California boot camp for at-risk kids leaves some injured

Jun 4, 2015, 12:18 AM
Veronica Bernal, second from right, whose son attended a police-run boot camp, answers questions fr...
Veronica Bernal, second from right, whose son attended a police-run boot camp, answers questions from the media as she is joined by her attorney Gregory Owen, right, and other parents during a news conference, Wednesday, June 3, 2015 in Commerce, Calif. Authorities are investigating claims that seven children from Southern California suffered physical abuse while attending the boot camp on the Central Coast. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A weeklong boot camp run by Los Angeles-area police departments that was meant to turn around misbehaving youth left seven of the kids with injuries consistent with abuse, investigators said.

Those seven were among 39 children who attended the boot camp from May 17 to 24, and all were being interviewed along with the drill instructors, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla declined to describe the injuries and said no charges have been filed.

The agency has never gotten a complaint about the 17-year-old camp before, Cipolla said.

Greg Owen, an attorney representing the parents of the children who had injuries, said most of them had cuts and bruises after being beaten bloody at times, and that one boy had a fractured hand. He said the lasting injuries will be emotional.

“Talking to the parents today, their kids can’t sleep through the night, they don’t want to go out of the house,” he said. “That will never go away.”

He said the parents are considering filing a lawsuit in the case but that they’re waiting for his office and the sheriff’s office to finish their investigations first. Meanwhile, he said the parents want the police officers who were drill instructors at the camp to be taken off the streets and held accountable.

The program is run by the Huntington Park and South Gate police departments, and drill instructors are employed with those agencies, Cipolla said.

“Both agencies believe in complete transparency and take all allegations very seriously,” South Gate police Capt. James Teeples said in a statement.

He said the police chiefs of both agencies met with the parents involved in the most recent program Sunday “to provide assurance that any matters of concern will be investigated thoroughly.”

He and a spokesman for Huntington Park police did not respond to calls for further comment.

The LEAD program began in 1998 as an intervention for troubled youths from Southern California. Participants can range from kids who’ve joined gangs or use drugs to children with bad grades or attitude problems.

Veronica Bernal said her 16-year-old son came back from the boot camp in tears with an untreated fractured hand.

“They put him in a dark room, and they would beat him,” she said.

Aracely Pulido said her 14-year-old daughter came back with bruises covering her arms, and said that drill instructors had slapped and kicked her, and stomped on her back. “She’s traumatized,” Pulido said.

Parents pay $400 for children ages 11 to 17 to join the voluntary, 20-week LEAD program, short for Leadership, Empowerment and Discipline. The camp includes a one-week boot camp at the California National Guard’s base in San Luis Obispo, and then daylong Sunday sessions.


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California boot camp for at-risk kids leaves some injured