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Area youth report physical abuse at leadership boot camp

The attorney representing eight young people ages 12 to 16 who say they were verbally and physically abused at a leadership boot camp operated by area police agencies, said June 5 he continues to interview additional young people who may be victims for an eventual lawsuit.

“I have contacted the South Gate and Huntington Park police and the National Guard and they said they take the charges seriously and are looking into the matter,” said Greg Owen of the law firm of Owen, Patterson and Owen of Valencia.

“We have sent the agencies legal notices to retain any information on the issue, such as photos, videos and written statements,” he added.

Owen said seven of the 36 youths attending the camp at San Luis Obispo first contacted him about alleged abuse. An eighth came forth later and three more were being interviewed June 5, he said.

At a press conference June 3 in Commerce, Owen said some of the teenagers reported being taken into a dark room, beaten and given towels to wipe the blood off.

Although warned not to tell anyone about the alleged actions, some did contact local authorities when they came home. Detectives from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department conducted interviews at Salt Lake Park in Huntington Park.

The leadership boot camp program is sponsored by the three agencies and is aimed at developing leadership skills and discipline in teenagers and offers guidance to reduce family conflict.

The cost is $400 for one week at camp and weekly Sunday sessions with parents locally.

A South Gate Police spokesperson directed a reporter to the city website, which provides background information on the program.

The Huntington Park and South Gate police departments started the current session of the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) Program last month.

In Huntington Park, the program is a follow-up of its longtime Juveniles at Risk program, an intervention program designed to change the destructive behavior of an at-risk youth, a department spokesperson said.

The 20-week youth program includes a weekly regimen of structured activities and educational trips.

One of the excursions is a week-long boot camp held at the National Guard Base at Camp San Luis Obispo.

The LEAD Program has been in existence since 1998 and has been successful in affecting positive change in the lives of the youth in our communities, the spokesperson said.

“Recently, we received notification from some participants in the program who made allegations concerning the disciplinary measures and tactics used by members of both organizations,” the spokesperson said. “Both agencies believe in complete transparency and take all allegations very seriously.”

On May 31, a meeting was held with the parents of the youth participants in the program to address any issues of concern.

Huntington Park Police Chief Jorge Cisneros and South Gate Police Chief Randy Davis were at the meeting and spoke with all the parents in attendance to provide assurance that any matters of concern will be investigated thoroughly, the spokesperson said.

Due to the fact that the camp took place in San Luis Obispo, any allegations that were received as a part of the program will be investigated by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.