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Children Abused At Police-Run Boot Camp, Lawyers Say

LEAD boot camp in San Luis Obispo. KTLA says the Huntington Park Police Dept. posted this photo on Facebook on May 17.
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Authorities are investigating claims that seven children were abused by officers at a police-run boot camp held in San Luis Obispo earlier this month.

One of the most serious allegations was that an officer stepped on the hand of a child, leaving the child with broken fingers, according to Owen, Patterson & Owen (OPO), the law firm representing the seven children. Others said they were slapped and punched.

The boot camp, called Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD), was a program organized by the Huntington Park and South Gate police departments, according to the San Luis Obispo (SLO) County Sheriff's office. The children, whose ages ranged from 11 to 17 and hailed from SoCal, spent a week at Camp San Luis Obispo, a California Army National Guard Military Base. It was a program that meant to teach the youth about leadership, discipline and to reduce conflicts with family, the law firm said in a statement.

"OPO’s young clients report that from the moment they arrived, they were verbally and physically abused," the lawyers said. "They gave various examples, stating that the officers slapped, punched, and stepped on their hands and backs while doing push-ups, and even took them into a dark room where they were beaten if they did not meet the expectations of the camp supervisors. According to the teenagers, they were given towels to clean the blood off of themselves prior to exiting the room after the beatings."

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Mrs. Lupida, a mother who sent her 12 and 14-year-old daughters to the camp told NBC Los Angeles that one of her daughters was "slapped in the face, kicked in the ribs if she didn't do her pushups right."

"One of my oldest daughters said she wanted to become a cop… (now) she's traumatized. They told her they got paid for her to get hit," Lupita said.

Another mother told NBC Los Angeles that officers held her 13-year-old son's neck using a forearm, and beat him in the head and stomach.

The kids were reportedly emotionally abused at the boot camp as well. Lawyers said the officers told the children that they were "worthless," that their families didn't want them, and that they were going to stay at the camp for three months, much longer than the week-long program they were promised. The officers reportedly threatened the children that if they told on them to their parents, they would be abused some more.

The children said the "Gomez brothers" were primarily responsible for the abuse, and the brothers have since been suspended from the program, but are still patrolling, the lawyers said.

Deputies began investigating the abuse allegations after they received a report on May 28 from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services saying that a child had been physically abused at the boot camp, according to the SLO County's Sheriff's Office. Investigators went to SoCal to interview the 39 children who had attended LEAD, and found six others claiming they were abused.

The boot camp cost parents $400 per child, and there were supposed to be 15 weekly sessions involving the family and the child after the week-long bootcamp, lawyers said.

KTLA reports that charges have not been filed. Deputies said this is an on-going investigation.

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