The raid made headlines across town. More than 80 women were arrested after the LAPD initiated an investigation based on allegations of prostitution and lewd behavior at an old-school downtown taxi-dancing club. Two underage girls were found to have been working there, police told the Weekly.
Problem is, says immigrant rights group spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera, all the females at Club 907 were handcuffed based solely on being undocumented workers.
Now you law-and-order types would say fine. But the LAPD has a longstanding policy against busting people simply for suspicion of being in the country illegally. It's called Special Order 40.
The controversial rule was designed to encourage trust between the city's huge immigrant community and the LAPD. Cops don't want situations where people are afraid to call them for help or testify against criminals because they fear being deported.
The department rule does allow cops to turn over suspected illegals to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities after they've been stopped on suspicion of some other crime and are suspected of being undocumented.
The LAPD, in fact, claims that's the case with last Friday night's raid of the Club 907 taxi-dancing/hostess venue at West Ninth and Hill streets downtown.
The department states a routine permit check nearly four months ago inspired cops to take a deeper look and initiate a four-month investigation in which allegations of prostitution, lewd acts and sexual touching led to Friday's search-warrant raid.
However, according to Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), none of the 81 women arrested were booked on suspicion of prostitution or lewd acts; they were all jailed based on allegations of fake IDs and documents, he says.
(An LAPD official tells the Weekly that in fact two people, possibly women, were booked on suspicion of solicitation of prostitution).
The LAPD had some pretty cleaver wording in its statement regarding ICE's role in the raid, saying, "Those who had fraudulent or no identification, were subject to questioning by LAPD and [ICE] agents."
Cabrera says point blank that most of the women were in fact turned over to immigration agents, that 78 of them were "undocumented" and subject to deportation in the next few days, and that 36 are in ICE custody with another 52 released but due in immigration court Monday.
" ... All 78 are at risk of deportation," Cabrera told the Weekly.
Seven men, including employees, a security guard who allegedly had cocaine, and a few accused gamblers, were also arrested.
Police said a 17-year-old girl reported missing by her parents was working at the club. LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez, in charge of the Central Bureau, says another 17-year-old was discovered after she was detained.
"Would you want your daughter in that type of atmosphere where she could be fondled," he told the Weekly. "Child exploitation is something we take very seriously."
Perez said ICE was informed of the LAPD's investigation after it started and that cops found out then that ICE had its own possible case against the club in the works.
He also emphasized that the investigation had nothing to do with immigration -- that it started with a routine check. At that time, in fact, police were told that an underage girl worked at the club. That helped set the investigation in motion, Perez said.
"The intention is not to deport them and it wasn't an ICE raid," Perez said. "We're not abandoning Special Order 40 or anything like that."
Still, Cabrera argues that the raid was motivated by immigration violations, plain and simple.
He said 25 of the women have come to CHIRLA seeking legal help. The witnesses said the first thing police did during the bust was ask who had papers and who didn't.
La Opinion newspaper notes that it took police a good long time -- until late Wednesday -- to come up with an official statement about the Friday raid. (Google translate).
In any case, Cabrera said he wouldn't be surprised if the other, Latino hostess clubs downtown are targeted by cops.
"We will celebrate the LAPD's attempt to lessen crime in our community," he said. "Any establishment that exploits women whether it be through trafficking or labor law violations should be afraid."
Perez said the other hostess clubs downtown should feel safe -- so long as they're operating within the law:
"Hopefully what comes out of this is that these other places make sure they run their businesses in a safe and legal manner. That's our goal."