'We Love Hunting Wetbacks'
The alleged beating of a Latino motorist by deputies of the Orange County Sheriff's Department on Jan. 19—a bizarre incident that is currently the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation by the department—may have occurred on the 55 freeway in Orange, but it is a story that apparently begins and ends in Costa Mesa.
No surprise there. During the past year, Costa Mesa has emerged as the epicenter of Mexican-hating in Orange County. In December 2006, the city became the first in the county—and one of the first in the nation—to station a full-time immigration officer at the city jail authorized to deport illegal aliens who commit petty crimes such as riding a bicycle without a permit. Before that, Mayor Allan Mansoor, an Orange County Sheriff's deputy, had pushed unsuccessfully to allow patrol officers to check the immigration status of Latinos encountered in the field. For his efforts, Mansoor received a hero's welcome last August when the anti-immigrant Minuteman Project held a fundraising barbecue at Fairview Regional Park.
So Brian Barcelo might have had reason to be nervous when he saw a marked Sheriff's Dept. car in the next lane as he steered his brother's Mercedes SUV onto the 55 freeway at the intersection of Victoria St. and Newport Blvd. But he wasn't.
"He (the deputy) was white, younger, clean-shaven and wasn't wearing sunglasses," Barcelo recalls. "He looked right at me. I didn't think much of it."
Barcelo was on his way to Anaheim to pick up a friend, Lauren Skogland, from the home products company where she works and bring her back to Costa Mesa. As soon as he got on the freeway Barcelo noticed the deputy was following him.
"He was right behind me," says Barcelo. "Even when we hit traffic, he stayed right there. That's when I started to worry."
Barcelo, 32, is the first to admit he hasn't led an unblemished life—he's got a few misdemeanor arrests on his record and was once pulled over at UC Irvine for having a legally-registered gun in his car—but in many ways he's just a typical Costa Mesa punk rocker. He grew up in a nice neighborhood on Costa Mesa's west side, the son of a Arizona-born McDonnell-Douglas engineer who died from cancer last November. He doesn't fit the profile of either a gang-member or any other kind of criminal, just a soft-spoken Morrissey fan of Mexican descent driving a really nice car.
Skoglund remembers the worry in Barcelo's voice when he called her on his cell phone and told her he was being followed by a Sheriff's Deputy. "He told me he wasn't speeding and didn't do anything wrong and didn't understand why they were following him," she recounts. "I called him back 15 minutes later and he said he was being pulled over. I heard him say to the Sheriffs that he was on the phone, and then he told me he had to go."
According to Barcelo, the deputy stopped him just south of the 17th Street exit in the northbound lane of the 55 Freeway, asked for Barcelo's license and registration, ran a check on the vehicle, then returned with his documents. As the deputy stood outside his open window, Barcelo reached to put his paperwork on his passenger seat.
Suddenly, Barcelo says, he was grabbed by the shirt.
"He dragged me out of the car," he says. "I ended up on my knees. He told me to stand up. He walked behind me, and put my arm behind my back to the point where he could get me to do whatever he wanted."
Barcelo says the deputy marched him to the other side of his car and kicked his legs out from under him. He says he fell to the ground. "After that," he says, "a lot of what happened is a blur."
In a Jan. 29 personnel complaint Barcelo filed with the Sheriff's Dept., he alleged that between three and five deputies hogtied him on the ground, searched his vehicle for guns or drugs while repeatedly punching, kicking, and hitting him with a flashlight on his legs and the back of his head whenever he tried to look up from the pavement. When he told the deputies he had broken his left leg two years ago when he slipped on a diving board, they repeatedly kicked him in the ankle. Barcelo's complaint also alleges that the deputies subjected him to racial slurs such as "fruit-picker," and that one of them muttered, "We love hunting wetbacks."
Barcelo says he wasn't able to get a good look at any of the officers because his face was forced to the pavement, but that at one point, he noticed a canine officer wearing a nylon jacket with the letters "DEA" on the back. "This officer seemed upset that the deputies had summoned him to the scene," Barcelo's complaint states. "He said something to the effect of 'why did you get me involved in this shit.' He also said 'This is the last time.' He used the dog to search the SUV, including the engine. He said, 'This car is clean.'"
At that point, Barcelo says, the deputies released him from his hogtie restraints and told him to stand up. "One deputy slapped the back of my head in an almost playful manner and said something like 'You're not gonna tell anyone about this, are you?'" the complaint states. "They told me I better keep my mouth shut . . . [and] told me to get the hell out of there."
Barcelo got back in his vehicle, continued to Anaheim, picked up Skoglund and returned with her to Costa Mesa, where she and her fianc were staying at the Ali Baba hotel while searching for an apartment.
"When I saw him, his whole body was shaking," Skoglund says. "His left arm was bruised and he had bumps on his head. His ankle was totally swollen, twice the size of the other one. He was standing next to the sink and he fell down. He was out cold for 30 seconds."
Skoglund says Barcelo laid down for an hour, but passed out again when he tried to stand up. Figuring he was suffering from a concussion, she and her fianc drove Barcelo to UCI Medical Center's emergency room. A hospital report documents bruises to Barcelo's head, face and legs. When Barcelo told medical staff he had been attacked by Sheriff's deputies, two Orange police officers arrived at the hospital. "I refused to speak with them unless I had an attorney," Barcelo says. "They weren't too happy about that."
That night, Barcelo contacted E.J. Stopyro, a San Juan Capistrano defense attorney who had represented Barcelo when he was arrested at UC Irvine for having a legally-registered firearm and prescription medication in his car. Stopyro called the FBI, which refused to investigate, and gave a detailed report of the alleged beating to the Orange County District Attorney's office, which forwarded it to the Sheriff's Dept.'s Internal Affairs division.
Three days later, on Jan. 22, Barcelo's complaint alleges he was on his way to visit Skoglund in Costa Mesa when he realized he was being again being followed by the Orange County Sheriff—this time by two vehicles. After they passed him, the complaint states, an unmarked car pulled up behind Barcelo, flashing a red light through its windshield. Two white men in their 30s wearing white shirts, black baseball caps and sunglasses ordered Barcelo out of his vehicle and forced him face down onto the sidewalk. "They told me repeatedly that I better keep my mouth shut," Barcelo's complaint states. "One of them also said something like, 'We have a permanent solution for people who don't shut up.'"
According to Barcelo's complaint, Skoglund's fianc, who asked not to be named in this story, was walking down Newport Blvd. on the evening of Jan. 26, when a "black and white police car" pulled over next to him and a uniformed officer asked if he was a friend of Barcelo's. The complaint states that one of the officers told him "'what's done is done' and something to the effect of 'he better let sleeping dogs lie.'" Skoglund's fianc refused to speak to the Weekly. "He's afraid of the police," Skoglund says. "So am I. They beat the shit out of my friend."
Barcelo acknowledges he has no physical evidence to back up his story, which while seemingly sincere, is strange to say the least. However, he believes he could identify at least one of the deputies he claims assaulted him. Sgt. Roland Chacon, a Internal Affairs investigator, confirmed that his office had received Barcelo's complaint. "We're going to conduct a very thorough investigating into the allegations of Mr. Brian Barcelo," he said. He added that while Sheriff's deputies are allowed to stop vehicles on Orange County freeways, the only time they patrol cities such as Costa Mesa who have their own police departments is when they are working with local law enforcement agencies on specific investigations or actions.
Barcelo says the beating he suffered at the hands of the Sheriff's Deputies reminds him of his childhood in the 1970s, when his was the only Mexican family on the block. "Now there are a lot of yuppies living here, but back then it was all white working-class," he says. "I'd have kids pelting me with rocks when I walked back from school and even the parents were opening the doors yelling 'Go back to Mexico!' I dealt with this on a continuous basis. This brought back a lot of bad memories. I've never lived my life looking over my shoulder. But now I do. It makes you feel really shitty."
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