Original article no longer available
Chief: Criminal activity targeted, not Latinos
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/09/2008 10:46:29 PM PDT
COLTON – The fatal Valentine’s Day shooting of a naked man by a police officer and the recent search of a popular Mexican restaurant for a traffic offender have reignited allegations of police hostility and reckless behavior toward Latinos.
The police chief says the issue is about communication with the community, not racism, and that it’s criminal activity that’s being targeted, not Latinos.
On Wednesday, local Latino activist Gil Navarro led a rally outside the Colton Police Department with about 25 citizens and family members who claim police have wrongfully killed or injured their loved ones.
Navarro said he is pushing for a federal investigation into Colton police practices and will submit a petition to Rep.
Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino.
On Feb. 14, a Colton police officer responding to a disturbance call shot and killed 63-year-old Antonio Cornejo after he reportedly hurled a chair at the officer’s car.
Cornejo was naked at the time and having an adverse reaction to medication that he took for depression and insomnia, family members said.
“All he had was a Bible and a stepladder. They had no reason to shoot him,” a tearful Maria Reynoso, Cornejo’s daughter, said at Wednesday’s rally.
On April 2, four officers arrived at La Villa Restaurant on Valley Boulevard in search of the owner’s nephew, Arthur Luna, who was wanted for failing to appear in court for a DUI violation, police said.
The incident occurred about an hour after Mel Albiso – a Colton Joint Unified school board member and a lifelong city resident – held a campaign fundraiser there. Albiso is one of several people running in the June 3 recall election against Mayor Kelly Chastain.
A grassroots political action committee, Citizens for Colton First, launched the recall against Chastain last fall.
The police and firefighters’ unions have publicly endorsed Chastain and oppose the recall.
Dr. Manuela Sosa, who was at Albiso’s fundraiser and was still at the restaurant when police arrived, said officers were rude and uncooperative with the restaurant’s owner, Maria Serrano.
“They’re coming through and they’re just doing whatever they want,” Sosa said. “They came in acting like they can do what they please.”
Police Chief Bob Miller said it was a coincidence that police showed up at the restaurant following the fundraiser and that one of his lieutenants had a cordial meeting with Serrano April 5 to discuss the officers’ visit earlier in the week.
Wednesday’s rally was not the first time Latinos have gathered outside the Police Department in protest.
In May 2005, Navarro and others accused officers of unjustifiably shooting to death 23-year-old Jesus Ramirez as he tried to run away from an officer during a struggle. The group demanded police reform in Colton.
Ramirez’s aunt, Irene Martinez, said her nephew was shot in the back as he ran from the officer.
When it comes to officer-involved shootings, things are not always what they seem, and each case is investigated thoroughly by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division and by the Sheriff’s Department, Miller said.
“Our integrity is No. 1. That’s the mantra of this department,” he said.
Miller said he is half Latino himself and takes racism allegations very seriously.
“We don’t target race. We target activity,” Miller said. “It’s easy to throw up race, but we deal in the facts, and the facts usually bear the truth.”
According to city and U.S. census data, 65percent of city residents are Latino, and more than 60percent are under the age of 34.
Police respond to more calls and incidents involving that age group than any other, Miller said.
Thirty-one percent of the Colton Police Department’s 72 sworn personnel are Latino.
Miller denied that the Police Department is biased against Latinos, or targets them.
But Navarro said the facts he has been presented with paint a different picture.
About six months ago, he said, the city settled a lawsuit for $100,000 with a man who alleged excessive use of force by police.
During an investigation, police learned a dispatcher relaying information from a 9-1-1 call to firefighters told them to “take their time, he’s only a Mexican,” Navarro said.
Miller said the dispatcher was placed on paid administrative leave and that the matter is under investigation.
He said he could not elaborate because it is a personnel matter.
Miller said such incidents should not overshadow the mostly positive role the Police Department plays in the community.
The perception that Latinos are being targeted, Miller said, is just that a – perception.
He said his officers are encouraged to live in the city and be bilingual.
“What’s going on, I think, is that we have some communication disconnect,” he said.