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Officers plead 'not guilty' in LEAD boot camp abuse case 

Three Los Angeles-area police officers appeared in SLO court on Sept. 21 to plead not guilty to charges that they abused children at a disciplinary boot camp held at Camp San Luis Obispo earlier this year. 

South Gate Police Department officers Edgar Yovany Gomez and Carlos Manuel Gomez-Marquez and Huntington Park Police Department officer Elizabeth Larios appeared with their attorneys for arraignment in SLO County Superior Court on 20 criminal charges, including corporal punishment, causing injury to a child, cruelty to a child, and battery.

According to a criminal complaint filed by the SLO County District Attorney’s office, the three officers abused and injured 10 victims between the ages of 12 and 16 at the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) boot camp, a program run by the Huntington Park and South Gate police departments for children ages 11 through 17 at Camp San Luis Obispo.

Attorney Greg Owen, representing the alleged victims in a potential civil case, said the alleged abuse included officers slamming kids against walls, stepping on their hands while they did pushups, and placing some of them inside a dark room where they were beaten.

Owen said some of them suffered bruises, scrapes, and at least one alleged victim had one or more broken fingers. He also said the instructor verbally berated them. The participants voluntarily attended the camp for minor behavioral issues, and their parents paid about $400 for the week, according to Owen.

In a written statement issued Sept. 22, Owen praised both the SLO County DA’s office for charging the officers and the SLO County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the allegations of abuse at the camp.

“My clients didn’t think that anyone would care that some poor Hispanic kids, who grew up in a tough part of town, got beat up,” Owen wrote. “When my clients saw the time, effort, and care the San Luis Obispo sheriffs showed them during the investigation, they realized that they were not ‘worthless’ as the Gomez brothers told them and that there were ‘other people, including police officers, that do care about them.’”

The three officers, who are currently on administrative leave from their respective departments, won’t likely see the inside of a SLO County courtroom again for several months. According to county prosecutors, there are more than 600 pages of documents, as well as audio and video evidence, for their defense lawyers to sort through. The next hearing for the case is scheduled for Dec. 9.

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