Parents Claim Children Were Abused at Police Boot Camp

They said the youngsters underwent seven days of physical and verbal abuse while attending the "Leadership Empowerment And Discipline Program" in San Luis Obispo

Parents have accused Southern California officers of beating their children at a police boot camp.

They said the youngsters underwent seven days of physical and verbal abuse while attending the "Leadership Empowerment And Discipline Program" in the Central Coast community of San Luis Obispo two weeks ago.

The camp was sponsored by the police departments of Huntington Park, South Gate and the National Guard, however parents said their children were abused by officers running the event.

One mother, Araceli Pulido, who sent her 12 and 14 year old daughters, said one of her girls was "slapped in the face" and "kicked in the ribs if she didn't do her push ups right.

"One of my oldest daughters said she wanted to become a cop," Pulido said. "She's traumatized. They told her they got paid for her to get hit."

Another parent Mrs. Salazar said her 13-year-old son was also assaulted at the camp.

"They had him by the neck with their forearm and they just beat in his head, stomach, everywhere," she said.

Veronica Bernal said her 16-year-old son had a fractured hand but that he wouldn't tell her how it happened.

When asked if took the child to the hospital, she said she did not because the fracture was from a previous injury, although her attorney claimed a doctor deemed the hand was broken.

Lawyer Gregory Owen said he could not believe what his clients said had gone on. He said they told him they were beaten if they didn't follow orders in what was called a dark room.

"Before they came out they would throw them a towel and say wipe the blood off," Owen said.

Owen claims the parents had photos but that investigators took all of those and he could not provide copies.

He also denied requests to see proof of any injuries by way of medical reports.

"If any of this is true, more than one of the officers may have committed 50 or more batteries on each child. That's not what boot camp is," Owen said.

Program administrators say the goal of LEAD is to "redirect" at-risk youth.

"Nothing of this nature has ever occurred," said Huntington Park Police Chief George Cisneros.

The program has been around since 1998 and each session lasts 20 weeks - one of those weeks in boot camp in San Luis Obispo, where the allegations come from.

Cisneros said the Huntington Park police officers involved have been removed from the program while the investigation is underway, but have not been removed from patrol duties in the community.

That's an issue Owen said doesn't make sense.

"If they're that violent with young children, what are they like if you're stopped by them in a dark alley?" he said.

South Gate Police Chief Randy Davis said his officers have been placed on paid administrative leave out of the program and out of the field.

Neither department would say how many of its officers are being investigated.

As for the program itself, it's nearly half-way through the 20-week run and administrators are debating if the current class will continue amid these allegations.

"We don't want to diminish the value of the program," Chief Davis said. "We do want to be responsive to the parents involved -- first and foremost is the youth in the program."

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office is investigating the abuse claims.

Owen said just three days ago the children were secluded from their parents to be questioned about the allegations with the officers involved in the room to listen.

Owen said that caused many of his clients to be less-than-forthcoming with information. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's officials deny the deputies were present but Owen says he's unsure just how fair the investigation will be.

"Because if it isn't done properly," Owen said, "I'll give you my personal guarantee I'll contact the Department of Justice and the FBI and ask them to do their own independent investigation."

John Cádiz Klemack contributed to this report.

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