Two Los Angeles-area police officers will spend about two months in San Luis Obispo County Jail after being sentenced Wednesday for a dozen misdemeanor charges of abusing children at a police-sponsored boot camp in San Luis Obispo in 2015.
Both officers took 12- to 17-year-olds in the program into a storage room they called the “dark room,” where they assaulted the kids and locked them inside with the lights off when they broke the rules, the victims told investigators.
The officers are on paid administrative leave and it was unclear whether they will return to active duty, their police captain said Wednesday.
Brothers Edgar Yovany Gomez, 35, and Carlos Manuel Gomez-Marquez, 32, will serve 60 days in County Jail, four years on formal supervised probation and pay about $3,000 in fines and an undetermined amount of restitution.
The men are also required to have no contact with seven victims, undergo child abuse counseling and will be required to serve up to 10 more days in jail if they violate any probation requirements.
Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said Wednesday the officers faced a maximum of about one year in County Jail, but he declined to comment on specifics of the case due to a third officer’s upcoming trial on similar charges.
Both men were drill instructors at a boot camp program for youth with disciplinary issues that was held at the California National Guard base in 2015.
The abuse did not involve any San Luis Obispo County residents or Camp San Luis Obispo personnel.
Gomez and Gomez-Marquez are officers with the Police Department of South Gate, a city about seven miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Both accepted plea deals with San Luis Obispo County prosecutors in June, pleading no contest to about a dozen misdemeanor charges of willful cruelty to a child and corporal punishment resulting in injury. Misdemeanor battery charges initially filed against them were dismissed.
South Gate police Capt. Darren Arakawa said Wednesday that both Gomez and Gomez-Marquez have been on paid administrative leave since their arrests in August 2015. He said that following Wednesday’s hearing, administrative disciplinary proceedings against the two will be held, but it was unclear whether they could return to police duties.
A third officer, Marissa Elizabeth Larios, 36, of the Huntington Park Police Department, is facing similar charges and is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 16. A Huntington Park Police Department spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
None of Gomez or Gomez-Marquez’s victims attended the hearing Wednesday, and neither man made a statement.
In accepting the Probation Department’s recommended sentence, Superior Court Judge Gayle Peron called the abuse “serious” and the officers’ actions “disturbing,” but also noted their clean criminal records, military service and other mitigating factors.
Few details of the abuse have been disclosed in court, but a SLO County Probation Department report released Wednesday notes that the investigation into abuse at the camp began with the Huntington Park Police Department in May 2015.
An officer there took a report by a 14-year-old at a local hospital who returned from the boot camp complaining of pain in his head and saying that “Officer Gomez” had hit him at the camp. The teen told Huntington Park investigators that the Gomez brothers took the boy to a room where he was thrown to the floor and punched and kicked three or four times in retaliation for talking during sleep hours.
The officers then helped him up, and he returned to bed with a bloody lip, the report states.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s officials received the report from Los Angeles County Family Services about the abuse and interviewed all the program’s participants in Huntington Park. They soon determined that there were 13 victims of physical and emotion abuse by Gomez, Gomez-Marquez and Larios, according to the probation report.
The children told investigators that their barracks contained a room that staff referred to as the “dark room” that the kids described as a “darkened storage room that locked from the outside.”
Several children said they would be thrown in and locked inside the dark room for hours with the lights turned off, and three of the children reported “being thrown in the darkened room and repeatedly punched in the head, face and torso with closed fists and also being knocked to the ground,” where they were again kicked in the head and abdomen, the report states.
During questioning, the victims said most of the assaults came after the Gomez brothers told them that they needed to be motivated. They said the brothers warned them of retaliation if they reported the abuse, according to the report.
After the brothers’ conviction in June, Gomez refused to give a statement to probation officials and declined to answer any questions about the program, the report states.
“The underage victims were at the mercy of the program and there is no plausible explanation or justification why the defendant would engage in this type of conduct,” Gomez’s probation officer wrote.
The abuse occurred during L.E.A.D. (Leadership, Empowerment and Discipline), a 20-week program sponsored by the South Gate and Huntington Park police departments and the California National Guard.
After a hearing in September 2015, Larios’ attorney, Michael Schwartz, called the allegations “grandiose exaggerations or embellishments,” and suggested the alleged victims were motivated by financial gain.
The Tribune could not confirm whether any lawsuits have been filed over the crimes on Wednesday.
Both Gomez and Gomez-Marquez are scheduled to begin their jail terms on Sept. 18.