The mother of Verdugo Hills High School student Jeremy Marks, accused of “attempted lynching” of a campus police officer after he used his cell phone camera to record the officer striking another student, is calling foul after her home was searched for three hours by nearly 20 investigators, many with guns drawn.
Marks' mother, Rochelle Pittman, has officially requested an Internal Affairs investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department. She alleges that on the morning of Jan. 26, several Foothill Division police raided her Lakeview Terrace home, freely pawing through her family's belongings for more than 30 minutes before anyone presented her with a search warrant, threatening her neighbors at gunpoint and then giving her an unreadable list of items they took from her house.
Pittman tells L.A. Weekly she was horrified as they “searched through my kids' backpacks and still had their guns drawn. … They did body searches, and felt around the baby. They trashed both my sons' rooms.”
According to Pittman, when her neighbor Jason Glothon saw what was unfolding, “he came to get his kids, ages 11 and 13,” who were at Pittman's to get a ride to school from her, “and the police pointed their guns at him and told him to leave. He wouldn't go without his kids and told them so. We were scared to death.”
Neighbor Glothon tells the Weekly, “There were about 10 cars and a SWAT van” and it “was hard to keep up with the volume of cars at the Marks house. All the officers had guns drawn! Those were my kids at Rochelle's front door.”
Glothon adds, “SWAT got out with their guns drawn and went toward my children. I had to call my kids to get them out of the way.”
The subject of this intense police interest, the 18-year-old Marks, was arrested after a controversial incident May 10 at a Metro bus stop near his high school. That's where Marks videotaped L.A. School Police Department Officer Erin Robles violently grappling with an unidentified 15-year-old student whom Robles caught smoking.
As the Weekly has previously reported, the unidentified smoker was puffing a cigarette, joint or cigar when Robles objected. The young smoker and Robles began struggling with each other as two dozen students waiting for the bus, including Marks, looked on. Some of the kids jeered Robles while others documented her actions with their cell phone cameras.
[See VIDEO here taken by other students that shows Jeremy Marks in background, in gray shirt, taking photos.)
Marks alone was singled out by police and charged felonies including “attempted lynching” — which together carry up to seven years in prison — for allegedly shouting “Kick her ass!” as he watched the young smoker hit Robles, who struck back with her baton and Mace.
Marks, who touched no one during the incident, was thrust into the tough Pitchess Detention Center for adults, where, at the request of prosecutors who accused Marks of being a Pacoima Piru Bloods gang member, a Superior Court judge boosted his bail to $155,000.
That was a price his mother, a city swimming pool attendant, couldn't pay.
Marks lived at Pitchess for nine months until a humanitarian from the Bay Area, Google engineer Neil Fraser, read about the case in the Weekly and provided $50,000 for Marks' bail, freeing him just days before Christmas.
In her Jan. 23 search warrant, District Attorney senior investigator Cynthia Palm sought Marks' phone-camera images and any other “photographs, images, audio and/or video recordings of the incident … and the attempted lynching (rescue from police custody) … by fellow Pacoima Piru Blood gang members.”
According to a property receipt, seven investigators searched Pittman's home and vehicles, seizing her cell phone and computer from her bedroom, as well as electronic devices belonging to other family members. Neighbor Glothon says it looked as if the officers “were fixing to go up there and do some serious damage. SWAT officers didn't just jump out of the truck with their hands in their pockets.”
Janet Moore, director of the DA's Bureau of Branch & Area Operations, insists, “There were no guns drawn. That's not the way that we do things unless some sort of threat was presented, and I have not been told that that happened.”
But Capt. Jesse Prieto, the DA's investigator who headed the search, says something very different. He says LAPD officers drew their guns, but didn't point them at residents.
In an apparently coordinated search in Sunland-Tujunga the same day, eight investigators and two LAPD officers searched the home of student Jesse Cruz, a high school acquaintance of Marks'.
Cruz's father tells the Weekly that the search of their home was harrowing, and he was not presented with a search warrant for nearly an hour. “When they pulled my son, Jesse Jr., out of his bed, they had the gun up to his head. My whole family was put against the fence outside while they searched inside.”
Cruz Sr., who is disabled, says, “It felt like they were ripping my left shoulder off my body.” He has had several surgeries for an accident that left burns over 40 percent of his body. According to Cruz Sr., the officers wore riot gear, had come with a battering ram and had drawn their guns. “It was pretty scary,” he says.
Mark Ravis, Jeremy Marks' attorney, says the searches were “executed in a way that was terrifying to the Marks family and neighbors as well as terrifying to an important and totally innocent defense witness [Jesse Cruz].”
The warrants reveal a new twist in the much-discussed “attempted lynching” allegations against Marks: The DA now is pursuing evidence of “surveillance, harassment and intimidation of school police officers,” including any documents containing the names or home addresses of the Los Angeles Unified School District's campus cops.
The DA now claims that while Marks was imprisoned at Pitchess Detention Center, school police were harassed and their residences as well as two campus police cars were burglarized. “Some of the harassment appears to have been carried out by individuals who are closely aligned with [Marks] based on their common gang ties,” the DA alleges.
Prosecutors apparently want evidence to bolster their claim in a Jan. 18 court document that labels him “an entrenched Pacoima Piru Bloods gang member with a history of violent crime.”
The Weekly has reported that Marks was convicted of burglary as a juvenile — for trying to steal a bike and an iPod — and was given probation. DA Steve Cooley's team is claiming he also engaged in tagging before his mother transferred him to Verdugo Hills High School to help him improve his grades.
Pittman angrily dismisses the DA's gangbanger allegations: “Of course they would talk to each other from time to time — but that doesn't mean they hang out together or commit crimes together!”
A law enforcement report says Robles had “probable cause” to investigate the smoking boy last May 10 after the boy allegedly threw gang signs at her school-police car and yelled, “Piru Bloods, fuck you, fucking pig, fucking dyke. You are not fucking real police.”
The Weekly interviewed five of 17 named eyewitnesses to the bus-stop incident, and all say that Marks was sitting on a low wall, then stood up to aim his cell phone camera at Robles as she hit the struggling young smoker, identified by students as “Jerry.” Besides Marks, other students also recorded the altercation, and two widely viewed videos are on YouTube.
One teen eyewitness says, “Jeremy didn't do anything. He just sat on the wall watching. He did get up, but it was when he took out his phone to video the cop beating up Jerry. I never heard him yell nothing at her.”
Last July 6, Robles testified that yet another teen, identified as Subject 2 — not Marks — took off his belt “and had wrapped it around his knuckles so that the 'P' emblem was showing, and said, 'I'm going to beat the shit out of you.' ”
Caroline Aguirre, a retired parole agent from the California Department of Corrections and an expert on dealing with gangs, says Robles violated police policy by approaching potential gang members alone.
After reviewing documents from the case, Aguirre suggests Robles was engaging in a show of power that got out of hand.
Joel Farkas, of Syd Arthur Licit, the attorney for the smoking student, calls Robles' accusations that her life was under threat during the bus-stop incident a “cover-up” of her own errors, “and not a very good one at that. … How does she explain why these so-called thugs exercised such restraint and composure that they never actually attacked her?”
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