Families, protesters angered over arrests at Baldwin Park checkpoint


Immigrant rights activists and upset family members gathered Sunday in Baldwin Park to express outrage over the arrests of 37 people during an overnight sobriety and drivers’ license checkpoints.
Dozens of demonstrators, some carrying signs with slogans such as “driving is not a crime,” demanded answers from Baldwin Park police over what they called a round-up of undocumented immigrants.
But police said the arrests were the result of recent changes in policies regarding what types of identification the court will accept when police issue a misdemeanor citation, such as one for driving without a license. And officials maintained that such checkpoints are a valuable took in combatting intoxicated driving.
Tearful children were taken into the custody of county officials as parents were arrested during the checkpoint, said Debbie Leance, a volunteer with Inland Empire Rapid Response Network. The majority, she said, were arrested only for driving without a license. One video shot by the demonstrators depicted a girl crying while explaining that the police were taking her mother away, “Because she’s not from here.”
“It’s such a large roundup. It’s unprecedented,” Leance said. It’s so unnecessary. That seems like a federal agenda.”
Activists and family members of those arrested waited outside the police station for them to go through the booking process and be released from custody.
Baldwin Park police Captain David Reynoso said 37 drivers were arrested at the checkpoint “for a variety of reasons, including DUI.”
Three drivers were arrested for intoxicated driving during the checkpoint, and three others were arrested for other DUI-related offenses, such as driving without a court-ordered ignition interlock device.
A full tally of the booking charges from the checkpoint was not available Sunday, he said.
The checkpoints were held between 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 a.m. Sunday, the captain said. Officers first set up a checkpoint at Los Angeles and Littlejohn streets before moving it later in the night to Ramona Boulevard and Barnes Avenue.
“The checkpoint was properly posted,” Reynoso said, adding that advance notice was given.
Those arrested for driving without a license also had no valid identification with them, Reynoso said.
Changes in the types of identification being accepted by the West Covina Superior Court in recent months mean officers are no longer able to accept some forms of identification, such as Matricula Consular identification, when issuing misdemeanor citations, Reynoso said.
As a result, when officers encounter unlicensed drivers who do not have valid identification, police must take them to arrest them and book them at police station in order to confirm their identities before issuing a citation.
A checkpoint held by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in nearby La Puente on the night of Dec. 21 and 22 netted 78 arrests, 56 of them for driving without a valid license, sheriff’s officials said in a written statement.
But a checkpoint held by Arcadia police late Saturday and early Sunday resulted in three DUI arrests, six citations for driving without a valid license and three one-day vehicle impounds, according to Arcadia police Traffic Sgt. Brett Bourgeous.
While driving is not a crime, as protest signs stated, “Driving without a license is against the law,” Reynoso said.
“The whole purpose for this checkpoint is public safety,” Reynoso said. “We understand that this could create a hardship, but it only takes one impaired driver to change a family’s life forever.
Ivan Gonzales, 25, of Baldwin Park said his girlfriend was crying and shaking when taken to hail in handcuffs for failing to have a valid drivers license and identification.
“She’s never been arrested. Not even a ticket,” he said.
Fourteen hours after her arrest, Gonzalez said neither he nor his girlfriend’s family had heard from her as they continued awaiting her release.
Justice for Immigrants Coalition legal coordinator J. Daniel Guzman said police failed to release some vehicles to licensed drivers with the owners’ permission at the checkpoint, as mandated by a state law that took effect in 2012.
But Reynoso said officers released 12 cars that were being driven by unlicensed drivers to other drivers who with valid licenses.
Despite the new law regarding police impounds at checkpoints, a separate law governs vehicle impounds in cases in which the driver is arrested, Reynoso said.

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Man robbed along Maine Avenue in Baldwin Park

BALDWIN PARK — Two men with a handgun robbed a Baldwin Park man Friday afternoon as he walked along Maine Avenue, officials said.
The victim, a man in his early-50s, was on his way to a nearby barbershop about 5:45 p.m. when he was approached by two men along Maine Avenue near Scott Place, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Melissa Stehly said.
One of the men brandished a handgun as the suspects demanded money, she said. The victim turned over his wallet, which contained between $15 and $30. The robbers then ran off, and the victim was not injured.
Police described the robbers at Latino men between 25 and 30 years old, both with shaved heads and wearing white T-shirts.

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UPDATED: Baldwin Park attorney gets wallet back from robbers; two suspects arrested

BALDWIN PARK — A teenage boy and a woman were behind bars Sunday on suspicion of robbing a local attorney of his wallet at a Starbucks coffee shop before he chased after them and got it back.
Sandra Lopez, 20, of La Puente and a 16-year-old La Puente boy, whose name was withheld due to his age, were arrested on suspicion of robbery several hours after Saturday’s 9:50 a.m. incident at the Starbucks on Baldwin Park Boulevard, just south of Francisquito Avenue, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Mike Hemenway said.
Paul Cook, 31, a lawyer and local activist known to many as “The Boxing Lawyer,” said he was sitting at a table paying bills online with his computer prior to the crime. His wallet was on the table, within arms reach.
“I saw (the teen) snatch my wallet,” he said. “I remember my thought so clearly. It was, ‘Oh, hell no.’”
Cook said he kicked off the flip-flops he was wearing and chased after the thief barefoot as he fled with the stolen wallet. The teen ran toward a nearby car, with a woman waiting at the wheel.
“The suspects didn’t expect me to run so fast,” Cook said. In addition to being an amateur boxer, “I run 7 miles every other day.”
Cook reached the car and reached through the passenger window to grab hold of his wallet, which the teen robber was still clutching, he said. The boy ultimately released the wallet while telling the female driver to “Go, go.”
Cook said he, as well as another customer of the Starbucks, managed to get the license plate number of the fleeing car to report to police.
Officers quickly responded within minutes and tracked the suspects down within hours.
Officers found and arrested Lopez and the boy about 4 p.m. Saturday at a home in the 15000 block of Valley Boulevard in Industry, according to police and Los Angeles County booking records.
“I’m very grateful from the bottom of my heart to the Baldwin Park Police Department for their dedication and compassion,” Cook said. “I’m impressed.”
And the coffee shop provided him with a free Caramel Frappuccino as he dealt with the police, he added.
According to county booking records, Lopez was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail pending her scheduled arraignment Tuesday in West Covina Superior Court.

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Four hurt in fiery crash on the 605 Freeway in Baldwin Park

BALDWIN PARK — Four people were injured, including a child who was flown by helicopter to a trauma center, following a fiery multi-vehicle wreck on the 605 Freeway in Baldwin Park Friday, authorities said.
The crash took place about 6:30 p.m. on the southbound 605 Freeway, just south of Ramona Boulevard, California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials said.
Witnesses called 9-1-1 to report several cars had collided, and a pickup truck had “exploded” into flames with a person trapped inside, according to CHP logs.
Bystanders pulled the trapped person from the burning truck prior the arrival of rescuers, according to fire officials and CHP logs.
Officials shut down both directions of the 605 Freeway as they landed a helicopter to rush one of the patient to the hospital, CHP Officer Ed Jacobs said.
The person flown to the hospital was initially described only as a juvenile, according to fire Dispatch Supervisor Bernard Peters.
Two adults were hospitalized via ambulance with major injuries, Peters said, and a third adult was treated for injuries not believed to be life-threatening.
A total of five cars were involved in the collision, Jacobs said. The cause of the crash was being investigation by officers from the Baldwin Park office of the CHP.

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600 pot plants found growing inside Baldwin Park house

1025_NWS_SGT-L-POTBUST1Police discovered 600 marijuana plants growing in a house and arrested one man Wednesday.
Authorities didn’t have an estimated value for the plants yet.
The grow house’s consumption of illegally obtained electricity led to its discovery.
Baldwin Park Police Lt. Doug Parnell said Southern California Edison suspected someone in the 4400 block of Baldwin Park Boulevard stole $100,000 worth of electricity and contacted police on Wednesday.
Officers headed to the one-story house around 11 a.m. and found marijuana plants in different stages of grow.
“Marijuana (plants) everywhere. Every room. Every closet,” Parnell said.
Officers also found fans plus lighting, watering and filtration systems for the plants. They took one man into custody.
1025_NWS_SGT-L-POTBUST2Sinh Dang, 60, of El Monte was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana, according to police and county booking records.
He was being held at the Baldwin Park jail in lieu of $50,000 bail pending a scheduled arraignment Friday in West Covina Superior Court, records indicated.
The incident marked at least the fourth marijuana growing operation raid carried out by San Gabriel law enforcement in just over a month.
Monterey Park police arrested a man at his Rosemead home on suspicion of cultivating 1025_NWS_SGT-L-POTBUST3marijuana at a home in Rancho Cucamonga, Lt. Frank Duke said. IN addition to 121 pounds of pot recovered from the grow house, officers seized another 35 pounds of dried and processed pot at the suspect’s home.
Deputies found a house with 217 marijuana plants growing inside Oct. 15 at a house in the 4800 block of Glickman Avenue in Temple City, Sgt. Steve Kim said. Before the two-day investigation was done, deputies also seized two assault rifles and a handgun and arrested seven suspects with alleged links to Asian organized crime.
Deputies raided an indoor marijuana growing operation inside a La Puente house in the 500 block of Chatterton Avenue Sept. 18, according to Lt. Pete Cacheiro. No arrests were made, however more than 350 marijuana plants were seized.

- By Brian Day and Riby Gonzales

PHOTOS courtesy of the Baldwin Park Police Department

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Baldwin Park woman struck by car, critically injured

BALDWIN PARK — A senior citizen was struck and seriously injured by a car after trying to cross Ramona Boulevard against a red light early Wednesday, authorities said.
The 62-year-old Baldwin Park woman was hospitalized in “critical-but-stable” condition at Los Angeles-USC Medical Center following the 6:20 a.m. collision at Ramona Boulevard and Stewart Avenue, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Darryl Kosaka said.
She was struck by a westbound car while running north across Ramona Boulevard against a red light, the sergeant said.
The driver of the car that struck the women remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators, Kosaka said. Nothing criminal was initially suspected on his part.
The investigation was ongoing.


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Woman struck by pickup truck in Baldwin Park dies from injuries

BALDWIN PARK — A woman struck and severely injured by a pickup truck while crossing Maine Avenue in Baldwin Park last weekend died Friday at a hospital, authorities said.
The identity of the woman, who was described as being in her 60s, was not released Sunday pending positive identification and confirmation that family had been notified, Baldwin Park police and coroner’s officials said.
The collision took place about 1 p.m. Sept. 28 on Maine Avenue, just north of Ramona Boulevard, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Melissa Stehly.
She was crossing the street within a crosswalk when she was struck by a 2002 Chevrolet 2500 HD pickup truck being driven by a 50-year-old man, Stehly said. The truck was making a left turn out of the Park Plaza shopping center when is struck the pedestrian.
The truck was believed to be owned by a small business, however further details were not available Sunday.
The investigation into the cause and circumstances of the crash remained ongoing, police said, however no crime was initially suspected.

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Two robberies reported Saturday in Baldwin Park

BALDWIN PARK — Two people were robbed Saturday in two separate incidents in Baldwin Park, authorities said.
The first of the two robberies took place about 2:15 a.m. in the 15000 block of Root Street, near Cleary Drive, east of Puente Avenue, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Mike Hemenway said.
The victim was approached by two men who brandished a silver handgun and demanded property, the sergeant said. The robbers fled after obtaining the victim’s cash, cell phone and wallet.
Police described the robbers as two Latino men between 25 and 30 years old, both of medium build. No getaway car was seen.
The second robbery took place about 11:15 p.m. at Baldwin Park Boulevard and Merced Avenue, Hemenway said.
A man and woman approached the victim, and the man pulled a knife and demanded the victim turn over valuables, he said.
The couple got away with the victim’s iPhone and keys, Hemenway added.
The male robber as Latino, in his 20s, about 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 170 pounds, the sergeant said. He was accompanied by a woman described only as white.
No injuries were reported in either crime.
Anyone with information can reach Baldwin Park police at 626-960-1955.

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UPDATED: Woman struck by pickup truck, critically injured while crossing Maine Ave. in Baldwin Park

BALDWIN PARK — Rescuers rushed a Baldwin Park woman to a trauma center in critical condition Saturday after she was struck by a pickup truck while crossing Maine Avenue, authorities said.
The collision took place about 1 p.m. on Maine Avenue, just north of Ramona Boulevard, Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Marco Ortiz said.
The woman suffered “severe head trauma” when struck by the truck, the captain said. She was conscious but required assistance breathing while taken to Los Angeles County-USC for further treatment, Ortiz said.
Police and fire officials estimated the woman was between her 40s and 60s.
The driver of the pickup truck, a man, remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators, Baldwin Park police Sgt. Melissa Stehly said.
Nothing criminal was initially suspected in the collision, she added.
The woman was walking east across Maine Avenue within a crosswalk when struck, Stehly said. The truck was making a left turn onto southbound Maine Avenue from the Park Plaza shopping center.
The incident remained under investigation by the Baldwin Park Police Department’s Major Accident Investigation Team.

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Man charged with murder, robbery in death of Baldwin Park transgender woman found fatally beaten in motel

Melony Smith, 26, Baldwin ParkBALDWIN PARK — A person found beaten to death in a Baldwin Park motel room last week was identified by authorities as a 26-year-old man was a transgender woman known to loved ones as Melony Smith, friends said Monday.

Smith, who was listed at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner as Vanhxay Inthichack, was discovered dead in her motel room in the 13900 block of Francisquito Avenue about 1:30 p.m. Sept. 9.

Detectives Thursday identified Stephen Gonzales, 28, of West Covina as a suspect in the slaying. Lt. David Coleman of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. Gonzales, who was already in jail following a drug possession Wednesday, was expected to appear in Pomona Superior Court Tuesday.

The relationship, if any, between Gonzales and Smith was unknown to both friends and investigators. A specific motive has not been released, however court documents show he was charged Monday with robbery, in addition to murder.

Leticia Alvarado, who works as a cashier at the motel where Smith had been staying on and off for more than three years, said she first discovered her friend’s body.

“We became very close,” Alvarado said. “She called me sister. I was her sister.”

“Before I go to work, I always stop by her room and we have breakfast. That day she wouldn’t answer her phone.”

Alvarado sent she went to the room and asked a maid to open the door and saw Smith’s body lying on the floor.

“She was all bruised up. She had blood on her head. She was lifeless. I could tell she was dead.”

Investigators identified Gonzales as a suspect based on surveillance camera images and cell phone data, Coleman said.

Prosecutors charged Gonzales Friday with murder and robbery, according to a felony complaint filed in Pomona Superior Court. He was also accused of the special, sentence-enhancing allegation of committing murder during the course of a robbery.

Alvarado and another friend of Smith’s, Misty Vale, said they’d never seen Gonzales before.

“We don’t really know why he did it or what’s the relationship with him,” Vale said.

The friends described Smith, who worked for a security company, as well-liked and mild-mannered.

“Everybody liked her at the hotel,” Alvarado said. She was very helpful to everyone. She was funny and outgoing.”

Though shy around strangers, “She was friendly to the people that she knew,” Alvarado added.

Vale said Smith had been saving up money for a car and was hoping to return to school to become a dental hygienist.

She grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, moving out of her family’s home at age 16 because her family disapproved of her being transgender, Alvarado said.

“She decided to leave the house, because her family wouldn’t understand,” Alvarado said. “She moved in with her cousin.”

But she continued going to high school and graduated Sierra Vista High School, the friend said. “She was very proud of that.”

Family members could not be reached for comment Monday.

A viewing was scheduled from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the SkyRose Chapel of Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, 3888 Workman Mill Road, Alvarado said. The funeral will take place Thursday at 1 p.m., to be followed immediately by burial.

Alvarado thanked members of the transgender community who came together to raise money to help pay for the services.

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