By Dennis Bernstein
July 27, 2010
The Los Angeles Police Department’s Foothill Division, made famous by the videotaped beating of Rodney King almost two decades ago, has been caught in action again – this time on a cell-phone video – breaking up a family birthday party in Pacoima, California.
The Baro family of Mexican immigrants was celebrating the 22nd birthday of Walter Baro on July 17 when the incident began. Two LAPD officers arrived shortly after midnight claiming they had received noise complaints from a neighbor.
According to Walter Baro’s 26-year-old sister, Elida, there was a brief exchange at the front door and the police ordered them to end the party and send their 70 guests packing.
“We went outside and spoke to the cops,” said Elida Baro in an interview. “They said you have to turn off the music because we have received several calls. So we said okay, if that’s what we have to do, that’s what we have to do.”
Her father asked what the penalty would be for a noise complaint and was told the ticket could be $1,500 or more, Elida Baro said, adding:
“So then my Dad said, ‘okay, we’ll tell everyone to leave but most of the people that are here are extended family, they are going to be staying, not everybody is going to be coming out.’”
At that, the officer got mad, she said, and began cursing at her father, demanding that everybody get out of the house in 30 seconds.
Elida Baro said her father responded by saying, “you know, what, I’m in my house, I know you are doing your job, but you don’t have to speak to me like that. I’m not disrespecting you, so you don’t disrespect me.”
At that point, the officer announced that he was going to call for “back-up” and that everybody had to leave the house, she said.
“So, my Dad, said ‘okay, we’re going inside, we’re taking everybody out, but just calm down.’ That’s when the other cop said, ‘okay, now you have 20 seconds. We’ll give you 20 seconds to take everybody out.’”
Handcuffs for the Birthday Boy
The police apparently were intent on keeping their word. Almost instantaneously, dozens of police, including a heavily armed SWAT team with a surveillance helicopter circling overhead, swung into action.
“They were very aggressive and it wasn’t called for,” said Walter Baro. “I was walking inside the house and it didn’t even take … a minute when already the helicopter came and there was about 30 officers walking in with their batons and their SWAT gear. And they just had me [kept] hitting me with the baton on my arm.”
“Like 20 cops came inside my house,” said Elida Baro. “They broke the doors. … They dropped my brother and I just started screaming, ‘leave him alone, you have him handcuffed. Leave him alone.’ So one cop came up to me and he put the baton in front of my face and he said, ‘Shut the.. ‘ You know bad words. …
“And then my elder brother, the one that’s 28, he just stood up in front of me and said ‘Don’t hit her, just leave my sister alone.’ So that’s when I turned around, and as I was turning around I just heard, ‘Get the one in the brown shirt.’
“And I looked back; my brother was wearing a brown shirt. They grabbed him, they handcuffed him, they took him outside and they just got him from his head, and started banging his head against the wall. …
“Meanwhile, they were trying to get my cousin’s camera, the only video that we rescued, the one that’s on You Tube. They were calling him to come outside because they wanted to get the camera.”
Elida Baro said police seized other cell-phone and video recordings of the event and erased them; however, the one that survived is now posted on You Tube under the heading, “Family Party Aftermath with LAPD.”
The blurry cell phone video shows a force of police officers in the house amid a mixture of screams, groans and mass confusion among the partygoers on how to leave. At least two police officers were swinging a baton at a guest.
Elida Baro also complained that a number of children who had been put in a bedroom with the permission of the police were later removed and had to walk through broken glass with bare feet.
“They were in the main bedroom, my parent’s bedroom,” she said. “We didn’t want them to hear what was going on, or see what was going on. So it was my little brother, cousins, friends that we just put them inside the room, we just told them stay here, don’t come out.
“But then an officer just went inside and he said, ‘Get the…’ using bad words, ‘…Out, out, out. Everybody out.’ …
“My little cousin walked through the glass, he cut his feet. … He couldn’t stand the pain; there was a point that he was crawling. It was hurting so bad. They didn’t care.”
Walter Baro, his father and seven others were arrested and more than 20 were allegedly roughed up. Ultimately, seven members of the Baro family and two friends were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and lesser charges, including resisting arrest, according to Elida Baro.
However, the police reported no guns or weapons seized at the scene of the birthday-party melee. Some of those arrested were released on their own recognizance; others were released on bails of up to $50,000.
The Baro family, which has filed complaints of police brutality against the LAPD, asserted that they were racially profiled and that the LAPD’s invasion of the birthday party was premeditated.
“The helicopter was already surrounding my house,” said Elida Baro. “It wasn’t even 20 seconds, 30 seconds … after they first came. It was like they had their team … just around the corner.”
But even though the birthday partygoers were attempting to evacuate the house and leave the area, the police stormed in anyway, she said. “As you see on the video, they [the police] started pushing people.”
Six days after the incident and shortly after it became known that there was a cell-phone video on You Tube, the police issued a statement, saying “The LAPD’s Internal Affairs Group is conducting an investigation. Part of that investigation will include a review of videos that may have been taken of the incident, interviews of involved parties and available evidence.”
The July 23 statement also revealed “LAPD’s Foothill Division received a number of calls that same evening and interviewed people who attended the party and complained about the actions of the officers including excessive force.”
According to the belated police statement, the LAPD officers who first arrived at the home “were met by a large group of people, estimated at 60 to 70, who were causing a disturbance. As more officers arrived, people from the party began throwing rocks, bottles…at the officers.
“A help call was broadcast by an LAPD Air Support Unit overhead. One officer was hit in the head by a heavy object and had to be taken to a local hospital where he was treated for a concussion.”
Living in Fear
As a result of the incident, Elida Baro said she will never be able to rest peacefully in her own house; she will always fear that the police may come at any time and turn her life upside down without reason or justification. She also felt there was a racial component.
“Most of them were white,” she said. “In their faces you could see their hate towards, I don’t know if it’s just us Mexicans or Latinos. You could just see the cop in the video taking out his rage against everybody, you could see the hate in his face and he was just hitting because, I guess, that’s what he wanted to do. For us it was an act of racism towards us?”
She said she felt powerless to do anything on behalf of her father and two brothers as they were being roughed up by armed police.
“It’s really hard, screaming to them and telling them to stop kicking my brother, just feeling I couldn’t do anything,” Elida Baro said. “I couldn’t do anything. They weren’t listening to me. They got my two brothers and my dad. My dad has diabetes, they dropped him to the floor, they put their knee in my dad’s head. And one of the cops just came by and kicked him when he was already handcuffed. …
“Today I was just listening to my little brother, he’s 10 years old, and he’s telling me, ‘I’m scared of the cops.’ He wakes up in the middle of the night now and goes to my parent’s room and asks is everything okay, because he’s scared that something like this might happen again.”
Dennis Bernstein based this report in part on interviews done for “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at [email protected].