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ACLU Lawsuit generates mixed reaction

City officials say they're working with the union and were surprised by suit.

October 14, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • Attorney David Sapp speaks to the media during a press conference by the ACLU about a lawsuit filed against the Glendale police, L.A. police, L.A. County Probation Dept. and the city of Glendale, at Pacific Park in Glendale on Thursday, October 13, 2011. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Attorney David Sapp speaks to the media during a press…

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging racial profiling at Hoover High School was met with mixed reaction Friday as officials defended a 2010 operation in which dozens of Latino students were allegedly interrogated as an effort to keep gang activity at bay.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that approximately 55 Latino students were detained and searched at lunch on Sept. 24, 2010. Those targeted were intimidated and interrogated about any scars, tattoos and gang affiliations, and were ordered to stop hanging out with one another at lunch, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs also alleged that personal information and mug shots were collected.

Defendants include several Glendale Unified administrators, the Glendale and Los Angeles police departments and Los Angeles County Probation Department.

Glendale City Atty. Mike Garcia said he had not read the lawsuit, and therefore could not comment on specific allegations. But he did say he was aware of the incident and believed Glendale police had done nothing wrong.

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“The city believes it did not engage in unlawful or inappropriate activity,” Garcia said. “The city has been working in good faith with the ACLU to address its concerns. The city is surprised at the filing of a lawsuit before it had the opportunity to conclude those discussions with the ACLU.”

He added that city officials occasionally partner with Glendale Unified on education and intervention programs, “in order to educate [students] on the risks and negative impacts of becoming involved in criminal activities.”

L.A.P.D. spokesman Comdr. Andrew Smith said the department frequently works with other agencies, including Glendale police, to target gang activity.

Any allegation of racial profiling will be thoroughly investigated, Smith said, but added all officers know the practice is unacceptable.

“The idea that these kids were racially profiled — I would use the word preposterous,” Smith said. “Our guys don’t do that.”

Glendale Unified spokesman Steven Frasher said that the event was planned after several Hoover High School staff members expressed concern about possibly gang activity in one area of the campus.

The district will do everything in its power to keep students from walking down the wrong life path, he said, adding that the roundup resulted in an improved campus environment and student academic performance.

Several Hoover High School students interviewed on their way to class Friday had a different take. If school officials were concerned about student behavior, many said they could have held a meeting to discuss it.

Hoover senior Mirna Alvarado, 17, said she was among those targeted.

“They treated us like criminals,” she said. “They even checked our backpacks. They took my cell phone away too, and they actually read my text messages. The cops shouldn’t do that.”

Other students said Hoover High is a safe campus, and that they are not aware of any school-site gang activity.

“None of them were involved in gangs,” said junior Raciel Ramirez, 16. “I guess it is just because they hung out there, and the way they dressed. I think [the officials] went about it all wrong.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, as well as the destruction of all personal information and photos collected during the searches.

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