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
Slater Slums Smackdown
What do you get when four skinheads stab a Mexican in Huntington Beach’s Oak View barrio? Four beat-up skinheads facing hate-crime charges
Beatriz called the Huntington Beach Police Department dispatch center at 11:55 p.m., as July 3 turned into the nation’s birthday and the city prepared for a weekend of drunken revelers.
“Por favor, la policia,” she cried to the officer on the other line. The police, please. A red truck had circled a couple of times around the city’s Oak View barrio where Beatriz (her name, as well as those of the other victims on this night, have been changed to protect their identities) lived, arousing the suspicion of residents. Four people sat inside—all white. No way a group of gabachos was visiting Oak View late at night unless they wanted trouble.
Suddenly, the truck roared into an alley connecting Queens and Keelson lanes. Three men jumped out and began pummeling Beatriz’s husband, Jose, who was standing outside with friends. As she talked to the dispatcher, Beatriz began screaming: They had pulled a knife. They sported white-supremacist tattoos—swastikas, life runes, SS-style lightning bolts—and shaved heads. Skinheads.
“Motherfucking Mexicans!” one yelled, while a woman inside the truck shouted, “Stab him! Stab him!” Another stabbed Jose three times in the chest, and the three men began kicking and punching him once he slumped to the ground. Beatriz was hysterical; she had stopped making sense to the dispatcher.
A squad car arrived at the scene within two minutes. But the residents of Oak View had already taken justice into their own hands. The moment the three white supremacists attacked Jose, Johnny ran to his apartment, where friends and family relaxed. “Jose is getting jumped!” he hollered. They rushed out and poured into the alley. Others heard the commotion and rushed the skinheads. No weapons were needed for this, a good, old-fashioned ass-whuppin’.
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Punches and kicks and body slams and scratches. The skinheads tried to cram themselves back into the truck, but two didn’t make it. Another did, but some of Johnny’s friends pulled the attacker out of the window and thrashed him anew. Sirens wailed in the distance, but the skins somehow broke free and sped off into the night.
Patrolmen stopped the truck about 10 minutes later, two miles from the crime scene, at the corner of Golden West Street and Little Harbor Drive. Jose was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center to treat his wounds, but the skinheads were nearly as badly injured. One had a dislocated shoulder; another, a black eye. All had cuts, bruises and torn T-shirts.
Police arrested the men—Michael Powell, 21, of Anaheim; 30-year-old Riverside resident Bret Hicks; and Brian Hanson, 26, of Santa Ana—for assault with a deadly weapon. Also processed was 24-year-old Erin Brooks, of Huntington Beach, who lustily cheered on her friends as they brutalized Jose. The Mexicans who had beaten them up? Surf City’s finest didn’t give any of the Oak View residents so much as a warning over the incident.
Hicks, Hanson and Powell now languish in Orange County Central Jail, while Brooks is free on $100,000 bail. All face felony counts of attempted murder and hate-crime enhancements; each faces at least a decade in prison if found guilty of the latter count. The four maintain their innocence against the charges, but they don’t deny they assaulted Jose that Fourth of July weekend. Instead, their lawyers and supporters are trying to portray the quartet as the victims. Furthermore, their lawyers are trying to convince a judge that their clients deserve a plea bargain once offered by the district attorney’s office—offered before evidence emerged suggesting that the assault on Jose wasn’t a random fight but a brutal, premeditated crime.
No one involved with the case will speak to the Weekly. The scene described above was taken from police logs, pretrial testimony, and statements by attorneys and prosecutors in open court. Those sources, plus interviews with Oak View residents, hundreds of pages of public records and hours of recordings uncovered by the Weekly, reveal at least one truth: This crew of skinheads picked the worst possible neighborhood in Huntington Beach to wage their racial holy war.
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Even among the barrios of Orange County, the Oak View community is notorious, a modern-day Hell’s Kitchen just 10 minutes from the beach. Bordered by Warner and Slater avenues to the north and south, Beach Boulevard to the east and Nichols Street to the west, plopped in the middle of abandoned businesses and car shops, it’s roughly 1 square mile swarming with more than 6,000 people, the overwhelming number of them immigrant Latinos.
Only a few single-family homes dot the neighborhood; the vast majority of dwellings in Oak View are apartments, with dozens of different complexes in various states of disrepair owned by absentee landlords. No street spans the length of the neighborhood inside its boundaries, leading to a tangle of cul-de-sacs and dead ends occasionally connected by alleys. A 2006 study by UCI’s Department of Policy, Planning and Design found the average household here consists of 5.5 members with a median income of $32,000. Twenty-five percent of residents older than 25 have a high-school diploma.