Young men play basketball in Barrio Logan on Chicano Park Day on April 22, 2023.
File photo of Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

When I was a community reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, I went to a lot of community planning group meetings. Most of the time, I went to connect with residents, but occasionally I’d witness a big blowout.

Be it about a new development, the city replacing parking with bike lanes (that one is a hot topic) or other concerns, it was always fascinating.

This week, a big blowout at a group’s meeting caught my attention. It had nothing to do with the zoning and land-use issues, and everything to do with police officers pushing a teenager to the ground and putting another in handcuffs at a park in the neighborhood.

What Went Down at the Meeting

On Wednesday, while the Barrio Logan Planning Group meeting was going on, the group’s board chair asked a police officer to leave. Police officers, like many other city and county representatives, attend these meetings to update residents about work they are doing in the community. Often officers provide crime stats or make note of public safety concerns.

I was dying to know what happened.

Enter Instagram. A video on social media shows an individual demanding that the officer leave.

“If you don’t want to have this pig here you need to start making some noise,” he said.

In response, the Barrio Logan Planning Group’s chair asked the officer to leave. He left.

But there was more to the story.

What Happened at the Park

San Diego Police parked in the middle of the road to talk to a man yelling in Hillcrest on Dec. 20, 2022.
File photo of a San Diego Police vehicle. / Photo by Gabriel Schneider for Voice of San Diego

On Tuesday, a day before the group’s meeting, two teens at Chicano Park were approached by San Diego Police officers. A resident started recording video while the police officers spoke to the teens.

During the first minute of the recording, a woman is asking the officers why they are speaking to the boys. One of the boys explains to the officer that he is not truant from school, and suggests that they call the school to confirm. Two women continue asking the officers why they are questioning the two boys. One of the officers responds by saying that she’s not the boys’ mom and that they need to conduct an investigation. Then the officer says, “Let’s go the the car.”

That’s when everything changes.

One of the boys gets closer to the women and the officer holds the top strap of his backpack. At the same time, the other officer pulls the other boy and spins around several times struggling to get him on the ground. The women start to panic and yell, “what are you doing!” The officer gets on top of him and cuffs him.

The other officer puts the standing boy in handcuffs. That boy asks the woman to grab his phone from his pocket and to call his parents. He gives the woman his password out loud.

Sirens breakout. More police offers show up. Then more residents surround them and record what’s happening. The teens are standing up against a patrol car near the park’s restrooms. More sirens and more police officers show up to the park. The officers drive through Chicano Park and park on the grass.

This is five minutes into the recording. One of the boys is still trying to give the woman the password to his phone so she can call his parents.

The boys are placed in a vehicle. One woman continues to speak to the officers. She tells them that the boys were helping remove fliers that were glued throughout the neighborhood.

At that point, seven minutes into the recording, there were at least eight police cars parked on the grass at the park, the video shows. Some officers returned to their cars. Residents stayed to yell at the officers about what happened to the boys. Eventually, all the officers left.

I didn’t hear back from SDPD about the incident.

The Aftermath at the Planning Group

In another video, four officers standing outside the San Diego Police Department Central Division station on Imperial Avenue are talking to residents about the incident. I couldn’t confirm if all the people in the video are related to the boys, but one identified himself as the father of one of the boys.

“He had no reason to grab my son that way,” the man tells a police officer on the recording.

Later, two officers explain that one boy pulled away, which is why the officer pushed him to the ground. Another officer explains that the officers needed to conduct a full investigation of what the boys were suspected of doing: truancy.

One woman asks if it’s an initiative of SDPD to enforce truancy. The officer says, no it’s not an initiative, it’s part of the municipal code. It’s known as “Daytime Loitering hours” a period between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on any school day when juveniles can’t be in public without a guardian’s permission.

I couldn’t confirm what time the officers spoke to the teens on Tuesday.

A woman asks if the officers’ actions were justified.

He responds by saying: “The behavior of everyone at the park was completely unacceptable … that lead to us having to take them.”

The day after the incident the woman who posted the video shared her account with the Barrio Logan Planning Group. The planning group’s chair cut her off because she was speaking for longer than four minutes during the meeting’s public comment period and they needed to move on to other speakers. The woman said she did not feel the police should be welcome at the park or the meeting.

Later, the other speaker showed up to demand that the officer leave. He’s the chair of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, a group that oversees the park. The committee last month put out a statement regarding two different interactions with police officers at the park.

Some planning group members expressed concern about getting involved. The group meets at the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center, which is a few feet from where the incident happened.

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Voice of San Diego. She welcomes conversations...

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  1. Do we know what happened next? Were the boys taken in for being truant? One of the boys said that he wasn’t truant so was that clarified? How can we get the kids to trust officers if this is the way they are being treated? Does this happen in Point Loma or La Jolla if there are young people out during school hours?

    1. Quite frankly, kids found in this situation living in La Jolla would be met by a catering truck and lounge chairs. Dan Smiechowski a San Diego Mayoral candidate calls em likes he sees em.

  2. The tactics described don’t constitute a reasonable standard for conducting an investigation. All the officers needed to do was acquire a photo, names, and what schools the boys attended. From there, the officers could have gone to their school with photos, verified the boys’ identities, and determined whether they were truant. Still, truancy shouldn’t require apprehension by itself. Rather, truancy ought to be a charge added to other, more serious, crimes, provided there are more serious crimes being committed. Considering one of the boys was asking a stranger to call his father, it seems likely, under a presumption of innocence, that he wasn’t truant or at the park without parental consent.

  3. I agree, send all the police up to North County where we welcome them. Should have arrested Karen for interfering. You can police the hood by yourselves.

  4. Had the women simply video taped the interaction without yelling and interfering the entire incident may have gone down differently. Perhaps let the officers verify the out of school status without a mob getting involved the officers could have verified the students were not breaking the truancy law. The woman and neighborhood mob did nothing but create more conflict. Even the ACLU on their website say let officers do their job without resistance and interference, then if your rights were violated contact them and they will look into if a civil rights violation occurred.

    What good did the antagonist at the community meeting do but continue the drama. These people hurt the community as a whole and teardown lines of communication, but in the end that’s what these antagonist wanted to do.

    Now officers will avoid the area, crime will go up in the park, victims will be created and then people will complain they are not treated like La Jolla.

    Speaking of places like La Jolla why are they different? Well it because they don’t run around starting conflict like in the park, others don’t join in with a mob mentality and they don’t show up at meeting yelling “Pigs”. In other neighborhoods parents, not some crazy lady in the park, ask for a supervisor and then the parents complain if it even gets that far.

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