Yesterday, Anaheim activist group Los Amigos held a sparsely attended press conference to announce that it had just settled a four-year-old lawsuit against the city's police department. The lawsuit began thanks to a secret spying operation against members of the group who had often complained about police brutality against local activists--allegations that surfaced mostly in articles I wrote at the time, like this one. Apparently, the cops read my stories, and In Sept. 2001, they compiled 500 pages of intelligence (including my articles), interviewed 31 people and spent 270 staff hours at a total cost of $10,000 to document links between the complaining activists and the brutality victims.
Having compiled their report, which included sophisticated "link analysis," i.e. flow charts--the kind the CIA assembles in its effort to ascertain the command structure of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda--then-Chief Roger Baker presented the findings in a closed-door meeting with city officials. It would have remained a secret, but for Captain Marc Hedgpeth, who leaked the spook operation to Amin David, chair of Los Amigos and one of the activists targeted in the probe. Hedgpeth has since retired. He was on hand at the press conference, where he received a hero's welcome from David.
Hedgpeth told me he leaked the operation to David because nobody at the city would do anything to stop Baker from wasting time and money trying to defame law-abiding citizens. "There was a lot of concern among a number of people at the police department that Baker was doing this," Hedgpeth told me. "I talked to the city manager about it and said it was wrong. He said it was none of my business, so it took the matter to the city council. They refused to investigate."
According to David, who now sits on the police department's citizen advisory committee, everything's simpatico these days between the cops and Latino residents. "The days of the Police Association talking about the scoundrels and filth of our Latino community is over," he said. "We don't see that any more. The midnight patrol of police speaking in German, wearing Nazi insignia on their rings, and the beatings of undocumented people--it's over."
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David said that fact explains why he and the other activists decided to settle for a total of $50,000 rather than go to trial, although he was sure they'd win. He said he was going to spend his share of the cash doing some renovation work to his house. Other than him, the three plaintiffs in the case weren't on hand for the press conference. Josie Montoya, who died the year after the spy operation became public, had a good excuse for not being there. Her daughter, Jessica Castro, showed up only after the conference had already ended. She said she hasn't been involved in any activism since her mom died; Ceja never arrived.
Besides myself and a Register reporter, the only media present was a camera crew from TV Azteca. As I got in my car, the Azteca reporter ran up to me and said his bosses weren't interested in the story--it was too old, and assuming everything's great in Anaheim, who cares?
"Is there anything else happening in OC right now?" he asked. Sure, I said, and told him about this story.