HUNTINGTON PARK (CBSLA.com) — Police officers in Huntington Park and South Gate faced allegations Wednesday from the families of seven children who claim they were physically and verbally abused while attending a San Luis Obispo boot camp.
The children were among 36 kids between the ages of 12 through 16 who participated in the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) program between May 17-24 at Camp San Luis Obispo, a California Army National Guard Military Base in San Luis Obispo.
On May 28, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office received a report from Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) of an allegation of physical abuse inflicted on a child who was attending the LEAD program, which is sponsored by the Huntington Park Police Department, South Gate Police Department and the California National Guard.
Authorities say the Sheriff’s office sent three investigators to Southern California on May 30 to conduct interviews with the 39 recruits who attended the boot camp and identified six additional alleged victims.
According to attorneys, the children say LEAD drill instructors allegedly “slapped, punched, and stepped on their hands and backs while doing push-ups” and “took them into a dark room where they were beaten if they did not meet the expectations of the camp supervisors” and “given towels to clean the blood off of themselves prior to exiting the room after the beatings.”
Most of the alleged victims have identified two instructors known as the “Gomez Brothers” – who are reportedly with the South Gate Police Department – as the officers primarily responsible for the mistreatment, attorney Greg Owen told KNX 1070’s Margaret Carrero.
“They would put their arms, forearms up against their neck, push them against the wall, and then both brothers would beat them,” Owen said.
The officers have reportedly been suspended from the LEAD boot camp program, but are still allowed to work on patrol, according to attorneys.
Started in 1998 as a way to “develop leadership and discipline in youth while offering guidance and support to reduce family conflict”, the LEAD program costs $400, which covers the cost of boot camp meals, uniforms, drug testing, workbooks and parenting classes, attorneys said.
The Huntington Park Police Department posted photos on its official Facebook page on May 17 showing officers dressed in Army fatigues taking part in the LEAD boot camp program.
In a statement released Monday, South Gate Police Capt. James Teeples said a meeting was held May 31 with the parents of the youth participants in LEAD and Huntington Park Police Chief Jorge Cisneros and South Gate Police Chief Randy Davis, both of whom spoke to “provide assurance that any matters of concern will be investigated thoroughly.”
The statement read as follows: “Recently, we received notification from some participants in the program who made allegations concerning the disciplinary measures and tactics used by members of both organizations. Both agencies believe in complete transparency and take all allegations very seriously.”