A human rights organization concerned with a Chula Vista police officer’s use of force on a teenage girl last month called for a thorough investigation of the incident.
The American Friends Service Committee sent a letter dated Aug. 22 to Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy, Mayor Mary Salas, Councilman Mike Diaz, Police Capt. Phil Collum and the Chula Vista Human Relations Commission expressing their concern with how the police handled the matter.
“We are concerned that proper de-escalation protocol was not followed, and that officers at the scene engaged in provocative behavior that deteriorated the situation,” the letter states. “It is further concerning that the officer involved would resort to violence on a minor, which could have led to serious, if not life-threatening, injuries.”
In the letter, Director of AFSC Pedro Rios requests a thorough investigation be conducted of the incident itself and current policy of use of force on minors, that disciplinary action be taken on officers involved if they violated policy, that a comprehensive review take place with respect to policy on proper de-escalation techniques, and that CVPD officers receive the most updated training if found necessary.
Rios said he only received a reply from Collum and Diaz, whose council district the incident took place in.
Collum said he is aware of the letter and responded to Rios the same day he received it.
Collum said he indicated in his reply to Rios that the department will adhere to the first request as a thorough investigation and review of use of force policy is part of the department’s administrative investigation.
“In essence, basically, the request that he has asked for we were actually already doing,” he said. “It’s part of the administrative investigation.”
Rios said he found Collum’s and Diaz’s responses to be “honest and sincere.”
Collum said the department cannot grant the second request requesting disciplinary action if policy was violated until the department fully completes its investigation.
He said the third request also cannot be met until an investigation has concluded.
Rios said he understands that investigations take time and hopes to hear back about his other requests once all of the investigations are concluded.
“My hope is that there will be a formal response (once investigations are concluded) to the letter,” he said. “And more importantly there is a thorough investigation so that we could figure out if any policy was violated in terms of how this officer behaved.”
On Aug. 15 a Palomar High School student, Liz Borja, was tackled violently to the ground by a Chula Vista police officer at SDG&E Park, adjacent to Castle Park High School.
A portion of the incident was captured on video and shared via social media.
Police said they have increased patrols near SDG&E Park because of reports of gang activity. One officer drove by and reported that in passing he saw a teenage boy throw a gang sign.
Police approached a group of juveniles. One of them, a sophomore at Palomar High School, threw an empty water bottle.
Authorities said the girl threw the bottle at police, the girl said she threw the bottle at the ground and it subsequently bounced up and hit an officer.
In the video, a police officer can be seen with his baton raised and in front of him as he tackles Liz to the ground. She and three other teens were arrested.
Police said during their own press conference shortly after that the 16-year-old, faced criminal charges for battery on a peace officer after the girl allegedly threw a plastic water bottle at a female officer, hitting a police sergeant in the chest.
However, Liz denies throwing the bottle at any officer.
“I didn’t throw it directly at her,” she said during a news conference last month. “It was an empty bottle, I threw the bottle at the floor and it bounced off to the (male) officer and hit his leg, that’s when he attacked me.
Liz said she suffered injuries as a result of the attack.
Police Capt. Vern Sallee had stated that Liz did not sustain injuries or complain of pain while she was detained at the police station.
During a media briefing at SDG&E Park on Aug. 17, in the vicinity where the incident occurred, Liz read a prepared statement that demanded all criminal charges against her and other juveniles to be dropped. She also called for the officer who tackled her to be placed on administrative leave until a full investigation
Collum said charges have not been filed against any of the teenagers arrested that day because a criminal investigation has not been completed.
Separately, Collum said, an administrative investigation in to the conduct of the officer has also not been completed.
He said between the two investigations he expects the criminal investigation to be completed first but has no timeline on when either one would be completed.
Collum said the officer who attacked Liz remains on desk duty.