Photo by Ted SoquiOn February 10, just three weeks before Chief Bernard Parks presented his long-awaited Board of Inquiry report to the Police Commission and the public, a Rampart CRASH officer delivered an unprovoked beating to an unarmed suspect, according to a formal complaint.
The officer involved, Jesus Amezcua, has a reputation on the street for his aggressive, sometimes physical approach to law enforcement.
The subject of the alleged beating, a 24-year-old gang member named Marvin Rod- riguez, is an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who says he was deported just a year ago after being arrested by Amezcua. When Amezcua stopped him this time, Rod- riguez said, he fled. Amezcua gave chase, and when he caught Rodriguez, struck him repeatedly with his baton.
Amezcua and his partner said in their arrest report that Amezcua struck out in self-defense. According to Rodriguez and his attorney, Jose Gonzalez, that version of what happened is false. Moreover, Gonzalez said in his filing, Rodriguez was treated with contempt by the sergeant who took his statement against Amezcua. The sergeant said “he didn’t want to hear anything about any officer using force,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said the arrest appears to stem from the police campaign against Homies Unidos, the gang-intervention project that has been the subject of scrutiny by Rampart officers for more than a year. Rodriguez is not a member of Homies, but he was tailed by Amezcua after picking up a friend from the group’s weekly meeting, held at Immanuel Presbyterian Church on Wilshire Boulevard, Gonzalez said.
Rodriguez could produce no witnesses to the beating. Amezcua’s partner, in his arrest report, said Rodriguez was struck several times with a baton.
An LAPD spokesperson declined to comment on the matter, saying it was a personnel question. Calls to the Rampart Division’s Captain Robert Hansohn were not returned Tuesday.
The arrest took place on a rainy Thursday night soon after 9 p.m., when the Homies Unidos meeting broke up. According to Rebecca Quezada, a gang member known as Laughing Girl who regularly attends Homies workshops, she asked Rodriguez to pick her up at the church because she was fearful of police harassment if she walked home.
Rodriguez had been back in the U.S. for just two weeks. He borrowed his wife’s car to fetch Quezada. Also along for the ride was Darrell Maxione. All three are members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang, which has a strong presence in the Central American barrios of Rampart.
Quezada said in an interview she saw Officer Amezcua when she exited the church, but cannot say for sure when he began following the car. According to the police report, Amezcua and his partner, Officer Mario Marquez, began tailing Rodriguez on Seventh Street.
The ostensible reason for stopping Rodriguez was that he ran a stop sign, though Quezada says there was no traffic violation. The officers followed Rodriguez’s red Honda for several blocks, then turned on their red light and pulled Rodriguez over. Rodriguez refused to cut his engine, however, and when ordered by Amezcua to do so, gunned the engine and sped away.
Quezada confirms that account. “Marvin did pull over, and he was debating what he was going to do. When he saw it was Amezcua, he said, ‘Damn, I’m just gonna get busted again.’ He’s like, ‘Fuck it,’ and he just took off.”
Rodriguez didn’t get very far. He left the curb, tried to pass a car in the rain-slick intersection of Eighth Street and Irolo Street, and slammed head-on into another vehicle. As the passengers in both cars collected themselves — none were seriously injured — Rodriguez leaped from the car and fled on foot. Amezcua did the same, chasing him up Eighth Street and onto Normandie Avenue.
As both cop and suspect ran headlong up Normandie, first Rodriguez and then Amezcua skidded and fell in the wet and the darkness, according to Quezada. She says Rodriguez then surrendered.
“Marvin said Amezcua had the gun in his hand and said, ‘Stop, motherfucker, or I’m going to shoot you.’ So he did, and then Amezcua hit him. Three or four times. With his baton.”
Attorney Gonzalez asserts that Rodriguez had his hands clasped over his head, as the officer ordered, when Amezcua began striking him. “You can tell by the injuries,” Gonzalez said. “Forearm, triceps, the left side of his back. He was trying to surrender.”
Amezcua’s version is given in the arrest report submitted by his partner, Marquez: “During the foot pursuit, my partner slipped on the wet pavement and fell to the ground. He then observed the defendant stop and turn [and] walk rapidly toward him with clenched fists in an aggressive and combative manner. My partner ordered the defendant to get into a modified felony prone and defendant refused. My partner perceived he was about to be physically attacked,” so he pulled out his nightstick “and struck him several times . . . When defendant complied, he was taken into custody.”
Rodriguez dismisses the police account as ridiculous on its face. “He was running away,” the attorney said of his client. “If you’re running from an officer and he falls down, would you stop and try to challenge the guy, or would you keep running?”
Rodriguez and his two companions were handcuffed, arrested and taken to Rampart station. While his friends were soon freed, Rodriguez was booked on charges of felony hit-and-run driving. Once that charge is adjudicated, Rodriguez faces possible deportation to El Salvador.
To Rodriguez’s attorney, Amezcua’s alleged assault is typical of cops from Rampart and their hard-fisted approach to the neighborhoods they patrol. “They dehumanize the people they’re dealing with,” Gonzalez said. Then he added, in a reference to Chief Parks’ recent inquiry into Rampart, “It’s not a question of mediocrity. It’s a question of ethics and principles.”
Gonzalez termed Amezcua’s conduct “brazen,” especially in light of the intense publicity surrounding the conduct of the Rampart CRASH unit.
Rodriguez’s friend Quezada took the whole episode more personally. She claims that Amezcua often attempts to find her in violation of one statute or another, and targets her friends when he can’t nail her. “I feel like it’s my fault,” she said. “Amezcua tries to mess with me but he can’t, because I’m clean. And I was born here, so where are they going to deport me to?”