Law enforcement officers who took part in a Westside gang task force operation last month heralded the sweep as a successful effort against gang activity. But an unintended victim of the police action tells a different story.
Charlene Gowers, a 50 year-old grandmother who lives in one of the areas targeted by the taskforce officers, has filed a civilian complaint against a Santa Monica police officer that she encountered during the police sweep.
Gowers claims that she and her son were innocent bystanders caught in the middle of the raid who were subsequently arrested for obstructing and assaulting a police officer. Gowers was also charged with child endangerment. Both she and her son were taken to the Culver City Jail and later released.
On Tuesday, August 8th, Gowers was charged with a misdemeanor, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. It was unclear which agency filed the charges, due to the fact that several police departments were involved in the joint task force operation.
The Santa Monica grandmother, who lives near the corner of 17th Street and Delaware Avenue in Santa Monica, had five children with her that night, including her grandson, who she alleges was taken from her by police officers and delivered to a representative from the Department of Children and Family Services and later released to his mother.
“The kid is gone — you’ll never see him again!” Gowers claims the officers told her after she was arrested.
According to Gowers, she, her grandson and four other neighborhood children were walking along the 1900 block of 17th Street on July 23rd. They were going to meet Gowers’ son, the father of her grandson.
“In the middle of the street we saw a police car with its lights flashing, which is always exciting for the kids, as they are fascinated by the police, who wave at them and give them stickers,” said Gowers.
The next thing she knew, several undercover officers jumped out of a van with their guns drawn. They began shouting and cursing at her, she alleges, and soon afterwards she and her son were being handcuffed.
Lt. P.J. Guido, a Santa Monica Police Department spokesman, confirmed that Gowers had filed a complaint and that the department was investigating the matter.
“We will follow up on Ms. Gowers’ complaint, just like we would any other complaint, and we plan to investigate it thoroughly,” he told another publication.
Gowers, who works for Southside Towing in Culver City, has not filed a complaint against Culver City officers, who made the arrests. “I filed my complaint against Santa Monica because they failed to secure the area [where she was arrested],” she explained.
The gang sweep was part of a coordinated law enforcement effort by the Western Regional Taskforce to tackle gang violence on the Westside. Santa Monica, Culver City and the Pacific Station of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) participated in the police action, in which 14 suspected gang members were arrested on a variety of felony charges, from parole violations to outstanding warrants. The departments take turns hosting the operations.
“[June] was our month to host the operation,” said Santa Monica police Lt. Darrell Lowe, who heads the department’s Youth Services Division. The LAPD Pacific Division hosted last month’s operation.
“Arrests are only of aspect of the task force — the unification of law enforcement resources and having better relationships with other police departments is what’s really important,” said the lieutenant, whose division also handles the gang intervention.
Residents who live in the area of Santa Monica that Gowers does have previously complained about police tactics in their neighborhood.
“Just because we live in the Pico Neighborhood doesn’t mean we should be treated like this,” Gowers said.
“My grandson is traumatized like no child should be, and now my life is changed more than I can put into words,” she added.
As a misdemeanor, the case will be handled by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office or the city attorney of one of the cities that participated in the taskforce operation.
Gowers told The Argonaut that Culver City officials told her that her case will be heard in mid-September. She has hired an attorney, Richard Beada of Santa Monica. Beada was out of town and could not be reached for comment.