A pending lawsuit could be the motivation for a series of physical abuse accusations levied against three police officers who worked at a youth boot camp out of Camp San Luis Obispo, a defense attorney said Monday.
“At the very least they are grandiose exaggerations or embellishments,” said Michael Schwartz.
His client, Marissa Elizabeth Larios, 36, and brothers Edgar Yovany Gomez, 35, and Carlos Manuel Gomez-Marquez, 32, pleaded not guilty Monday to multiple misdemeanor counts of child abuse.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, the three officers were part of a cadre of instructors at a boot camp program entitled L.E.A.D. (Leadership, Empowerment and Discipline), which was coordinated and staffed by the Huntington Park and Southgate police departments. The alleged abuse occurred between May 17 and May 24 at a training facility at Camp San Luis Obispo.
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L.E.A.D. has conducted its boot camp there since May 2007, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The District Attorney’s Office says the 20 misdemeanor counts of unlawful corporal punishment and child endangerment involve 10 minors, ranging in age from 12 to 16. Those alleged victims were slapped, punched and stepped on by drill instructors, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Schwartz asked the public to refrain from judgment until all the information is available. “Once all the evidence is in, it’s going to be apparent that all of the allegations are frivolous,” he said.In court, Deputy District Attorney Craig van Rooyen said there are already 600 pages of discovery in the case.
According to a Los Angeles Times story, a civil attorney representing 11 alleged victims said injuries suffered by his clients included broken fingers and a bruised throat. That attorney, Greg Owen, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Schwartz said some of the allegations might be motivated by a possible civil suit. Schwartz said a suit has not been filed, but claims against the Huntington Park and Southgate police departments have been made.
The children in the boot camp, he said, are troubled kids on the brink of being sent to juvenile detention. Parents of those kids, he added, are often desperate.
“Their parents cannot control them. Their schools cannot control them,” he said.
His client, who is charged with three misdemeanors involving two kids, volunteered for the assignment, Schwartz said. “She feels gratified to help troubled kids get back on the right track,” he said.
According to a press release from the Huntington Park Police Department, the L.E.A.D. program has existed since 1998 “and has been very successful in affecting positive change in the lives of the youth of our communities.” The 20-week program, which has been suspended, included a weekly regimen of structured activities and educational trips. One of the excursions was the weeklong camp held at Camp San Luis Obispo.
The three defendants will return to court Dec. 3.