CITY HALL — An independent review of a recent Santa Monica Police Department investigation into whether school board member Oscar de la Torre committed child endangerment in connection with a fist fight between two teenagers is expected to begin this week, City Manager Rod Gould said on Friday.
Gould ordered the review after prosecutors declined to charge de la Torre with a crime and members of the community raised concerns the investigation may have been politically motivated and improperly carried out.
It will be conducted by attorneys from the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, which was established in 2001 to investigate matters under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department.
Gould said City Hall will pay the group $250 per hour to perform the review. The OIR’s attorneys are authorized to read all documents related to the case and interview anyone involved, Gould said.
A frequent critic of the SMPD, de la Torre is the executive director of the Pico Youth & Family Center, a non-profit organization that offers programs aimed at preventing youth violence. He is running for a third term on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board.
In a four-month investigation that ended in July, police compiled evidence they said proved de la Torre had broken the law by failing to stop a fist fight between two male high school students that broke out in an alley near his youth center, located on Pico Boulevard near Santa Monica High School.
Based on a cell phone video of the fight taken by a bystander, officers said de la Torre showed up at the fight and failed to call police or immediately intervene.
One of the boys involved in the fight was enrolled in a PYFC program — a fact police said made de la Torre a “de facto guardian” and compelled him to act to stop the fight.
In denying any wrongdoing, de la Torre said he stopped the fight as soon as he was sure it was safe to intervene, after about a minute had passed. He said a crowd of about 40 young people gathered around the fighters, creating a possibility violence could have escalated. The fight occurred March 16.
City Hall said the review will focus on whether the police investigation was handled properly and whether any changes in practice or procedure should be made.
Gould said he decided to contract with an outside group rather than use the police department’s Internal Affairs Department to conduct the review because he felt “it would have more credibility if the assessment was done by an agency outside the city of Santa Monica that doesn’t know any of the actors in this investigation.”
“We’re an open and transparent government and we think that this was required at this time,” Gould said.
The OIR will submit a report to City Hall describing its findings, which Gould said will be made public.
Michael Gennaco, OIR’s chief attorney, declined to estimate how long the review will take.