Editor’s Note: This story was updated [Police’s Investigation of School Board Member to be Independently Reviewed] and may contain some corrected information.
The Santa Monica Police Department dropped a child endangerment investigation involving Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre, the department announced Friday.
De la Torre called the investigation a “shame” at a press conference he held the same day of the announcement at the Pico Youth and Family Center at 715 Pico Boulevard where he is the executive director.
The department concluded a four month investigation after filing a report last week concerning a fight on March 16 between two Santa Monica High School male students. Police alleged de la Torre committed felony child endangerment charges by failing to intervene in a reasonable time and even acting as a referee to the violence as the only adult present.
The Los Angeles County District’s Attorney’s office has declined to file charges against de la Torre.
De la Torre inferred that the investigation may have been politically motivated since the report was filed after his announcement to run for city council. He has since withdrawn his bid for city council and instead seek for his third year on SMMUSD board of education.
Attorney Wilfrido Trivino Perez called Thomas’s description of de la Torre having “old school ways” an example of his bias and prejudice.
De la Torre played the video (featured above) captured by cell phone from one of the 40 student spectators at the fight showed him stepping into the ring of students after 56 seconds. The fight took place in an alley located behind Samohi and the youth center, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce youth violence and receives funding from the City.
De la Torre can be seem on the outskirts of the crowd observing the fight before the two young men participating fall down to the pavement. He then steps in to what Thomas reported as the end of the fight. Neither of the participants were seriously injured or charged with a crime.
“I understand that I made that choice and I took a risk, but I don’t deserve to be publically attacked for doing what’s right,” de la Torre said.
The clash involved two young men, one Latino and one black, with racial tensions high in the crowd, de la Torre said. One of the students fighting is linked to known gang activity and weapons may have been present, according to police reports.
De la Torre argues that the fight stopped due to his actions. He said he acted in self-preservation not to charge immediately into the crowd of “volatile” students.
Sgt. Jay Trisler said the SMPD were made aware of the incident and investigated in “due diligence” without any political motivation. Officers spent months questioning witnesses and reviewing evidence.
The SMPD only submitted stills, not the entire video, to the district attorney’s office, Perez said.
“Certain elements in the past show they [SMDP] don’t want me to have political power,” de la Torre said.
He has a shaded history with SMDP investigator Dave Thomas, who questioned de la Torre’s mindset in the 44-page report.
In 2005 racial tensions erupted at Samohi when police were called to break-up fights between black and latino students. De la Torre received accusations from the SMPD for bringing alleged former gang members onto campus to reduce violence on campus.
De la Torre and his attorney went as far as to request an analysis into Dave Thomas’s actions who led the investigation against him. Perez sidestepped any questions about how any further inquiry would only match the waste in taxpayer resources he attributed to the investigation against his client.
Although no actual allegations are being made against the police department, yet Perez said the search of private materials and documents of de la Torre’s was unwarranted. The attorney said they would “explore all options” necessary.
If the police department makes an apology, De la Torre said he will discuss leaving the issue, if not he will discuss “other options.”