Santa Ana Residents Allege Police Brutality in Neighborhood Under Gang Injunction
Cerda with light brigade anti-gang injunction protest signs in the backdrop
As if the summer sun isn't blazing enough, tensions between residents of SanTana's Townsend Street barrio and police are heating up. New allegations of brutality emerged after the gang unit made an arrest in the neighborhood Tuesday night. Onlookers say cops roughed up Armando Verdin, the man taken into custody, and later, a 17-year-old who got briefly detained before being released. Police deny force was used in either incident. A picture of a cop identified as Tyler Salo went viral after being posted on the 'No to Santa Ana Gang Injunction' Facebook page that fingered him as the main brute.
The conflicting versions come a month after police shot and wounded 24-year-old Armando Antunez in Townsend, a neighborhood that got slapped with a gang injunction last year straining community-police relations.
An arrest report from the night in question noted SAPD gang unit and Orange County Probation officers patrolled the area. "Probation offficers attempted to contact a subject; Armando Verdin," Santa Ana Police spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna tells the Weekly. "Verdin is a known to these officers as a Townsend Street gang member and currently out on bail for firearm and narcotics violations."
Neighbors sat outside with the unbearable heat and watched what unfolded next. With their guns drawn, officers chased after Verdin, who fell, and piled on top of him once they caught up. Santa Ana policeman Tyler Salo allegedly punched Verdin when he was on the floor, residents told his partner Vanessa Cerda once she got home. "One officer had his knee on his neck," Cerda says. "When I arrived, police flashed their lights on me."
The arrest report details a different story of what happened at the 800 block of South Townsend Street around 9:45 p.m. "When they attempted to contact Verdin, he fled from officers who gave chase and detained him without force," Cpl Bertagna adds summarizing its contents. "Verdin was observed discarding a plastic container as officers detained him. In that container were narcotics which tested positive for heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine."
Police booked him into jail on multiple charges including possession of a narcotic and cocaine base for sale as well as committing crimes while out on bail and for the benefit of a street gang.
Welt on teen's head allegedly courtesy of Santa Ana police
In a separate incident that same night, cops allegedly clobbered a 17-year-old in the head but didn't arrest him. "I took him to the hospital because he felt lightheaded," Cerda says. "He went in for MRIs to get checked out." The police version holds that an encounter with a teen went down without incident. "In the report there is a mention of a 17-year-old documented Townsend Street Gang member who was contacted, detained and was released," Bertagna says.
Cerda believes that Verdin was targeted because of her outspoken activism against the gang injunction. In December 2013, activists caught Santa Ana police slipping about the plan for one in Townsend. At that time Cerda told the Weekly that Verdin left gang life behind but that an injunction would worsen police harassment against him.
Cerda and Verdin are co-defendants in an ongoing case from 2011 with similar weapons, drug possession and gang enhancements charges. Salo shot and killed 19-year-old Martin Ruiz that same year with the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) ruling it justified.
"I speak up and don't let people get mistreated anymore," Cerda says. She claims cops tauntingly said "hello" to her by name and told her not to worry about Verdin because he'd call from jail. "I say no to the gang junction. Even if they didn't target him at the start, he's being targeted now."
The injured teenager filled out a misconduct complaint and plans to turn it into the Santa Ana Police Department today.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2