Unlawful DUI Checkpoints
One of the most egregious affronts to the immigrant community took place on May 3, 2008 in the City of Pomona. On that evening the Pomona Police initiated a check-point in which motor vehicles were being stopped under the guise of public safety. The police would have several personnel in an area where they would request licenses and confiscate vehicles.
The checkpoint had a myriad of unlawful characteristics. This was not a regular checkpoint stopping vehicles in one direction but a checkpoint stopping vehicles in four directions. The checkpoint was strategically constructed in an area a few blocks from a Cinco de Mayo celebration in an apparent anticipation that there would be plenty of intoxicated drivers from the festivities. The event sponsored by the Camara de Comercio Latina Del Valle De Pomona was a no alcohol community event The Pomona police Department invited several other Southern California police departments to participate in what many considered a brutal assault on the immigrant community. After the evening where hundreds of vehicles were stopped and several dozen vehicles impounded community leaders including then Councilwoman Cristina Carrisoza called for a forum to have the community air their grievances. A coalition of community organizations, clergy and community members had been formed and a community meeting was held on August 21 2008 at 235 W. Third Street in Pomona. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the community residents of the progress that the coalition had made and to provide community residents an opportunity to give public testimony.
Approximately 15 to 20 off duty or undercover Pomona Police Officers from the Pomona Police Department were in attendance when the meeting began. The police officers became disruptive, disrespectful and verbally abusive towards the residents giving testimony, and began to incite those around them. They were yelling negative comments and provoking physical confrontations with people in attendance. They were asked several times by security staff to desist in their disruptive behavior and to follow the established rules.
The plain clothed officers were given the opportunity to speak in an orderly and respectful manner as all other participants did, they continued their unbecoming behaviour and refused to respect the rights of people exercising their right to free speech and to peacefully assemble to seek redress of their grievances. The officers also interfered with the participants’ free exercise of religious expression. The forum was held in a Catholic faith based religious center.
The officers continued to be disruptive and were then asked several times to leave the premises by security staff as their consent to be there was terminated. After 10-to15 minutes of asking them to leave and their continuing refusal to do so, the Pomona Police dispatch was called for assistance as the situation was becoming increasingly volatile. It took about 15 to 20 minutes for uniformed Pomona Police Officers to arrive at which time the plain clothes police officers exited the auditorium but remained outside and continued to be disorderly and confrontational.
The officers made statements to several witnesses that they were from the Pomona Police Offices Association. While on camera, Sergeant O’Malley refused to identify himself only stating he was representative of the Pomona Officers Association. Witnesses also reported a strong odor of alcohol emanating from some of the officer’s breaths. When the dispatched Pomona Police Officers met the unruly officers at the front of the building they were observed by those present to begin to fraternize and laugh off the situation. Uniformed officers refused to take a report even though dozens of citizens requested to file complaints for trespass, assault and criminal threats. Approximately 40 to 50 community members with children left the meeting as they felt threatened by potential violence breaking out because of the un-uniformed Pomona Police Officer’s aggressive misconduct.
The incidents were highly publicized in several of the local papers. The antagonistic attitude of the Pomona Police Department and city officials culminated into a federal lawsuit named Ornelas v. City of Pomona where more than 40 affected individuals filed complaints in the hopes of having redress of the offenses and intimidation they had been subjected to by officers whose responsibility and motto is To Protect and to Serve. After several years the lawsuit was finally settled with the Pomona Police having to donate money to a community’ charity of choice.
The case was tried in federal court and was widely known throughout the inland empire and San Gabriel Valley community. The community efforts and litigation culminated in the city council voting to establish times, locations and durations of future checkpoints, including elimination of checkpoints during day hours and residential areas. The department also had to write a manual that includes federal guidelines as to how to carry out checkpoints.
A few months later the police chief was terminated by the Pomona City Council. Taxpayers through the City of Pomona, paid thousands of dollars to defend the unruly officers who have not curtailed their lawlessness. At the end neither of the high level personnel, including the chief took responsibility for the four-way infamous reten.
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