Cops and Clobbered

Oak View is a side of Huntington Beach that many never see. Dubbed the "Slater Slums" by locals, the neighborhood is the antithesis of the upper-middle-class community officials hype as Surf City.

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Eighteen-year-old migrant worker Antonio Saldivar was just a few blocks from his Oak View home when a Huntington Beach police officer shot and killed him on May 5. Officer Mark Wersching and his partner spotted a Latino man looking into parked cars. When the officers approached the man, he ran. The police pursued, and spotted a man crouched behind a car who they believed was their suspect. They say the man rose, pointing what appeared to be a rifle. Saldivar was shot several times by Wersching and later died at UCI Medical Center. Turns out the rifle was a toy cork gun.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the shooting, revealed last week that Saldivar was not the man the officers were chasing, that his fingerprints were not on the toy gun, and that days after the incident, Wersching arrested a man who confessed to being the suspect he'd pursued.

The Huntington Beach Police Department says it is confident the force and Wersching—who is involved in two pending federal lawsuits regarding accusations that he mistreated crime-scene witnesses—will be cleared of any wrongdoing. But a wave of anger, distrust and accusations against local cops has washed over Oak View. The FBI is investigating whether Saldivar's civil rights were violated. And some Latino residents say that Huntington Beach's mostly Anglo officers continue to target them for harassment and intimidation—even after Saldivar was gunned down.

"The Saturday after the shooting, my three friends and I were collecting money for the family of Antonio [Saldivar]. We didn't know him or his family, but when we heard of the death, we wanted to help any way we could. We got an old shoebox and went door to door in the neighborhood, asking for money for the family. Four patrol cars rolled up on us while we walked in the street, and a bunch of cops got out and surrounded us. They said a lot of things we didn't understand and pointed at the box with the money. I told them I didn't speak any English. They grabbed me, pushed me against a car and threw me to the ground. They tried to do the same to my friend, but he resisted. One of the cops then clubbed him in the face and gave him a cut underneath his eye.

"A bunch of old ladies heard all the commotion and gathered to see what was happening. The cops saw that a lot of people were looking on, and they backed off. Then they told us a bunch of stuff I didn't understand and gave us all something that looked like a ticket. They took our pictures, got in their cars and left.

"Later, we found out they had been looking for someone who had tried to break into some cars on Beach Boulevard. They probably thought it was us. They always think we're responsible for everything. It's not the first time, and it's not going to be the last."

—Anonymous (translated from Spanish), 15 years old "Mark Wersching is the main dick right here. Because I'm from this neighborhood right here, South Side Huntington Beach, and there's this other neighborhood in Westminster called Orphans, and we don't get along with them. So he took me over there and dropped me off just so they could fuck me up. That was like a year and a half ago. They dropped me off, and they were saying through megaphones, 'There's a South Side in your neighborhood,' saying my name out loud just so they could fuck me up and shit.

"[Officers] will take us in for being with minors, and they're just friends. If I am just kickin' it with them or something, and they're younger than 18, they'll take me in. We could just be walking or playing basketball or whatever, and they say it's 'contributing to the delinquency of a minor.'

"They always fuck people up, talk shit to them, just harass us and all that. I can't walk the street without them stopping me and searching me. I can be with my girlfriend, and they'll search me. They never got me with anything, and they'll still search me. At night, when they know that nobody's looking, they'll grab you and start fucking you up. They talk shit to you . . . trying to provoke us to doing something. I don't trust them."

—Carlos A., 18

"I had my head shaved—I was bald—and [the police] would just stare at me. And if you're walking down the street, the cops will stop you and tell you to 'come here' and check your pockets. Because you're bald, they think that you're a gangster.

"Sometimes after school, I come down, and they think I am a gangbanger and ask for my name. That's why I grew my hair out. They harass you for no reason. When I was bald, they would ask me, 'Where are you going?' and, 'Why are you out so late?' I'm just going home. And if you're walking, they'll throw out that light at you, you know, that big light? Right in my face. 'What are you doing?' and 'What's your name?' Shit like that."

—Miguel T., 16

"Cops have been harassing me since I can remember. A couple of months ago, I was driving with my friend, and a patrol car pulls us over for no apparent reason. We weren't doing anything wrong. The cop asked where we were going. I said we were on our way to work. He then orders us out of the car but doesn't tell us why. Then his partner begins to search us for drugs or weapons I guess. But we had nothing like that on us.

"Next, they ordered us to sit on the curb while they searched the car. Again, they didn't give us a reason why. Then they opened the trunk and found an old beer can under the spare tire that had been there for weeks. My friends and I had been drinking at a friend's garage awhile back after we did some work on the car. We had thrown all the beer cans in the trunk so we wouldn't make a mess in the garage. Later, we threw out all the cans, but I guess we missed one. I told the cop that, and he said it was illegal to have an open alcohol container in the car, and he was going to give me a ticket. I told him I wouldn't sign the ticket because we hadn't been drinking; we were just going to work. He grabbed me, turned me around and put the handcuffs on me. He said, 'Either sign this ticket or go to jail.' I got scared at that point. I had never been to jail. I'm an illegal [alien]. Who knows what would have happened if I went to jail? So I signed the ticket. I paid the ticket eventually. It ended up costing $300. I don't have that kind of money to spare. I make minimum wage as a busboy. Do you know how long it takes me to earn $300? But to this day, they haven't told me why my friend and me got pulled over.

"I respect the police, and they should be respected. All I ask is that they give some of that respect back to us. A lot of them don't do that. The majority of us here in this neighborhood are good people, hard-working people."

—Anonymous, 41 F.L. Reza contributed to this report.

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