Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cops harassing teens, Patterson parents say

PATTERSON — Sheriff's deputies routinely are intimidating and harassing teenagers here, often without reason, claim some parents who want the city to take action on what they consider a persistent trend.

"I know they have a hard job. But with all the community members talking about this, something is not quite right. We want to make it right and work with them to resolve this issue," Patterson resident Violet Wells said.

Wells was among a handful of residents who raised concerns about harassment at last week's City Council meeting, citing specific incidents. They asked for the issue to be placed on a future council agenda for discussion.

Patterson contracts with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department for police services. Sheriff Adam Christianson said no official complaints have been filed in Patterson, but the department is investigating the allegations.

Police Chief Tyrone Spencer, who has worked in Patterson since 1981, heard the complaints at the council meeting. Spencer did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Albertina Reynoso, a mother of three, said her 15-year-old son and two of his friends recently were talking outside a neighbor's home on North Second Street when a deputy pulled up.

The deputy allegedly told her son, who was wearing red Patterson High School gym shorts, that he was "on the wrong side of town," Reynoso said.

The color red is associated with members of Norteño gangs; the Sureño gangs favor blue.

The deputy left and then returned a few minutes later with two other deputies, she said. They told the teenagers to sit down on the ground, and recorded their names and other identifying information, Reynoso said.

Wells relayed a similar story. Her 15-year-old son was playing basketball with a group of friends when they were approached by a deputy searching for a missing child, she said.

What began as a lighthearted conversation turned to "intimidation," Wells said, when the deputy stopped smiling, unsnapped something from his belt and repeated a question about the age of one of the youths.

"He unsnapped something, like mace or a gun. He said, 'I'm going to ask you one more time.' He was intimidating them," Wells said.