Police charged birthday girl Amanda Santos, her cousin Javier and her aunt Linda Flores with obstructing a police officer. Frank Santos received the same charge and was also booked for the more serious crimes of assaulting and battering a police officer. His daughter, aspiring cop Sonia Santos, was also charged with assaulting and battering a cop, as well as lynching. Also charged with lynching were Sonia's uncle Art Santos and her mother, Gloria.

"When they were booking me, nobody could figure out what lynching was," Gloria says. "So they had to call Officer Patel to ask him what the [criminal] code was, what he was charging me with, and he said, 'Lynching.' Nobody knew what to do with me, so they took me to county jail, and nobody knew what it was there, either."

Although Webster's Dictionary defines the act of lynching as "to murder (an accused person) by mob action and without lawful trial, as by hanging," it also includes the specific act of illegally removing, or attempting to remove, someone from police custody. California Penal Code 405a defines lynching as "the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer."

Patel's written report offers some elaboration on that second, more narrowly focused aspect of the word. In it, he claimed that family members physically prevented him from arresting Frank Santos by "pulling Frank Santos away from me." He further wrote that Sonia Santos "pushed me along the front of my chest area with her two open hands . . . [which] caused me to take a step back" and that, on different occasions, both Linda Flores and Gloria Santos "placed [their] left hand[s] up toward my chest area and mirrored my moves so I could not get around her." Furthermore, he alleged, Amanda Santos was rude to him. "Fuck you," he claims she yelled. "It's my birthday."

After spending several hours in jail, every member of the Santos family was released on bail, with the exception of Art Santos, who had an outstanding warrant for failure to pay a fine for not wearing his seat belt. He pleaded guilty to the charge three days later. Although several members of the Santos family were charged with felonies, the Orange County district attorney's office reduced all the charges to misdemeanors a few weeks later, except for the assault and battery charges against Frank Santos. The Santos family filed an official complaint against Patel and the Garden Grove Police Department two days after the incident, which the city rejected.

The police department's internal-affairs department investigated, however, and although it rejected the family's accusation that they were treated rudely and subjected to police brutality, it also ruled that the department's standards were not met by Patel and the other officers who responded to the scene.

A police-department spokesperson refused to discuss the case, citing the family's pending lawsuit. Tom Nixon, a Garden Grove city attorney, also declined to comment, except to say, "The officers acted appropriately in the circumstances of this matter, and if a lawsuit is filed, the city will vigorously defend it."

More than a year after the incident, on Oct. 11, 2005, Chief Joseph Polisar sent Gloria Santos a letter outlining the results of his investigation. "It is the desire of the Garden Grove Police Department to provide the finest possible service to the citizens who live, work and travel in our city, and to ensure that our personnel conduct themselves in a proper and professional manner at all times," he wrote. "We sincerely hope that any future contact with this department will be more positive."

Since that letter, the DA's office has dropped all charges against the Santos family, except for Frank Santos, who has a pretrial hearing scheduled for June 27. Sonia Santos' hopes of becoming a police officer were put on hold for the past three years because she faced criminal charges. She's no longer certain she wants to be a cop.

"I guess I was naive," she says. "I know there are bad cops, but they are not supposed to act like this. Now, when I drive through Garden Grove, I get paranoid. Extremely paranoid. If something happened to me in Garden Grove, I would never call the Garden Grove P.D."

nschou@ocweekly.com

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