SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — Four Southern California police officers were arrested on suspicion of child cruelty for allegedly abusing more than a dozen boys and girls at a boot camp, authorities said Wednesday.
Huntington Park officers Marissa Larios, 36, and Patrick Nijland, 47, and South Gate officers Carlos Gomez-Marquez, 31, and Edgar Gomez, 35, were arrested on Tuesday and Wednesday, said a statement from the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office.
Each officer was released after posting $20,000 bail, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said.
The four were drill instructors at a weeklong boot camp for troubled youth that was held in May at the National Guard base in San Luis Obispo, a coastal community about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Nearly 40 youngsters attended the L.E.A.D. program, short for Leadership, Empowerment and Discipline. It had operated for 17 years without complaint.
However, after the most recent camp, parents said their children reported being slapped, kicked, stomped and beaten bloody at times. One boy returned home with a fractured hand.
Investigators identified 15 alleged victims — nine boys and six girls — ranging from 12 to 17 years old, Cipolla said.
The injuries included “bruising to the face, bruised ribs, a lot of abrasions,” he said. “I think generally roughed up would be a good description.”
The four officers were arrested on suspicion of willful cruelty to a child and other crimes including abuse under color of authority.
“We really take no pleasure in arresting members of the law enforcement profession. But at the end of the day, we realize that no one is above the law,” Cipolla said.
The case will be submitted to the San Luis Obispo County district attorney’s office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges.
Emails to Larios and Nijland seeking comment were not immediately returned Wednesday. A call seeking comment from William Hadden, the attorney for Gomez and Gomez-Marquez, also was not immediately returned.
The South Gate officers have been placed on administrative leave, according to a Police Department statement Wednesday. The department takes allegations of wrongdoing seriously and is cooperating with investigators, the statement said.