Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers descended on a number of Southern California communities last week, spreading fear that mass-deportations were underway across Los Angeles County, home to nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants.
Rumors of local police cooperating with ICE officers spread quickly, especially in working class, immigrant communities where distrust of police is in some cases already high.
Since 2014, the California Trust Act has prohibited local jails from holding people under arrest for longer periods than charges require just to give ICE more time to decide whether to take the person into custody.
The two largest law enforcement agencies in the region, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Dept., have both said they will not act as “immigration agents” or cooperate with federal immigration officers.
Smaller police forces, many in cities with large numbers immigrant residents or in the case of Vernon, workers, also say they want to leave immigration enforcement to federal authorities.
Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros told EGP he was surprised to hear that one of last week’s raids took place in nearby Downey. He said the Vernon Police Department has no plans to assist ICE with such raids or to detain people in the country without authorization until ICE can take them into custody.
“We don’t work hand-in-hand with ICE,” Calleros emphasized. “We don’t hold anyone on ICE detainers, only actual warrants signed by a judge.”
Calleros said immigration issues are not an area the city gets involved in.
“We don’t ask if you are here illegally, that’s not our job,” he explained, saying it’s the job of the federal government.
He added that Vernon Police would only assist ICE if it were a matter of public safety.
In neighboring Bell Gardens, police Chief Robert E. Barnes also told EGP his department does not get involved in immigration-related matters.
He clarified, however, that some Bell Gardens PD detectives work with ICE agents as part of the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force (L.A. IMPACT), which investigates major narcotic crimes.
EGP was unable to verify whether the LA IMPACT task force assisted in ICE raids last week,
Barnes acknowledged that some of past mistrust of Bell Gardens police might still linger in the working class, predominately Latino southeast city.
“We used to have issues with DUI Checkpoints,” he said, recalling that some people believed the checkpoints were really a pretense for checking a person’s immigration status.
But “that’s not even on our radar” these days, Barnes said.
When asked about the Montebello Police Department’s stance on immigration during the city’s first-ever virtual neighborhood watch meeting last week, Sgt. Marc Marty said a person’s immigration status does not change anything.
“When someone commits a crime, whether or not you’re an [undocumented] immigrant or citizen, we arrest you,” he said. “We arrest people based on the violation of the law and let the courts decide what to do with them.”
Nearby Commerce contracts with the LA County Sheriff’s Department for its policing services, and therefore falls under that department’s guidelines when it comes to immigration enforcement.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell has on numerous occasions sought to assure immigrants that the LA County Sheriff Department is committed to helping all people regardless of their immigration status. He’s emphasized that deputies do not participate in the process of determining the immigration status of people in their custody, or that of crime victims.
Both Calleros and Barnes told EGP they have not received any calls related to the raids from residents or businesses in their respective cities, despite rumors of local police in some areas assisting in immigration checkpoints that have since been discredited.
Both police chiefs did say however, there is one phone call they hope to get should ICE decide to conduct similar operations in Bell Gardens or Vernon.
“I hope that if they do come into our city they give us a courtesy call so we have an idea of what’s going on,” said Calleros.
An armed robbery in Bell Gardens Thursday morning ended with one suspect in custody and at least one other still on the loose, after an hour long chase and officer involved shooting that continued into neighboring Downey.
After receiving multiple 9-1-1 calls, Bell Gardens police officers at around 10:47 a.m. responded to an armed robbery in progress at the Verizon Wireless Store located at 7220 Eastern Ave. Workers and customers were held at gunpoint by at least two men before the suspects made off with a significant amount of merchandise, Capt. Scott Fairfield told EGP.
One of the suspects, identified as 25-year-old Dillan Wilson, fled and a pursuit ensued when officers located his vehicle and attempted a traffic stop. At one point the suspect’s vehicle – a black Saturn SUV – struck two occupied vehicles at the intersection of Garfield and Gage Avenue, police said.
One of the lead police vehicles involved in the pursuit early on overheated and caught fire.
The chase continued into the city of Downey where at one point Wilson turned onto Denvers Street, a dead end. The suspect then threw his car into reverse, ramming two police cars as officers attempted to exit their vehicles, BG police said.
According to police, Wilson allegedly drove towards an officer standing nearby prompting a second officer to fire multiple shots at the vehicle in an attempt to stop the suspect. The chase continued onto Bluff Road, another dead-end, at which time the suspect jumped out of the car and fled on foot into the nearby Rio Hondo River.
Wilson was taken into custody following a short foot pursuit, police said.
At the time of the arrest Wilson was bleeding from his head and arm and was treated on scene by paramedics before being cleared for booking. It is unclear whether Wilson suffered injuries caused by a grazed bullet during the gunfire or from shattered glass. No officers were hurt.
A handgun reported stolen from Whittier was recovered from the suspect’s vehicle. Wilson is facing charges of armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, felony evading, hit and run and a possession of a stolen handgun, according to Fairfield.
Police are still searching for the other suspect or suspects involved in the armed robbery. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Bell Gardens Police Department.
The Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau is investigating the officer-involved shooting.
It was a rare rainy night but the Bell Gardens City Council Chamber was jammed packed. Representatives of local elected officials, business owners, city employees, friends and family had shown up to watch a new member of the council be sworn in along with two newly reelected members.
In many ways the meeting marked the start of a new era, taking place just months after the death of longtime councilman and Mayor Daniel Crespo, who was fatally shot by his wife last September.
Toward the back of the chambers sat a large group of residents, many wearing translation devices to help them understand the speeches and accolades being handed out. An attractive woman, her sandy blonde hair conservatively pulled back, stood at the end of one of the aisles, gesturing and quietly explaining in Spanish what was going on. She pointed out the city attorney and city manager, explaining what they do in the city. Following the meeting, she called over the representatives of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and Supervisor Hilda Solis, and told her audience “this is who you have to call if you have a problem with …”
From Boyle Heights to Bell Gardens, Mary Lou Trevis has made it her life’s mission to empower her community, reduce crime and educate residents. In Bell Gardens, she does it through the city’s Neighborhood Watch program.
If not walking the streets of Bell Gardens, teaching English to residents or hosting Neighborhood Watch events, Trevis is answering phone calls from residents who under her leadership are now taking an active role in fighting crime in their city.
“To me, education is the key to success,” but not speaking English can be a real barrier to getting information for many Latinos, says Trevis. Understanding how your city or schools work, or who to go to when there is a problem can make a big difference in your life, she said, explaining why she takes the time to give “civics lessons” to local residents.
Trevis has been the Bell Gardens Neighborhood Watch program coordinator for over a decade. In recent years the city has seen a significant drop in crime, and gang-related activity in particular. She credits residents and the Bell Gardens Police Department working together to make their neighborhoods safer.
Bell Gardens Police Chief Robert E. Barnes says it’s Trevis who deserves much of the credit. “Mary Lou is the key to our success in developing stronger relationships with our community,” he told EGP.
Since being hired in 2003, Trevis has recruited 300 people — nearly all them Spanish-speaking women – to the program, which encourages residents to be on the lookout for crime and to report it to police.
Over time members have grown more confident, calling her any time of the day or night to report suspicious activity, she said. “I have had people call me three times a day,” she laughs proudly.
Lt. Jose Carlos oversees the program for the police department and works closely with Trevis. “She loves what she does and you can tell,” he told EGP
Together they started an English class to help the predominately Spanish-speaking working class residents communicate with police and every year they bring residents and police together for National Night Out, a national movement “to take back the night from crime.” The program has grown from 200 residents the first year to more than 3,000 people attending a carnival-style event at Ford Park in recent years.
“She gets them energized,” boasted Carlos about Trevis’ relationship to the community.
Her desire to empower people has deep roots. Growing up in Boyle Heights, Trevis and her mother would help feed the homeless. As a teen she knew there was more to life than what was available in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles — she’d seen it on TV — and started “Adelfo’s Club” to expose Latinos to activities like surfing and skiing, unusual in the largely immigrant community.
“As youth we wanted to be the same [as people on TV] but the resources weren’t there,” she said.
Looking back, Trevis thinks she was always being pulled toward law enforcement. Even the band she played with, “Latin Sounds,” was recruited by the County Sheriff’s Department to perform in the jails and to talk to the young inmates.
“I wasn’t scared,” she recalls, “I just saw it as a chance to sing.”
Trevis attended East Los Angeles College and was later hired as the dean of discipline at St. Anthony School in San Gabriel. During those years she says she attended too many funerals of young people whose lives were cut short by gang violence.
“I thought, ‘something has to be done.’ We can’t have an officer on every block but as citizens we can help out by being their eyes and ears,” she said.
Sgt. Mike Barrela was at the time a senior lead officer with LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division and he encouraged her to join the police advisory committee to organize residents, much like block captains do with Neighborhood Watch.
But it wasn’t enough, so she helped found Mothers of East L.A., which successfully stopped a prison from being built in their neighborhood and closed down some of the bars popping up all over making the community safer.
She pushed absentee landlords to ensure their vacant lots did not become havens for gang activity.
“I wanted to bring resources to a community that had been abandoned,” she told EGP. “Nobody really cared there.”
As a young activist, Trevis looked to woman who fought for the rights of others, especially Latinas like Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and former county supervisor Gloria Molina, for direction.
Now it’s Trevis who has been recognized countless times by political figures and organizations, and who new generations of young people and immigrants look to for leadership.
She appreciates the recognition, but thinks what she does is no big deal. It’s our civic duty to do these things, she explains.
Today, “the woman in Bell Gardens that have made a difference” are who inspire her, she told EGP.
But Lt. Carlos says the same thing can be said about Trevis.
“There is something that Mary does that is inspiring, you can see it in the faces of the women,” he said. “They believe in her.”
So do many of their children, who as adults are now taking part in the program.
When asked whether she’s ever afraid of becoming a victim of the crime and violence she is trying to stop, her answer is “No.”
“I have to be the example,” to give courage and support to those who fear reporting crime, she says without hesitation.
Someday, when I leave Bell Gardens, I hope I will “have had made a difference in the quality of life here.”
A judge on Jan. 28 is expected to decide whether the attorney for the mother of Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo, whose wife is accused of fatally shooting him at their home, will get copies of the homicide investigation report he says he needs to get his client’s case ready for trial.
Otilia Santos’ attorney, James Devitt, filed court papers Dec. 31 in Los Angeles Superior Court asking a judge to order the Bell Gardens Police Department to turn over the police report and all documents related to the death of her son.
“The report will be needed by plaintiff’s experts to prepare for trial,” Devitt wrote. “It is obviously material and there is good cause for its production since it may relate to the defenses in this case, as well. There is no alternative way to procure it.”
In court papers filed Jan. 14, lawyers for the Police Department said they will only turn over the records sought by Devitt if ordered by a judge to do so. The department handed over the investigation into Crespo’s death to the Sheriff’s Department shortly after the mayor was killed, according to the BGPD attorneys’ court papers.
Both the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office believe that the records sought by Santos’ attorney are privileged because the investigation into the death of the plaintiff’s son is still ongoing, according to the court papers of the Police Department lawyers.
The public interest in prosecuting a homicide is more important than a plaintiff’s ability to pursue a civil suit, according to the court papers of the attorneys for the BGPD.
Santos filed suit Oct. 20 against daughter-in-law Lyvette Crespo over the death of Daniel Crespo, 45, who was shot Sept. 30.
Sheriff’s investigators said he and his wife were arguing when their 19-year-old son, Daniel Crespo Jr., intervened, leading to a struggle between father and son. Lyvette Crespo allegedly grabbed a gun and shot her husband, who had punched their son in the face.
Santos alleges her son was shot in cold blood. The lawsuit alleges his wife picked a fight with him knowing that their son would intervene, then Crespo opened a safe, grabbed a gun and killed her husband “with malice and in cold blood.”
Lyvette Crespo, 43, was not arrested. Sheriff’s officials forwarded their investigation to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether any charges should be filed.
Lyvette Crespo’s attorney contends she was a longtime victim of domestic violence. Crespo’s brother, William, has denied the allegation, but hinted the mayor had an extramarital affair.