In a letter addressed to the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education that was read aloud at last Thursday’s SMMUSD Board meeting, Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts summarized an interagency memo received by his office from Sergeant Joaquin Vega. The memo details Vega’s encounter with School Board member Oscar de la Torre, after being called to a scene of escalating tension on the Santa Monica High School campus in the days following the racially motivated student fighting of Friday, April 15. (See related stories, pages 1 and 7) According to both Vega and Butts, de la Torre brought two suspected gang members on to the Santa Monica High School campus on April 20, just three schooldays after the outburst of student violence there. Both the letter and the memo also accuse de la Torre of ignoring school administrators and mocking police officers when asked to leave the campus. (The full text of both Butts’ letter and Vega’s memo appear below.) De la Torre, who also heads Santa Monica’s Pico Youth and Family Center, did not return multiple calls for comment. He told the Board last Thursday that the men accompanying him on campus were former gang members who were there to speak with Samohi students about overcoming racial divisions and resisting violence. Says Frank Fabrega, SMPD Public Information Officer, “We felt it was very inappropriate to bring these two Hispanic gang members onto campus during this time of racial tension,” adding that African-American students became alarmed at the presence of the three men, and contacted school administrators, who in turn called police to the scene. “The better format would have been to work with the school principal and vice principal, and have a scheduled meeting.” “The Santa Monica Police Department’s job is to provide safety to the students,” Fabrega explained, with some frustration. “When [de la Torre] does something in this manner, it makes it extremely difficult for us, or even the school’s administration or [other] adults in authority, to do so.” That said, Fabrega wants to assure parents that police are “still working very closely with the Superintendent, the school principal and vice principal at maintaining order with the students,” and that “it’s going very well.” Although he would not provide specific numbers, Fabrega confirmed that Santa Monica Police would “maintain a presence” at Samohi through the end of the school year. “The students should be able to go to school, and feel safe in a learning educational environment … to focus on their studies.” Chief Butts’ Letter Dear School Board Members: I need to bring something to your attention that causes me, as Chief of Police, great concern. I am out of town at a Los Angeles County Chief’s conference. Otherwise, I would have appeared before you personally tonight. I am respectfully asking the School Board President, by this communication, to read this e-mail and its attachment into the record. I have included a Microsoft Word document attachment that I am asking all of you to review and, through whatever means you choose, to answer some questions that I have regarding the incident it describes. The memo is from Sergeant Joaquin Vega. Sergeant Vega is one of my Youth Services Sergeants assigned to the Pico Neighborhood substation and who also supervises our School Resource Officers. Sergeant Vega supervised the on-campus police deployment yesterday at SAMOHI. It describes an incident wherein a School Board member, Oscar Delatorre, provided access to the campus during school hours to at least one and very likely two adult Hispanic gang members. 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. When the sergeant approached Mr. Delatorre and asked him to remove his guests from the campus, Delatorre was rude and disrespectful to the officers in the presence of several students who were close by and observing. Delatorre went so far as to ask the students their opinion as to whether he should leave or not. According to the officers, Mr. Delatorre did not leave until he was informed that he could be arrested, and even then he mocked the officers by laughing and then turning around with his hands behind his back. We are trying to be a partner with the District in ensuring the safety of our children while, simultaneously, not appearing to be overbearing and officious in the school and learning environment. When an elected official representing the SMMUSD behaves in this manner, in front of students, it makes our job immensely difficult. When a School Board member decides to bring adult gang members onto campus without prior communication to the police assigned there, it deprives us of the opportunity to give meaningful input as it relates to our responsibility to keep the peace, in both the immediate and long term. I feel that School Board member Delatorre’s decision was unwise, and that it was dangerous. That being said, and recognizing your authority as the SMMUSD policy makers, my questions to you are as follows: 1. Do you as a policy body intend to authorize further actions similar to member Delatorre’s of April 20, 2005, at SAMOHI? 2. What is your collective position on bringing adult or any non-student gang members onto SMMUSD property during school hours? If this is to be Board policy, I need to know, as this type of activity has extreme relevance to deployment decisions. Respectfully, JAMES T. BUTTS, JR. Chief of Police Sergeant Vega’s Memo City of Santa Monica Interdepartmental Communication April 21, 2005 TO: Captain Smiley FROM: Sergeant Vega SUBJECT: Oscar Delatorre On April 20, 2005 at about 1205 hrs. I was notified By Officer Leyva and Rodriguez that Oscar Delatorre was in the Quad area of the Samohi campus, with two adult subjects that appeared to be Hispanic gang members. Officer Leyva and Rodriguez were also in the Quad when they made this observation. I was walking the campus, and had just entered the Quad when I was notified. Officer Leyva told me that one of the subjects appeared to be a person that we know as Steven Luciano, aka “Big Lucky” from Santa Monica 17th St. Luciano is a subject of interest because of intelligence we had received late last year about him being a “shot caller” for the Santa Monica Gang. We had specific information that he “was ordering young gang members to go into other cities and commit assaults. The other subject with Delatorre and Luciano was not known to us at the time. He was an adult male Hispanic, wearing a baggy white shirt, and baggy white shorts. He had several mural type of tattoos visible on his arms. Luciano was wearing a light blue “Joker” tank top, and blue jeans. Luciano has several tattoos throughout his body signifying his gang affiliation. On his left tricep it says “west”, and on the right tricep it says “side” and “sur”. This means that he is from the westside, and associates with Southern California gang members. He also has various mural type of tattoos on his arms, and other tattoos on his torso that were not completely visible because of the tank top he was wearing. Luciano was wearing dark sunglasses that are commonly referred to as “gangster shades”. All three of the subjects were walking slowly through the Quad area as the students were getting out for lunch. I heard a female school administrator, who I do not know, telling the Assistant Principal, Greg Runyan, that the black students were upset over the presence of the two>adult individuals that appeared to be Hispanic gang members. I saw a group of approximately 25 black male students gathering just west of Delatorre and his companions. All were looking in the direction of Delatorre and were obviously upset. I also heard several of the black students saying they were going to “call their people, too”. Rumors were spreading throughout the morning about weapons being on campus, and about assaults that were to take place during the school day. This information caused a nervous tension with the students and school personnel. Mr. Runyan walked over to me and asked me if I knew the subjects that were with Delatorre. I told him I was familiar with one of the subjects, Luciano, and not the other. Both of us were able to see that tensions were escalating with the black students, and we went to make contact with Delatorre. Mr. Runyan made several attempts to get Delatorre to come over to him so he could talk with him about his companions. Delatorre acknowledged that he heard him by looking in his direction, then defiantly turned his back to him and waved him off. I saw him do this two times. Mr. Runyan and I saw the group of male black students walking up the stairs towards us, and he said to me, “you have to help me escort these guys out of here”. I then heard Mr. Runyan trying to contact Dr. Straus on his radio. I walked towards Delatorre and told him I needed to speak with him. Delatorre took several steps towards me and I asked him what he was doing. He said he was talking to the kids. I asked him who gave him permission to bring the other subjects on campus. He said, “I did” (indicating he authorized himself to bring the others on campus). Mr. Runyan had approached us and told Delatorre that he had only told Delatorre that it was alright for him to come on campus, not the others. Delatorre was already walking away from us and back to his companions. Both of his companions were standing next to each other. They were holding their hands at their beltline, and their heads were tilted back in a gangster type of lean. I again called to Delatorre to come over to me, but he ignored me, turned his back to me, and waved me away. Delatorre walked towards a group of students and started talking to them. I walked over to Delatorre and tried talking with him again because I could see that the group of black male students was approaching cautiously. I could hear students from the group yelling in anger about the subjects that Delatorre had brought on campus. I followed Delatorre as he walked from group to group, and tried to get him to stop and talk so I could get him to get his companions off campus. Though I was only a few feet from Delatorre, he continued to ignore me by not acknowledging me and walking away from me, even after I told him he was going to start a riot. The group of black students had now made it to where we were standing. One of the students approached Delatorre and told him that they were going to call their people since he brought his gangsters on campus. I ordered Delatorre to get his companions off campus, and also ordered his companions off campus. I again reiterated that he was about to start a riot, and that this was not the time and the place for this. He once again ignored me, turned his back, then approached the group of black youths and said, “they want me to leave, should I leave?” Several members of the group told him to leave. I once again told him I was ordering him to leave. He again turned his back, walked away from me and approached another group. This time he approached a group of Hispanics and >said,”they want me to leave, what do you think about that?” made a determination that his presence, and the presence of the other adults he had brought on campus was causing a disturbance in violation of California Penal Code 626.8 (Entry of School by Person not on Lawful Business). His presence was also endangering the welfare of the students on campus. I told Delatorre that if he didn’t leave I was going to have to place him under arrest. He said,”you can’t arrest me!” Delatorre turned and put his hands defiantly behind his back as if he was getting handcuffed, then started laughing. I told him I would arrest him and that he was endangering the students. I once again ordered him off campus. Delatorre abruptly turned away from me and started walking towards the History building away from closest exit. I told Delatorre that he was going to have to exit the 6th Street exit. Delatorre said he did not want to exit the 6th Street exit because he would have to walk through the large group of black students that had gathered. He said, “I’m going out this way, because if I go that way something might happen”. Myself, and Officers Leyva, and Rodriguez escorted Delatorre and his two companions off the campus through the 7th and Michigan exit. Once the subjects were escorted off campus, Mr. Runyan walked over to me and thanked me for assisting him because Delatorre wouldn’t listen to him. I contacted Lieutenant Padilla and advised him of the incident. Lt. Padilla telephoned Mr. John Deasy and advised him of the occurrence. I met with Mr. Deasy who told me that he would handle the situation. The subjects that accompanied Delatorre are Steven Luciano, aka Big Lucky. His D.O.B. is 6-29-67, and he lives at 107 N. Sweetzer Av. L.A., 90048. I looked at the sign in sheet that Luciano and his companion signed as they entered the campus to get the name of the other individual. His name according to the sign in sheet is Mark Machado. No further information is available on Machado at this time. JOAQUIN VEGA, SERGEANTOCI / Youth Services Division
Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news and events in Santa Monica and the surrounding areas!