Four Los Angeles-area police officers were arrested this week for physically abusing at least 15 children at a boot camp for at-risk youth. As children from the boot camp began appearing in emergency rooms with multiple bruises and broken fingers, child services launched an investigation into the abuse. Initially suspecting the parents of beating their own kids, the Department of Children and Family Services later determined the drill instructors at the police-run boot camp had assaulted the children instead.
Run by the Huntington Park and South Gate police departments, the one-week Leadership Empowerment And Discipline (LEAD) Boot Camp Program at the National Guard military base in San Luis Obispo proclaims to improve behavior and discipline in boys and girls ages 12 to 17. From May 17 to 24, a group of 37 children attended the boot camp and some began appearing in emergency rooms with suspicious injuries.
After returning from the boot camp, a 13-year-old boy with massive bruising around his windpipe was immediately taken to the emergency room by his mother. Suspecting the mother of possibly abusing her son, hospital staff notified the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). After arriving at the emergency room, DCFS officials took the boy to a separate room and asked where he had received the bruises around his neck.
The boy informed the DCFS officials that his drill instructors from the LEAD boot camp program had physically assaulted him and over a dozen other kids in his group. After receiving reports of abuse from several other children who attended the boot camp, DCFS officials alerted the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office about the abuse. On May 28, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into the allegations.
“They never told me that they were going to beat them or they were going to put them in a dark room or they were going to fracture him or break his arm,” said Veronica Bernal, a mother of one of the children.
“When they didn’t do their exercises the way they were supposed to, they were stomped in the back. Their fingers were stepped on,” said Araceli Pulido, who had two daughters at the camp.
Of the 37 participants interviewed, nine boys and six girls ages 12 to 17 admitted to investigators that they had been physically assaulted by the camp’s drill instructors. The sheriff’s department also collected evidence including photographs, videos, and medical reports documenting broken bones, bruised ribs, and other signs of physical abuse.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Huntington Park officers Marissa Larios and Patrick Nijland along with South Gate officers Edgar Gomez and Carlos Gomez-Marquez were arrested on multiple charges. Larios has been charged with suspicion of cruelty to a child, criminal conspiracy, misdemeanor battery, and abuse under the color of authority. Nijland faces charges of suspicion of cruelty to a child, criminal battery, and abuse under the color of authority. Gomez and Gomez-Marquez have been charged with suspicion of cruelty to a child, criminal threats, misdemeanor battery, and abuse under the color of authority.
“It really gives us no pleasure to arrest police officers or anyone in law enforcement,” stated sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla. “It proves that nobody is above the law.”
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