Latino-Black Relations on Edge in Compton

LOS ANGELES (CN) – African American-dominated Compton, its police and school district subject Latino children to “unlawful arrest, excessive force, racial profiling and racial discrimination,” five families claim in a federal class action.
     Lead plaintiff Raquel Espinoza also sued 21 police officers, Police Chief Hourie Taylor and the school board.
     In a demand for $40 million, the plaintiffs claim: “Latino and Hispanic schoolchildren and their parents were singled out for arrest by police officers acting in concert with school security guards, school board members, school district personnel, and in at least one instance, a city of Compton code enforcement officer. School police physically assaulted several of these persons for no reason at all other than the color of their skin, their race and/or voicing their concern against police and school abuses. Several of the plaintiffs and others similarly situated were racially profiled and then illegally deported, without due process. School police routinely and systematically threatened others with deportation. Similarly situated African American students, in a school run predominantly by African American leadership were not subjected to such treatment.”
     The plaintiffs claim Compton’s harassment and abuse of Latinos began in 2009 when Latino parents began protesting Compton’s failure to fund English as a Second Language classes.
     During the protests, “school police, acting with the knowledge and consent of CUSD and the school board, regularly acted to attack protesters exercising basic constitutional rights,” the complaint states.
     The families claim that Compton Unified has an “unwritten policy” of violating Latinos’ constitutional and civil rights, “including beatings and the illegal deportation of persons of Hispanic and Latino origin and descent.”
     The complaint continues: “This lawsuit details numerous instances of … abuse against Latino parent peaceful protestors at locations that are traditionally the site of public demonstrations – in places such as public sidewalks across the street from Compton Schools. For instance, at one incident, uninvolved bystander and non-student photographer, plaintiff Victor Lopez, was pepper-sprayed by the school police and certain Compton officers at close range for ‘illegally’ videotaping school police brutality of a Latino parent activist, plaintiff Espinoza. Lopez was incapacitated, but that didn’t stop the officers who pepper-sprayed Lopez from placing him in a chokehold, hitting Lopez with batons, which sent Lopez to the ground, beating him in the head, neck and upper torso and breaking his nose as he was slammed to the ground. It is unfathomable that plaintiff Lopez … could pose a threat to heavily armed police officers from the defendants’ and school police. That didn’t stop the school police from illegally arresting him and in the process, denying him medical attention, all in an effort to silence him and to brutalize him simply because he was Latino.”
     Compton Unified serves around 26,000 students at 40 schools in South Central Los Angeles County, according to its website. Its jurisdiction includes the city of Compton and parts of Carson and the city of Los Angeles.
     The district says its mission is to “to empower leaders to lead, teachers to teach and students to learn by fostering an environment that encourages leaders and teachers to be visionary, innovative and accountable for the achievement of all students.”
     But the plaintiffs say Compton and its school police “systematically” violate the constitutional rights of Hispanic parents and students by, among other things, planning a “hit” on plaintiff Espinoza and her son; filing false police reports; threatening to deport students who saw “acts of police brutality;” and arresting Latino parents who asked the school board for ESL classes.
     Plaintiffs claim police deported plaintiff Catarino Garcia after he filed a complaint against defendant Officer Porch, whose first name is not mentioned in the complaint.
     Soon after Garcia filed the complaint, Officer Porch and several other school police followed Garcia and his wife home, “conducted a retaliatory traffic stop without probable cause, ripped plaintiffs’ vehicle apart to ‘search for drugs’ and, of course, no drugs were located. In an effort to violate plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and to retaliate against plaintiffs, defendants contacted ICE, waited at least 4 hours on the department lawn, and deported and/or caused the deportation of plaintiff Garcia in retaliation for plaintiffs exercising their first amendment rights,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs claim that incident is just one of many. The 46-page lawsuit details many other incidents of harassment, abuse and assault.
     The plaintiffs say the lawsuit “comes on the heels of a highly critical report by the ACLU detailing unprecedented levels of abuse and Latino civil rights violations by the CUSD [Compton Unified School District].”
     The ACLU sued the California Department of Education on April 24, claiming Compton violates Latino students’ rights to ESL classes, “an essential component of their education.”
     When Latino parents “speak up as to the abuse, school police have an unspoken pattern and practice of beating peaceful Latino parent protesters and silencing the plaintiffs’ voice,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs say they have suffered “scarring, emotional distress, anger, fear, trepidation and chagrin,” in addition to medical and psychiatric expenses.
     They seek $41.4 million in compensatory damages, plus special damages, punitive damages, reimbursement for medical expenses, civil penalties and an injunction against civil and constitutional rights violations.
     They also seek “expungement of all law enforcement, youth court, or discipline records of the adult plaintiffs and plaintiff children related to the foregoing incident(s),” and a court order that the defendants to adopt policies to “identify and correct” discriminatory conduct.
     They are represented by Martin J. Kaufman.
     Here are the defendants: Compton Unified School District Police Department; Compton Unified School District; Compton Unified School District Board of Trustees; City of Compton; Police Chief Hourie Taylor; Officer Porch; Officer Guillet; Officer Keith Donahue; Officer Timothy Wilson; Officer L. Watkins; Officer M. Venegas; Officer Salvador Villa; Officer J. Sanchez; Officer A. Miller; Officer Reyes; Officer T. Wilson; Officer Kenneth R. Bonner; Officer E. Robinson; Officer R. Garcia; Officer Lucas; Officer L. Gray; Officer J. Ford; CSA Timothy Pernell Browdry; CSA Larry Ventress; CSA Lamar Grady Walker; CSA Blunt; L. Henry; Principal Letitia Bradley; Assistant Principal Laury Henry; President Micah Ali; Vice President Margie Garrett; Clerk Satra Zurita; Leg Rep Skyy Fisher; Member Emma Sharif’ Member Marjorie Shipp; Member Mae Thomas; and Superintendent Darin Bradwley.
     Compton, pop. 96,500, was made famous in the 1980s by hip-hop artists, including N.W.A., whose debut album was titled “Straight Outta Compton.”

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