Last August, I was approached by Oscar de la Torre, who was running for his third four-year term on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.
He asked why I hadn’t written about the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declining to prosecute him after the Santa Monica Police Department investigated his involvement during a fist fight behind the Pico Youth & Family Center. I told him I didn’t have enough information to comment.
Police detectives began investigating de la Torre after seeing cell phone recordings showing him at the scene of a March 16, 2010 altercation between two Santa Monica High School students in an alley near the PYFC, a City Hall-subsidized service that works with at-risk youth where de la Torre is executive director.
The video shows the fight continuing for nearly a minute in front of about 40 excited observers before de la Torre steps in. The California Penal Code has numerous laws governing overseeing and protecting children from abuse, harm or dangerous situations. Police claimed he waited too long to break up the fight and it may have constituted felony child endangerment. They said de la Torre allowed the fight to “develop and escalate in its injury potential.”
After a four-month investigation, police took their case to the District Attorney last July. The D.A. declined to prosecute de la Torre who then called a press conference and claimed the investigation was “an abuse of police practices with a malicious intent” and “politically motivated to embarrass and defame him.”
He called for the City Council to investigate the situation, demanded an apology and hinted that he was considering litigation against City Hall for an “attack” he said was timed to torpedo his planned run for City Council.
Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman responded by requesting an independent review of his department’s own investigation. The Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review (OIR), a civilian oversight group composed of six attorneys that works with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and other municipalities, was hired by the city manager to do the review.
Their 22 page report was released last Monday. It concluded the SMPD’s investigation of de la Torre’s actions during the fight “was appropriate” as was sending the case on to prosecutors. However, the report also found problems with lead investigator Sgt. Dave Thomas’ interviewing and report-writing techniques. Chief Jackman told the Daily Press, “We are committed to following the recommendations of the report entirely. We will be moving swiftly to ensure implementation.”
I still haven’t seen a recording of the fight (de la Torre said he’d send it to me last August) but the detailed narrative in the OIR report reveals that early in the affray, combatants wrestled to the pavement and de la Torre and another young man rushed in. That would have been an opportune time to end it, but de la Torre and the other youth extended their arms and backed away. The fight continued, unabated.
Only after a second fall nearly a minute in, did de la Torre rush in and the fisticuffs ceased. He told the press last July that he was initially afraid to intervene because he feared endangering himself. Being that most of the teens in the crowd probably knew de la Torre was an authority figure, I’m not convinced. He should have exercised his power and interceded quickly to insure that the combatants were not seriously injured.
You’d think the OIR’s report would be the last word, but de la Torre has loudly renewed his demands for an apology claiming again that he’s been singled out and targeted by the SMPD. He’s demanding major changes at the police department and is considering litigation to clear his name and re-coop “tens of thousands of dollars” in legal expenses he claims were incurred defending himself (even though he was never charged with a crime), say news reports.
de la Torre has accomplished much good in the community. He now needs to take the high road and move on. For someone concerned about his reputation, flogging this dead horse will do nothing to improve it and is counterproductive. He may cause more irreparable harm to himself, his cause and the PYFC.
Bergamot Transit Village mutual lovefest?
The Planning Commission is hosting a community workshop on the Bergamot Transit Village, a nearly 1 million square foot mixed-use development planned for the present Paper Mate property at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard by Texas-based developer Hines. The workshop is Feb. 17, at 6:30 p.m. at Pier 59 Studios, 2415 Michigan Ave. at Bergamot Station.
Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into another Planning Commission/developer lovefest with lots of dazzle and very little razzle. Residents don’t need another “snow job” and deserve a meaningful discussion on issues such as traffic, congestion, architecture and the effect this project, coupled with numerous other pending developments nearby, will have on the neighborhood. RSVP to BergamotPlan@smgov.net
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org