San Diego police officers acted “without warrants, probable cause, or reasonable belief,” when they roughed up a mother and her two sons inside their own business, according to a lawsuit filed by the family. The officers say they mistook the two brothers, who entered the store using their own keys, for burglars.
An amended lawsuit was filed last month in U.S. District Court in San Diego on behalf of Hedy Julca and her sons, Luis J. Lobaton, Diego S. Lobaton and a 4-year-old son referred to as “B.C.” in legal filings because of his age. Officers Nathan Parga, Kelvin Lujan, Sam Euler, Ali Bakhshi and the city are named as defendants. The suit also claims officers lied in their official reports in order to cover up what happened.
The July 29, 2014, incident occurred at the family’s wireless business, Lucky Star Mobile, on University Avenue in City Heights and was recorded by several surveillance cameras inside and outside the store. The police officers’ version of what happened, as detailed in their incident reports, differ significantly from the family’s version of events and from surveillance footage that appears to contradict the officers’ stories in key instances.
“A comparison of certain official reports of the incident with the video images revealed that the official reports contained material misstatements of fact that directly contradict the video images,” according to the lawsuit.
Officers patrolling the street watched Luis Lobaton and his girlfriend unlock the front door to the family’s store, which also included a living quarters where the family lived, and walk inside. The officers later wrote in their reports that they believed the two were burglars.
Luis Lobaton’s brother, Diego Lobaton, approached the store about a minute later and was confronted by an officer as he tried to unlock the door.
Police insisted they were never told the family lived at the store until later – though the Lobaton’s mother, Julca, can be seen on the surveillance footage talking to officers from inside the store. Julca said she made it clear to the officers from the beginning that the family owned the business, and that Luis and Diego Lobaton were her sons and had keys to the store.
Soon after police arrived, they stormed into the store and began beating Luis Lobaton. Several officers wrote in their incident reports that Lobaton had assumed a fighting stance and tried to punch an officer. Video, though, appears to show Luis Lobaton trying to film the encounter with his cell phone from inside the store, and backpedaling before officers rushed inside and began striking him. When Julca tried to intervene, she was thrown to the floor by officers and arrested.
Julca was never charged with a crime, and a single charge filed against Luis Lobaton related to the incident was dismissed.
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman watched the surveillance footage of the incident during a November 2014 meeting with the family’s attorney, according to the lawsuit.
A police spokesman confirmed to VOSD in February that the department had opened an internal affairs investigation over the incident. But the lawsuit claims that Zimmerman and the city never “initiated any formal investigation or judicial proceedings by which to discipline the offending officers and/or bring them to justice.”
Lt. Scott M. Wahl, an SDPD spokesman, declined to discuss the outcome of the internal affairs investigation but said the officers named in the lawsuit are still employed by the department.
Steve Walker, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said SDPD never forwarded a report of the officers’ actions to prosecutors for review.
The suit also cites several unrelated instances – including a Justice Department review of SDPD that found it doesn’t do a good enough job rooting out misconduct, the department’s handling of ex-officer Anthony Arevalos and the shooting of unarmed Victor Ortega by an officer – that attorneys for the family say bolster their claims.
“The officers knew that they could engage in misconduct without fear of serious discipline,” the lawsuit says.