By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
If there is an epidemic of bad behavior in San Fernando, it might be traced back to April 2011, when the affair between 19-year-old Maria Barajas and the married police chief, Tony Ruelas, became public.
As Barajas' suit would later detail, for months Ruelas wooed her with text messages and emails. That led to fooling around in a San Fernando police cruiser and, ultimately, sex at a Woodland Hills Comfort Inn (she says she was a virgin at the time), according to the complaint. After the affair ended, though, Barajas was unceremoniously dumped by the department.
After she was fired, Barajas brought a suit alleging she was the target of harassment, intimidation and threats — including the threat from Castellon that she might "disappear" if she revealed the relationship. Castellon denies threatening Barajas; he claims he was set up by members of the San Fernando Police Officers Association.
According to the suit, Castellon told the young cadet that the police department, now headed by Ruelas, "was not functioning correctly because everyone was stressed that the relationship would be revealed."
The city ultimately settled with Barajas for $10,000 — "a nuisance fee," city administrator Al Hernandez calls it. But the lawsuit set off a chain reaction that ultimately would cost several chiefs and at least one council member their jobs.
Shortly after Chief Ruelas was put on leave to allow the city to investigate the claims, the interim chief gave orders that Sgt. Castellon be put on leave as well. But when Lt. Kevin Glasgow, who had been charged with delivering the news, told the sergeant he was relieved of duty, Castellon immediately picked up his phone and called the city administrator.
Glasgow would later write a memo of his recollection of the events. (It was composed at the request of the acting chief, who retired from the force shortly after the incident.)
The lieutenant wrote that, within minutes, Mario Hernandez and Brenda Esqueda were banging on the station's doors. Esqueda had one word for him: "Mistake."
Mayor Mario Hernandez added a few more words, declaring of Castellon in no uncertain terms, "He is to return to duty and it will be business as usual."
An L.A. Times reporter eventually obtained Glasgow's memo. The paper's December 2011 story reported that the matter had never been investigated by the L.A. Sheriff's Department, even though eight months had passed.
The City of San Fernando twice denied my request to view the memo, calling it a confidential personnel matter and subject to attorney-client privilege.Before approaching the city, though, I'd requested the memo from its author. Glasgow was reluctant to give it out; he said there had been fallout for his involvement in the incident.
"I'm not really in the mood to experience any more retaliation," Glasgow said, "but let me ask around and see what the ramifications would be if I release it."
I didn't get the chance to speak with him again. Lt. Glasgow was placed on administrative leave that afternoon.
Sitting in a Denny's in downtown San Fernando the next day, Irwin Rosenberg, president of the city's Police Officers Association, tells me, "Everyone is afraid of retaliation." As if on cue, minutes later Rosenberg takes a call from a former colleague, who asks if he has been put on leave yet. (Castellon, Mayor Esqueda's rumored paramour, was placed on leave as this article was going to press. He says he was given no explanation for the move.)
Officers have reason to be afraid — the higher-ups even more than the rank and file. The five police chiefs who've come and gone from that position in the last 18 months have often found themselves entangled in the soap opera at City Hall.
Al Hernandez just chuckles and shakes his head as I run down the list of chiefs who have headed the department and the reasons they left. "I don't mean to laugh, but it just seems like that chair is the kiss of death," Hernandez says.
As city administrator, Hernandez (no relation to Mario Hernandez) is responsible for nominating the chief, whose appointment then must be approved by the City Council. (The council does not have authority over personnel decisions within the police department, such as whether to place Castellon on leave, for instance.)
Earlier this year, Al Hernandez began searching outside the department for someone who could come in to "right the ship."
Gil Carrillo, he decided, was just the man for the job. He came with unimpeachable credentials: a 38-year veteran of the L.A. Sheriff's Department, he was the hero detective who tracked and nabbed the notorious Night Stalker serial killer who terrorized Southern California in the mid-'80s.
"I wanted him to come in to bring stability, and institute whatever corrections were necessary," Hernandez says of Carrillo.
For four months, Hernandez says, Carrillo did just that.
Under Carrillo's tenure, things started to settle down in San Fernando — and then Mario Hernandez decided he wanted to go on a spiritual retreat.
According to a complaint that he would later file in L.A. Superior Court, Mario Hernandez claims that, after his fight with De La Torre, he was manipulated into filing a police report by officers who convinced him De La Torre "had to be taught a lesson."
It would be funny if it wasn't such an outrage. In defense of the current councilmembers, San Fernando city government ineptitude is hardly a new phenomenon. For decades, city leaders have either been nasty or dumb as lampposts. This trio seems to be both nasty and dumb, which is why it's newsworthy.
I grew up in this town in the pre-Ashkenazy days when it may as well have been an outpost in the old West. Many young people left after finishing high school/college to move to communities where it wasn't so difficult to see a movie and have a craft beer on a Friday night, neighborhoods with a bookstore or a restaurant with vegan menu options. I'm sure that sounds like snobbery, but I'd rather be a snob than be stir-crazy from isolation. The town's chief characteristic is a strange combination of provincialism, nimbyism, and insularity from the rest of Los Angeles. There have been some upgrades in the last decade, chiefly Library Square, and I'm happy to hear that the Sun now does more than publish legal notices and grip-and-grin photos of Chamber of Commerce execs. Perhaps this recall election and JC Penney finally giving up the ghost are golden opportunities to shake off the cobwebs and tumbleweeds collecting around the rest of the city.
why did thishappen between two elected officials? it's nature and nurture (underdeveloped frontal lobes and high school memories lost).
At Brian Arra. I don't think you have actually seen her in person have you? Cause she is not hot at all. Don't go by the picture on this magazine or the google images. This article made DeLa Torre and Barajas look hot!! But if you look at them in person one of them looks like the chilindrina and the other like... Well.... De La Torre
The owners of the San Fernando Valley Sun Newspaper, Sev and Martha Aszkenazy are in foreclosure and jeapordizing San Fernando's livelihood.
TWO MAJOR PROPERTIES ARE IN FORECLOSURE AND SET FOR AUCTION SALE ON OCTOBER 31ST AT 9AM IN POMONA!
Check it out for yourself.
Look at properties that are in foreclosure and up for sale!
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