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|DA Drops de la Torre Investigation|
By Jorge Casuso
July 23, 2010 -- The Los Angeles County District Attorney will not investigate whether School Board member Oscar de la Torre committed felony child endangerment when he failed to immediately stop a fight in an alley near Santa Monica High School.
Santa Monica Police had presented the findings of a four-month-long investigation into the behavior of de la Torre, the executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, after he arrived at the videotaped incident that took place on March 16.
At a press conference at the center Friday afternoon, de la Torre demanded an apology from the police department (which police spokesman Jay Trisler said would not be given) and said he was considering all options, including filing a lawsuit and calling for an investigation of the lead investigator he has claimed has a personal vendetta against him.
His attorney, Wilfredo Trivino Perez, said that he had sent a letter to the City Attorney requesting an investigation and that he and his client would wait for a response before considering legal action.
De la Torre has insisted that the investigation was unwarranted, claiming he intervened in the fight after making sure it was safe to do so 56 seconds after arriving on the scene. He said one of the students in the fight had been the intended victim in an attempted homicide five months earlier.
"I was nervous," de la Torre, who is the father of two small children, told The Lookout.
The video, aired at the press conference, shows de la Torre approaching the fight in progress, gauging the situation and attempting to intervene when the fighters go to the ground. When they go to the ground a second time, he breaks up the fight.
"If a regular citizen enters the arena and gets peace, they'd get an award," de la Torre said before the conference. "What I get is false allegations and alleged criminal behavior."
De la Torre told The Lookout he believes the investigation was politically motivated. He said he first learned about the videotape from School District Supt. Tim Cuneo, who called to inform him that a DVD had been dropped off at his office one week after the incident.
Accompanying it was a note that read, "This is a guy who goes around breaking windows and then opens a window repair business," de la Torre said.
When he asked to see the video, he was told it was "privileged information," said de la Torre, who obtained the video via email from a staff member at the high school.
In an interview with The Lookout, De la Torre said he believes there is "collusion between high level district officials who I have been critical of " and Police Sgt. David Thomas, the lead investigator in the case.
De la Torre noted that Sgt. Thomas was the target of complaints from Mothers for Justice, a group he helped organize in 2002 after "police were charging 12 and 13-year-old boys with assault with a deadly weapon for a fist fight."
The investigation represents a setback in de la Torre and the center's efforts to build better relations with the Police Department and Chief Tim Jackman, who was given an award last year, de la Torre said.
"We've been making attempts to build better community-relations," he said, "but we lost all hope for that to ever happen."
In a statement release shortly after de la Torre's press conference, police defended the investigation.
"After police review of the evidence, normal procedures were followed including interviewing witnesses and obtaining a search warrant. The search warrant was granted after a judicial assessment that there was probable cause.
"The Santa Monica Police Department has a duty to protect the children of this community," the statement said. "In this case, information was carefully and thoroughly investigated which cumulated in the District Attorney review."
When asked if the police department would apologize, Trisler said, "No."
Jonathan Friedman and Frank Gruber contributed to this report.
“If a regular citizen enters the arena and gets peace, they'd get an award. What I get is false allegations and alleged criminal behavior.” Oscar de la Torre
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