Deputies suspended after caught beating suspected illegal immigrants
April 2, 1996
Web posted at: 11:05 a.m. EST
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Two sheriff's deputies were suspended with pay after they clubbed two suspected illegal immigrants on Monday. A helicopter news crew videotaped the beatings, which occurred at the end of a high-speed chase along a California freeway. (700K QuickTime movie)
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has launched a criminal investigation into the incident, said Sgt. Mark Lohman of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.
The videotape shows a Riverside County sheriff's deputy swing his baton at one suspect six times. He can also be seen aiming another three blows at a second person -- believed to be a woman -- and pulling her to the ground by the hair. Another deputy appears to strike her as well.
Neither the man or woman appeared to resist the officers.
Members of one immigrant rights organization who viewed the tape said they will seek a federal investigation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California also called for a Justice Department probe.
"Enforcement is one thing," said Luke Williams, an immigrant rights advocate. "This is just a clear abuse." (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)
ACLU executive director Ramona Ripston observed, "It's another Rodney King," referring to the 1991 videotaped beating of the motorist by police officers after a high-speed chase. The officers' acquittal on state criminal charges led to the Los Angeles riots. Two officers later were convicted on federal charges.
The Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund told CNN, "The behavior demonstrated by law enforcement officers goes beyond anyone's conception of fair and human treatment."
The U.S. Border Patrol said a pickup truck crammed with at least 20 people was chased by authorities for about 70 miles. The chase went through parts of Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties before ending on Pomona Freeway about 20 miles east of Los Angeles.
At times, the suspects pulled off pieces of their camper shell and threw them on the highway.
Border Patrol Agent Ron Henley said the chase began on a road commonly used by smugglers to avoid an immigration checkpoint. Agents pursued with lights and sirens, but -- as is their policy -- Henley said agents backed off and called the Sheriff's Department when the truck did not stop.
Riverside deputies took over the chase until the truck finally pulled over and the suspects fled. They were later captured in a nearby plant nursery and the surrounding area.
The videotaped incident comes at a time when illegal immigration is as controversial as ever in California. Voters recently passed a measure that would crack down on illegal immigrants and deny them public benefits. The measure, Proposition 187, is being challenged in the courts.
Ron Prince, author of the controversial measure, said Monday's incident only shows the kind of problems that occur when U.S. borders are not more effectively controlled.
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