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Police Threaten to Arrest School Board Member

By Menaka Fernando
Special to The Lookout

April 23 -- Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. publicly reprimanded a School Board member Thursday night for allegedly bringing gang members to Santa Monica High School days after a highly publicized racial disturbance.

In a letter presented to the school board during its meeting, Butts called board member Oscar de la Torre’s decision to bring what appeared to be two Latino gang members to the campus Wednesday “unwise” and “dangerous.”

But de la Torre, who defended his actions at the meeting, called the letter slanderous and contended that the two men are no longer in gangs and were coming to campus to speak to students about how they can turn away from gang violence and reform their lives.

Police officials contend the men’s presence upset some students and could have resulted in a “riot” at the high school, which was put on lockdown April 15 after racial tensions between blacks and Latinos erupted into a disturbance involving some 200 students.

“The presence of these adults, both of whom were tattooed, caused angst among some of the African-American students who voiced their concerns in light of the recent tensions at the school between African-American students and Latino students,” Butts wrote.

A police report filed by Sgt. Joaquin Vega of the Youth Services Division details the actions that led police to warn de la Torre that “he was about to start a riot” and threaten to arrest him for “causing a disturbance.”

The report details the attire and demeanor of the two men that led police to suspect that they were gang members.

Both, in their late thirties, had “mural-type” tattoos and “were holding their hands at their beltline, and their heads were tilted back in a gangster type of lean,” the report said.

The man wearing a “Joker” tank-top, jeans and “gangster shades” was Steven Luciano, aka “Big Lucky,” a member of the Santa Monica 17th Street gang, according to the report.

“Luciano has several tattoos throughout his body signifying his gang affiliation,” the report said.

Police “intelligence’ received last year identified Luciano as a “‘shot caller’ for the Santa Monica gang,” who was “ordering young gang members to go into other cities and commit assault,” according to the report.

The report identified the other man de la Torre brought on campus, but provided no information about him.

If police had information that Luciano was a gang member, “How come he hasn’t been arrested?” de la Torre said he asked at the board meeting.

De la Torre vehemently denied the police accusations and said both individuals were successful businessmen and well-known in the hip hop community. He added that often police officials unfairly associate that subculture with gang activity.

Both men had also followed school procedure by registering and signing in the school’s main office before entering the campus, de la Torre said.

But police allege that the men’s presence on campus “upset” some two dozen black students, who said “they were ‘going to call our people too,” Vega wrote in his report.

“Rumors were spreading throughout the morning about weapons being on campus, and about assaults that were to take place during the school day,” according to the report. “This information caused nervous tension with the students and school personnel.”

But De la Torre contends that he only saw black youth being respectful to him and that he cooperated when police officials asked him to leave.

After asking De la Torre to remove his companions from the premises numerous times, police threatened to arrest the school board member for violating a section of the penal code that forbids a “person not on lawful business” to enter a school, according to the report.

Police officials wanted de la Torre to exit through the 6th Street exit, but he refused to do so.

De la Torre said that officials were trying to “parade” him and his companions through campus, and he wanted to exit through the least crowded route. He exited through the 7th Street and Michigan Avenue exit.

In his letter, Butts asks the school board to consider whether it would authorize actions similar to de la Torre’s and ask for the board’s position “on bringing adult or any non-student gang members” on district property during school hours.

De la Torre said he was “amazed” at the letter and believes the police chief is causing more division between the black and Latino communities.

“It seems that the chief of police has escalated brown-black tensions to the highest government level,” de la Torre said, adding that “in the spirit of non-violence, I’ve forgiven Chief Butts for creating division in the community.”

The school board member said he was offended that the police chief had not gotten his side of the story.

De la Torre, also the director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, said he has been frequenting the school during the week to try to ease racial tensions between blacks and Latinos.

He said he would not return to school unless he was invited -- which is doing “a disservice” to students, he said.

Once a student and counselor on that campus, De la Torre said, “I don’t recognize Samohi anymore … in terms of how things have deteriorated.”

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