The Santa Monica City Council has agreed to look into possible police misconduct after authorities put a school board member under suspicion for child endangerment and then dropped the investigation. The Santa Monica Police Department opened an investigation into Oscar de la Torre after a video of a school fight that he witnessed surfaced.
De la Torre called on the council to look into the police department's actions, calling them “malicious” in a statement given to the Weekly. The school board member said it was “the first time in Santa Monica history that the City Government has authorized an independent review of police practices.”
The council enlisted the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review to undertake the inquiry, he said.
De la Torre says police conducted a four-month investigation following the fight between two boys behind Santa Monica High School, near the Pico Youth and Family Center that de la Torre runs as executive director.
Police said the school board member allegedly committed felony child endangerment by not breaking up the fight before he did.
Video, according to the Santa Monica Mirror, shows him stepping in about 56 seconds into the fight, after both combatants had fallen to the ground. Neither boy was charged. One was Latino, one was black, and racial tensions have been high on the campus for years.
De la Torre contends that one of the boys was a known gang member, and that it was quite possible weapons might have been produced during the fight.
“I understand that I made that choice and I took a risk, but I don't deserve to be publically attacked for doing what's right,” de la Torre told the Mirror.
The investigation might involve bad blood between a detective and the longtime advocate for Santa Monica's largely Latino Pico neighborhood, where the city's only gangs — mainly the Latino Santa Monica 13 and the African-American Graveyard Crips — lie.
Det. Dave Thomas is said to have launched a previous inquiry into de la Torre.
“Police used bias, malicious intent and abuse of police powers to defame my character in a sham investigation,” de la Torre stated. “There is a long history of certain elements in SMPD abusing their role as facilitators of public safety. This is not the first time police attempt to defame my character with false allegations against me and the Pico Youth & Family Center but my hope is that this will be the last,” stated School Board Member Oscar de la Torre.”