Seven kids ages 11 to 17 say they were abused at a May boot camp in San Luis Obispo.

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Veron­ica Rocha veron­ica.rocha@la­times.com

The San Luis Obispo County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice is in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions by a group of chil­dren that they were beaten, slapped and tor­tured last month by Hunt­ing­ton Park and South Gate po­lice of­fi­cers at a boot camp de­signed to straighten them up.

The chil­dren, ages 11 to 17, suf­fered cuts and bruises af­ter be­ing beaten in what was de­scribed as “the dark room” dur­ing the week­long boot camp in San Luis Obispo, their at­tor­ney, Greg Owen, said. One boy suf­fered bro­ken bones in his hand when an of­fi­cer stepped on it be­cause he was not per­form­ing a push-up prop­erly, Owen said.

Af­ter re­turn­ing from the boot camp, the chil­dren re­mained silent about what hap­pened be­cause they feared re­tal­i­a­tion, the lawyer said.

“They were threat­ened [that] if they told, they would be found and get hurt badly,” Owen said, adding that he was rep­re­sent­ing 10 chil­dren but be­lieves that there may be more, in­clud­ing from previous camps.

He said the al­le­ga­tions came to light when a mother took her son to an emer­gency room and hos­pi­tal staff called the Los An­ge­les County De­part­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices be­cause they be­lieved she had beaten the boy. But he told in­ves­ti­ga­tors the bruis­ing was the re­sult of beat­ings by of­fi­cers at the boot camp.

San Luis Obispo County sher­iff ’s of­fi­cials said about 39 chil­dren par­tic­i­pated in the Lead­er­ship Em­pow­er­ment and Dis­ci­pline (LEAD) boot camp May 1724 at Camp San Luis Obispo, a Cal­i­for­nia Army Na­tional Guard base.

Seven chil­dren al­leged that they were phys­i­cally abused by drill in­struc­tors, who are Hunt­ing­ton Park and South Gate po­lice of­fi­cers, sher­iff ’s of­fi­cials said.

The chil­dren’s par­ents had paid $400 for an ed­u­ca­tional and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity pro­gram to im­prove their be­hav­ior, Owen said. He said some of the chil­dren were rec­om­mended for the in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram by their schools af­ter talk­ing back to their teach­ers and par­ents.

South Gate po­lice of­fi­cials said the pro­gram spans 20 weeks and is de­signed to “change the de­struc­tive be­hav­ior of an at-risk youth” by in­tro­duc­ing a struc­tured reg­i­men and ed­u­ca­tional trips. The boot camp took place dur­ing one of those trips.

The pro­gram was in­tro­duced in 1998 to help teens deal­ing with vi­o­lence, strug­gling with drugs and in­volved in gangs.

South Gate po­lice of­fi­cials said they be­lieved “in com­plete trans­parency and take all al­le­ga­tions se­ri­ously.”

Po­lice held a meet­ing with par­ents Sun­day to “pro­vide as­sur­ance that any mat­ters of con­cern will be in­ves­ti­gated thor­oughly.”

Sev­eral par­ents vis­ited the Hunt­ing­ton Park Po­lice De­part­ment to voice their con­cerns about the pro­gram, which is in its sixth week.

Parental in­volve­ment is manda­tory in the pro­gram, of­fi­cials said.

“This is the first time in its 20-year his­tory there have been al­le­ga­tions of this na­ture,” Hunt­ing­ton Park spokesman Michael Chee said.

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