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Mother of Son Arrested by Santa Ana School Cop Says Viral Video Shows 'Abuse of Power' UPDATE

Griselda Lopez (left) with Elvia Fernandez who filmed the rough arrest of her son
Griselda Lopez (left) with Elvia Fernandez who filmed the rough arrest of her son
Gabriel San Roman / OC Weekly

See bottom of the post on page 2 for update with SAUSD Police Chief.

ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 11, 12:26 P.M.: On the fourth floor of the Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange, Griselda Lopez waited with her son for his case to be called. The cherubic 14 year-old is at the center of a viral video first reported by the Weekly showing his rough arrest by a Santa Ana school cop at Adams Park. Elvia Fernandez joined Lopez and her son earlier this morning. She filmed the encounter and came to support Lopez, a single mother, so that the woman wouldn't be alone.

Lopez, a 40 year-old Santa Ana resident, said she received a phone call from her son about the incident on Tuesday. "He told me that he had been arrested but I didn't know why," she told the Weekly in Spanish during an interview at the Orange County Juvenile Courthouse today. Lopez said officials defended the officer's behavior. "They told me that he had hurt the cop and ran," the mother adds. "They said they had arrested him because he was tagging the bench at the park. After that, he ran and resisted."

At that point, she hadn't seen the video. "I didn't know until later on that night when my daughter told me, 'Mother, there's a video where [he] came out," she said. "It's not true what the cops say.'"

Lopez wanted to see it for herself, but her daughter told her that her brother didn't want her to see the video. She chose to watch it anyway. "I heard the voice of [Elvia] and wondered who was filming and who was the man that was defending him," she said. "I was left surprised. I looked for [Fernandez] on Facebook and contacted her," Lopez says. The two talked on Thursday. "She explained a little more about what happened and that it wasn't true that [my son] had run."

The youngster himself denies he ran from police. He does admit biting the officer, but says he did so only after being choked. He says the officer asked him if he was in a gang. "I ain't from nowhere," he says he responded. The youth did sign his initials on documents after his arrest including a promise that he would stay away form "gang gathering areas."

At the end of the Adams Park ordeal, the teen said he counted six patrol cars and eight officer at the scene. Authorities won't release the name to media, but the youth caught "Harris" on his badge. A Sgt. Brian Harris is employed with the Santa Ana Unified School District and is coordinator for the Gang Reduction and Intervention Program known simply as GRIP. The SAUSD Police Department declined to confirm or deny the identity of the cop caught on camera.

 

Santa Ana School Cop Puts Crying Boy in Chokehold from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

Hearing her son cry out in pain in a video that splashed across national media seemed unreal to Lopez. "I wanted to wake up and it believe it was all just a nightmare, that it wasn't happening," she said. The mother has seen similar stories on the news before, but never imagined it could happen to her family.

"I understand at this age, they're rebellious, but if [my son] is guilty, he has to be held accountable. I'm not against that. The officer should have just ticketed him and took him to court," Lopez added. "But I don't agree with the way he was taking him down like an adult. That was an abuse of power. Supposedly they are there to protect you."

At the end of a long morning wait, the initial court date got postponed until next week. What charges that will be levied won't be known until that time. By then, Lopez hopes to have representation lined up.

"There's a lawyer that's going to help me," she said." We also have a voice. Just because I'm undocumented doesn't mean I can't defend him," she says. "I don't have papers, but I'm not afraid. We are human beings and we have rights. This is unjust." UPDATE, APRIL 11, 3:15 P.M.: Santa Ana Unified School District Police Chief Hector Rodriguez spoke on the investigation into the use of force by one of his officers in arresting a 14-year-old at Adams Park in the city this week. He addressed reporters gathered during a press conference held at district headquarters earlier today.

"I don't have all the facts yet. We're still in the process of examining everything. We want to be fair to all the parties," Chief Rodriguez said. "We want to be fair to the officer. We want to be fair to the young man." He noted the minor was taken into custody for resisting arrest, vandalism and "assaulting the officer because of [a] bite mark." Additionally, the youth possessed marijuana. He had no previous run-ins with the police prior to this week.

SAUSD Police Chief Hector Rodriguez addresses reporters
SAUSD Police Chief Hector Rodriguez addresses reporters
Gabriel San Roman / OC Weekly

Chief Rodriguez also took time to address the arresting officer's "Stop speaking Spanish" remark, explaining that he didn't speak Spanish. "I think had the officer said, 'Stop communicating with my suspect,' things would've been a bit different," Chief Rodriguez stated. "You have another young man approaching the scene and you don't know what his intent is."

"Ultimately, I have to decide whether this was within policy or not," Chief Rodriguez told the Weekly afterward. "We're going to look at video enhancement to see the specific place of the arm itself." At this time, the chief says he didn't see a chokehold in the footage nor anything else that would have prompted him to place the school cop on administrative leave.

The police chief declined to confirm the name of the officer. He did state that he's an 8-year veteran currently on a previously scheduled vacation at this time.

The investigation is expected to last until the middle or end of next week. If the school cop is found to have used excessive force outside of justifiable policy any disciplinary action against him won't be disclosed to the public.

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz

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