation. "He didn't say nothing to you," she said. Santos then asked Patel who called him to the scene.
"Nobody called me. I called myself," Patel allegedly answered. "Don't disrespect me. Nobody disrespects me."
According to both family statements and Patel's police report on the incident that followed, it's clear that Santos made a big mistake: He argued with—and even insulted—a cop. According to Santos, he told Patel that he wasn't talking to him. "He said, 'What the fuck did you say to me?'" Santos recalls. "I said, 'I didn't say nothing to you. I was talking to my wife.' He said, 'No, you said something to me. You're disrespecting an officer.' And I said, 'I wasn't even talking to you. I was talking to my wife. I wasn't even looking at you.'"
Santos and other family members say that he tried to walk away from Patel, but that Patel followed Santos and, once again, told him that he was disrespectful. Santos says he responded by telling Patel to "get out of my face."
Flores, however, later recalled that Santos actually said, "Get the fuck out of my face, you little shit."
Once again, Gloria tried to settle things down, this time by pulling her husband away. Santos' sister—and Sergio's wife—Linda Flores joined her. "Patel was trying to instigate a fight," Gloria says now. "He just judged [Frank] by the way he looked and had it in for him. . . . He never once told us we were under arrest. None of us thought we were going to be arrested. We weren't doing anything."
In his police report, Patel claimed that the women repeatedly pushed him and tried to prevent him from following Santos. Santos' older daughter, Sonia, an aspiring cop then pursuing a degree in criminal justice, also tried to get her father to back off. "I grabbed my dad's face and said, 'You just need to shut up and leave it alone,'" Sonia recalls. "'You need to shut the fuck up.'"
That's exactly what Santos insists he did. "I walked away from him again," Santos says. "And a third time, he came around again and got inches from my face . . . I walked away a third time, and the fourth time, he came around and caught me and grabbed me by my tank top and tried to pull me down."
Although Flores acknowledged that Santos was insulting toward Patel, he felt that Patel was acting unprofessionally.
"I was startled by the actions of the officer," Flores later told a private investigator, adding that while family members were trying to subdue Santos, Patel continued to "aggressively get in Frank's face." He approached Patel and informed him that he was an off-duty CHP officer, offering to help him stabilize the situation.
"He threatened to arrest me if I didn't back off," Flores said. "I placed my hands up with open palms and told him I was only trying to help." He then watched Santos walk away from Patel.
Santos says that while he was walking away from Patel, he heard a jingling noise behind him and turned to see Patel running toward him with one arm extended as if to place him in a headlock. "So I turned to the side," Santos says.
Patel, by all accounts, went flying through the air, tumbling into a heap on the ground. "In my 21 years in law enforcement, I had never seen such an act of stupidity from any professional law-enforcement officer," Flores told the investigator.
Meanwhile, Gloria tried to haul her husband into his brother's apartment. Halfway to the door, Patel caught up with Santos. "[Patel] comes up to me with a pepper spray [canister] and sprays a couple of times right in my eyes," Santos says.
Art Santos grabbed his brother and led him into the apartment to rinse the spray from his eyes. At that point, Santos and other family members claim, Patel began waving his arm in the air, pepper-spraying everyone standing nearby, telling them to stay away. "He started pepper-spraying everyone," Sonia says. "My cousins are freaking out because they were just standing there and this cop pepper-sprayed them."
"It was nieces and nephews," Gloria adds. "It was family, young kids, 13- and 14-year-olds."
Flores was standing nearby. He told the investigator Patel "started spraying in a side-to-side motion without a specific target, aiming at the entire group." Along with several others, Flores said, he was hit by the spray. "I turned my face to the left and got a hefty shot on the right side of my face," he said. "I could not believe what I had just witnessed."