By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
The case of Hugo V. Sarmiento isn't exactly ideal in the fight against Southern California police brutality. Sarmiento is alive and well after his law-enforcement encounters, and though more cynical about cops, he's full of intellectual stamina. He has earned a master's degree from UCLA, where he's in the process of earning a Ph.D. in urban planning.
Seven years ago last May, Sarmiento, then 24, involuntarily received a lesson in the power of abusive police. The Los Angeles County resident attended a 300-person protest in Garden Grove against Jim Gilchrist and his anti-immigrant Minuteman Project. He believes the cops overreacted with force against a handful of protesters and that he was singled out, harassed, mocked, falsely arrested, excessively detained and beaten for expressing political views contrary to ones held by officers.
The gathering had been vocal but peaceful until Hal Netkin, a Minuteman Project supporter, drove his van into the crowd, striking bystanders. Police treated Netkin as though he were a hero and didn't appreciate protesters' insistence the driver be arrested for assault. Eyewitnesses say cops began physically confronting the crowd, shoving people with their batons, putting their dogs in attack mode and charging others with horses.
Officers involved in the Sarmiento case have insisted, as you'd expect, they magnificently performed their duties that night without bias after watching this defendant throw full soda cans at cops mounted on horses, police vehicles and police dogs before attempting to flee. One undercover Garden Grove cop who'd infiltrated (and helped to agitate) the crowd recorded that he observed Sarmiento "yelling at police" (see Gustavo Arellano's "Razin' la Raza," Jan. 20, 2006). They surrounded Sarmiento at gunpoint, tackled him and locked him up.
Sarmiento adamantly denied throwing any cans, but more than seven hours later, police transferred him to the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana, where, he says, he was once again singled out, falsely accused of being highly intoxicated—an absurd lie unless maybe Garden Grove cops supplied him a cold 12-pack of Bud while he was in their custody—pulled away from other inmates and shoved into a room where, video shows, deputies tortured him.
While in custody, deputies also aggressively questioned him about his political beliefs (hello, Beijing!) and called him a hypocrite for living in the United States while criticizing a pro-American group such as the Minuteman Project, according to Sarmiento. He says an officer told him, "This is what happens [to people like you]."
Another one mocked him, saying, "This Mexican speaks English!"
Cops then accused Sarmiento of committing five crimes based on the alleged soda tossing. If convicted, he'd potentially go to prison. But police had a huge problem: Eyewitnesses backed Sarmiento's version of events, and detectives couldn't produce a single can from the protest scene that had his DNA or fingerprints, according to court records.
The police case was exceptionally questionable. A prosecutor in the Orange County district attorney's office agreed to drop four counts—including felonies—if Sarmiento pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor: failure to obey a police order. He did so. (Charges were dropped altogether for several arrested protesters; in the case of Kurt Takeshi Isobe, who was also beaten and maimed by cops, a jury in a county that is notoriously pro-cop couldn't find him guilty of any of his five charges.)
In June 2006, Sarmiento filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit alleging that police had discriminated against him because of his political beliefs and because he is Latino.
"[Orange County law-enforcement officials] allow and/or encourage employees to exercise their powers discriminatorily, as for example against persons who are perceived to support immigrants' rights and in favor of those, such as the Minuteman Project, who are perceived to be anti-immigrant," the lawsuit stated. "The plaintiff is informed and believes that the Orange County jailers and [other cops] engaged in wrongful acts because of information communicated to them by the Garden Grove police for the purpose of causing the jailers to single [Sarmiento] out for abusive treatment."
According to the lawsuit, a group of deputies working under the direction of then-sheriff, now-convicted felon Mike Carona concocted the intoxication excuse to separate Sarmiento from other prisoners, throw him against a concrete jail wall, toss him on the floor, twist his legs to the back of his head, unnecessarily handcuff him with excessive tightness, kick his face, kneel on his head, leave him in a cold cell without adequate clothes and threaten additional physical assaults. (To see the details of a prosecutor-driven report outlining brazen unprofessionalism and cheating by jail deputies in this county, read my April 10, 2008, column, "DA's Report Is a Stunning Indictment of the Mike Carona-Run Jails—Sort Of.")
After a 2009 jury at Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse declined to hold the cops accountable for misconduct; adding insult to injury, lawyers for police handed Sarmiento a bill for nearly $19,000 to help reimburse them for court costs. The plaintiff's attorneys pointed out their client couldn't afford to pay the bill because he was a student with a negative net worth from a series of college loans. U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, a Bill Clinton appointee to the federal bench, nevertheless sanctioned the tab.
But late last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case and handed Sarmiento his first victory after seven years of defeats. A three-judge panel concluded that his trial hadn't been fair. They specifically rejected Carter's decision to limit the jury's decision about wrongdoing to just two named deputies and not others involved in the beatings.
"Sarmiento does not identify the particular deputies who used excessive force against him, in part because his face was pressed into the wall or floor during the deputies' alleged use of excessive force," the appellate judges wrote. "While Sarmiento additionally named deputies [Matthew] LeFlore and [David] Hernandez as individual defendants, he never alleged that it was only LeFlore and Hernandez who had used excessive force. Indeed, the videotape of the beating shows that several officers, not just LeFlore and Hernandez, were involved in the beating, and Sarmiento testified that he was unable to identify which of the officers kicked him in the face."
The judges said Carter erred by only allowing jurors to determine if LeFlore and Hernandez were guilty of the abuse, a mistake that invalidates the verdicts. They also overturned the decision to charge Sarmiento with the police lawyers' bill and ordered a new trial to be run consistent with their rulings.
When I contacted Sarmiento in Los Angeles, he was unaware of the ruling. There was no expression of joy or satisfaction. He said his experiences have left him with no faith in government institutions. Though he sought media coverage at the outset of his lawsuit, he nowadays refuses to describe how deputies tortured him and answers most questions guardedly.
Will he pursue a new trial?
"I don't know," said Sarmiento, who has been active in protesting education spending cuts at UCLA. "If I do, I'd do it only to win."
This column appeared in print as "'This Mexican Speaks English!' Cops targeted Hugo Sarmiento for torture after a 2005 anti-immigration rally, and he's still waiting for justice."
@AnonymouSkY interesting http://t.co/cTtHy7s4
Having not been there, I don't know what happened.
However, a short search of youtube will show violence directed against Jim Gilchrist (at Columbia U) and Tom Tancredo (at U of North Carolina). So it seems at least a 50-50 proposition that violence was instigated by the ethnic/racialist 'Latino' activists and their self-hating white fellow travelers.
Of course that doesn't justify any abuse (so far alleged abuse) against a person in custody. It does say that every story has two sides.
Lenny: If that's Garden Grove, then you support a police department that wrongfully charged this man, hog-tied a Vietnamese teenager and let him choke to death, killed another Vietnamese man who was trying to get into his own home, raided a home for holding a birthday party...shall we go on?
I've seen the so-called "Minuteman" Project members and for the most part, they've racist loons.
As a racist loon, of course Jim Gilchrist would say otherwise.
But the larger question is who hires these "Thugs R Us" cops? See the "bad cop" section of www.familylawcourts.com; and ask why we reward criminal behavior with pensions.
The Minuteman Project is not anti immigrant, as the author would like you to believe.
The Minuteman Project simply advocates the enforcement of immigration laws. We also advocate enforcement of laws against drug dealers, bank robbers, muggers, kidnappers, murderers, rapists, and child molesters, etc.
The law enforcement officers who faced off against the frenzied, anti-free speech fanatics led by Mr.Sarmiento and his cult followers on the night of the protest at issue here did exactly what a civilized society expects of them: preserve peace, restore order, and protect all of us from the harmful intentions of each other.
If Sarmiento had conducted his protest in a respectable manner that did not include physical assaults on police officers, and had his cultists not attacked Hal Netkin's passenger vehicle, then there would have been no need for law enforcement presence, would there?
If we are to remain a civilized society, we can't expect our law enforcement officers to retreat in the face rock-and-bottle-throwing mobs with sinister intentions that could easily result in lethal consequences to the targets of their wrath or the police officers who were protecting them.
Law enforcement presence that night guaranteed to all of us that freedom of assembly and speech would prevail over mob rule...exactly the way our nation's Founding Fathers envisioned for our America.
The participating peace officers deserve commendation, not condemnation.
Jim Gilchrist, Founder and President, The Minuteman Project
@Mitchell_Young Mitchell, In all fairness, I have been actually verbally and physically attacked more by lunatics from my side of the debate about illegal immigration that I have been by the ultra-left fringe elements.
Both sides of the argument about US immigration lawlessness are responsible for mayhem in their efforts to dominate the debate.
Both the fanatical righties and lefties are literal kooks with no qualm about suppressing (by any means necessary) the voices of persons they do not agree with.
By the way, the same fanaticism applies to some local newspaper journalists...like "dirty" journalist Frank Mickadeit from the OC Register, in my humble opinion.
Jim Gilchrist, Founder and President, The Minuteman Project
@Mitchell_Young Oh, please. You'd be happy if your cop friends offed every Mexican in this world, innocent or not.
@Rockmedia Dear Rockhead,
I've seen the so-called anti Minuteman Project zealots, like you, for example, and for the most part they are fascist idiots.
As a fascist idiot, of course, a delusional Rockhead would say otherwise.
Sorry to make light of your moniker, but it's really hard to take a fascist idiot seriously.
Just my opinion. :)
The Minuteman Project
@jimgilchrist Jim: Don't forget that this was done with the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, which you yourself now deem bigots!
@jimgilchrist If we are to remain a civilized society, Orange County law enforcement cannot not find it funny to:
1. Conspire to harass and intimidate in violation of 18USC241
2. Conspire to hire criminal confidential informants to damage the targets property
and violate the persons privacy
3. Conspire to screw up the Hispanic Americans Colombian's wife's LEGAL immigration process. Yes you read that correctly: LEGAL immigaration process.
4. Conspire to deliberately defame the target in order to cover up the racist trailer trash
5. And when all else fails, conspire to commit murder against said target,
6. And have the criminal arrogance to think they are the "good guys".
The weather is quite lovely here though.
@jimgilchrist and boringly unoriginal. Some day you might realize no one takes you seriously, but my bet is it won't be anytime soon.
Gustavo, don't be so complimentary to CCIR.
In my opinion, the California Coalition for Immigration Reform crowd are worse than bigots.
The Minuteman Project disassociated itself from CCIR back in 2006 due to my conclusion that it's actions and attitudes were incompatible with the mission of the Minuteman Project.
However, CCIR still has a cult following, albeit withering. Some of them still seem to stalk me when I show up at court for ongoing legal proceedings which have lasted six years now.
Gustavo, you should be elated at the infighting saga among immigration activist groups whose mutual destruction has allowed victory for your side of the debate over illegal immigration.
Furthermore, law enforcement would have provided you with the same free speech protection it provided the Minuteman Project. You should be grateful to them for that.
As far as the actions of law enforcement agencies in Garden Grove on the night of May 25, 2005 I still contend they did nothing wrong. Law enforcement actions on that night were reasonable, necessary, and reaffirmed that free speech "for all" has precedent over fanatical haters who tried to suppress free speech that night.
I have never encountered a cop who has ever deprived me of my civil rights. But, I have encountered hundreds of thugs, on both sides of the debate over illegal immigration, who have done so.
I give the benefit of any doubt to law enforcement, not to mean street protesters.
Jim Gilchrist, Founder and President, The Minuteman Project
@18usc241 Sounds like you hate cops. Or, do you just hate people in general?
@jimgilchrist So sir, Just so you can see this from my perspective:
I air a grievance concerning Orange County, CA law enforcement.
You adopt a position of incredulity regarding my accusations and side with the group that caused me harm.
You finish by adding an insult when my comment wasn't even directed to you.
I then do a Google look up on your name. Besides noticing an impressive resume, I notice that you are a Vietnam war decorated Marine.
I remember as a kid in the 1970's (NYC), my Hispanic parents helping homeless people with food, clothing and money (some of them Vietnam war veterans and of those some of them white men). You remember that right Jim, when our fellow countrymen treated them like shit after they came back from Vietnam.
So Jim, you sided with the people who used my parent's property tax money here in Garden Grove, CA to harm their son; the same two parents who cared for your men while most New Yorker's just walked over them like they didn't exist.
And all you knew about me is that I'm an Hispanic male.
So you can understand why I might be a bit skeptical of you as well, correct?
@jimgilchrist My dad was the Puerto Rican version of Mr. Rogers and my Ecuadorian mother used to tell me that she loved this country more than her own country of Ecuador (in between feeding the homeless war veteran bums on the streets of NYC). So it is genetically impossible for this fella to hate others.
However, anyone (no matter the color or occupation) who demonstrates a lower set of ethical standards than Bernard Madoff ... well yes I have a problem with that especially when I become the victim of it. Since most people are not sociopaths, I feel comfortable in expressing my position.