Montebello firefighter awarded nearly $940,00 for racial harassment, retaliation

LOS ANGELES >> A jury awarded a black Montebello firefighter who sued the city nearly $940,000 Wednesday for racial harassment and retaliation, but did not find true his allegation of racial discrimination, officials said.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury sided with Vernon Creswell in two of his three accusations in the case, which was first filed in September 2013.
Creswell was awarded $750,000 for racial harassment and about $189,000 for retaliation, according to attorney Jeff Stockley, one of the lawyers representing Montebello. But the jury sided with Montebello regarding the racial discrimination claim.
“We appreciate hat they considered all the evidence,” Stockley said. It was not immediately clear whether the city would appeal the decision.
“We’re currently evaluating our options,” Stockley said.
“We want the citizens of Montebello to know that the city is dedicated to combatting discrimination,” he added.
According to the court documents, Creswell encountered hostility almost immediately after joining to the Montebello Fire Department in 2008 as the department’s only black firefighter.
Attorneys for Creswell did could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
Creswell’s lawsuit claimed that then-battalion chief Greg Mowad, who has since reportedly been terminated, repeatedly used racial slurs. Creswell also accused other members of the department of harassing him based on his race, or failing to act when he reported the behavior.
Mowad and another supervisor have, “openly told Plaintiff’s fellow firefighters to take Plaintiff ‘out back’ to teach him a lesson,” the lawsuit states.
Supervisors constantly criticized Creswell for minor issues concerning his performance and the manner in which he wore his uniform, the claim alleges.
And Creswell claimed he was denied a deserved promotion to the rank of captain, both because of his race, and because he had complained about alleged discrimination and harassment. The lawsuit claims that Creswell was given a different and more grueling test process for the captain position than three competitors, who were not black.
“Plaintiff’s supervisors have made it clear by actions that the Plaintiff will never promote to the rank of Captain in the Montebello Fire Department and that he is not welcome in the department, all on account of his race,” according to the lawsuit.

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Man shot to death in Montebello identified

MONTEBELLO >> Authorities Sunday released the identity of a 19-year-old East Los Angeles man who was shot to death in an apartment complex courtyard in Montebello Friday afternoon.
Gabriel Vargas Jr. died at the scene of the shooting, which took place just after noon in the 500 block of Via Altamira Drive, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Fred Corrall said.
Officers responding to reports of gunfire to find Vargas lying in a courtyard between two apartment complexes, mortally wounded.
Vargas was talking with a small group of acquaintances just before the shooting, Montebello police officials said.
“It was during this time the suspect approached the victim on foot and fired several times, striking him multiple times,” police said in a written statement.
The shooter was described only as a man.
Anyone with information was asked to contact the Montebello Police Department.

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Domestic violence suspect turns self in after escape from Montebello hospital

MONTEBELLO >> A Montebello domestic violence suspect who allegedly bit and choked his girlfriend, suffered a broken arm while fleeing police and escaped from a hospital where he was brought for treatment and psychiatric evaluation turned himself in early Sunday, officials said.
Conrado Ferrer, 23, got into a fight with his girlfriend about 1:10 a.m. Saturday, said Montebello police Detective Paul Antista.
“During the altercation, suspect Ferrer bit his girlfriend on her finger, pushed her to the ground causing her to hit her head on a block wall and then began choking her,” the detective said.
Someone in a passing vehicle called police, but Ferrer fled when they arrived, Antista said. As he tried to escape, Ferrer jumped from an apartment building roof and broke his arm, the detective said.
Once in custody, he said he wanted to kill himself, Antista said.
Ferrer was brought to Beverly Hospital for treatment of the arm injury and a psychiatric evaluation, but at 5:19 a.m. he bolted from the hospital while receiving X-rays, wearing only a hospital gown, police said.
A search proved fruitless, and police sought the public’s help in finding Ferrer.
He showed up at the Montebello Police Department early Sunday morning to turn himself in, Lt. Rick Rojas said.
“His family talked him into surrendering,” he said.

City News Services contributed to this report.

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DEVELOPING: Police seek suspects in Montebello home-invasion robbery

MONTEBELLO >> Police asked residents of a Montebello neighborhood to stay indoors Wednesday as they searched the area for suspect in a reported home-invasion robbery, officials said.
The incident first began shortly after 7 p.m. in the area of Wilcox Avenue and Hay Street, Montebello police officials said via the department’s Twitter account.
Though initially described as a residential break-in, police later said they were treating the crime as a home-invasion robbery.

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Police plan checkpoint in Montebello

MONTEBELLO >> Police are planning a sobriety and driver license checkpoint Friday in Montebello, officials said.
The checkpoint will be held from 7 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. the following morning at an undisclosed location within the city, Montebello police officials said in a written statement.
“Over the course of the past three years, DUI collisions have claimed 8 lives and resulted in 791 injury crashes harming 1,057 of our friends and neighbors,” according to Sgt. Larry Jackson.
Funding for the checkpoint is being provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Montebello police officer accused of DUI following Diamond Bar crash

DIAMOND BAR >> Deputies arrested a Montebello police officer early Wednesday on suspicion of drunken driving following a crash in Diamond Bar, according to officials and county booking records.
Christopher Andrew Cervantes, 43, was booked on suspicion of misdemeanor DUI about 3:30 a.m. and released on $5,000 bail within the hour, according to Los Angeles County booking records.
Lt. John Saleeby of the sheriff’s Walnut-Diamond Bar station confirmed the arrest, but declined to provide information regarding the circumstances of the arrest, saying the investigation was “ongoing.” He deferred further inquiries to the Montebello Police Department.
In addition to the sheriff’s department investigation, Montebello police have launched their own internal investigation into the incident, Montebello police Lt. Kelly Gordon said.
“At 12:40 this morning, one of our employees was involved in a traffic collision in Diamond Bar,” Gordon said. “The employee was arrested.”
Gordon declined to confirm the name of the involved officer.
She said she did not know whether the involved police employee was on-duty or off-duty, or whether the crash involved a police vehicle or a personal car.
Further details were not available. Montebello Police Chief Kevin McClure could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Wednesday’s arrest was not Cervantes first scrape with the law from the other side of the badge.
He was arrested by San Diego police in July of 2011 when he was allegedly drunk, resisted arrest and falsely identified himself to arresting officers as an agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Fellow officers who filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Montebello Police Department in 2012 accused the department of failing to properly discipline the officer.
Former Mongol Al “The Suit” Cavazos and his brother, former club president Ruben “Doc” Cavazos, have accused Cervantes and his partner in the ATF of lying about the circumstances of a 2007 shooting in order to obtain a search warrant which ultimately led to federal convictions for 78 Mongols and a state conviction for the shooter. Both Montebello police and ATF officials have denied the allegation.
The Mongols have voted the Cavazos brothers “out bad” of the organization.
Al Cavazos said he was not surprised Cervantes, who he described as “crooked,” had gotten into legal trouble.
“I have put in numerous complaints with the Montebello Police Department department about his corruption,” Al Cavazos said of Cervantes. “He falsified documents that put me in jail.” Al Cavazos served nine months behind bars in connection with the case, and has since successfully sued the government for the return of a seized motorcycle.
“(Cervantes) falsified evidence, which I could prove,” he said. “He went as far as to falsify two attempted murder, and drug charges.”
Al Cavazos said he has also filed complaints with the sheriff’s East Los Angeles Station, which patrols the jurisdiction where the 2007 Nicola’s bar shooting took place. But nothing has come of the complaints, which Cavazos said police and sheriff’s administrators were not taking seriously.

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Five ‘Courageous Citizens’ honored by D.A. for acts of heroism is Montebello, Alhambra, Burbank


Video by Walt Mancini
PASADENA >> Five “Courageous Citizens” who put themselves in danger to stop three different violent attacks in Montebello, Alhambra, and Burbank received awards Wednesday form the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
A man who intervened in the beating of an elderly man by an assailant half his age; two women who stopped a registered sex offender and lifelong felon from kidnapping a young woman; and two men who helped stop and capture a man who as he stabbed his ex-wife were the five “ordinary citizens” who District Attorney Jackie Lacey said showed uncommon courage in the face of violent crimes against strangers.
“We hope these stories will inspire others to do the right thing when the time calls,” Lacey told the Pasadena Rotary Club audience.
Telesforo Arellano Diaz, 58, of Montebello, received the Courageous Citizens Award for defending a 78-year-old man who was being severely beaten by an unprovoked attacker half his age, Deputy District Attorney Tony Cho said.
Richard Paul Garcia, then-39, attacked the victim as he collected recyclables from a Montebello dumpster near Washington Boulevard and Greenwood Avenue, Cho said. Garcia punched, kicked and struck the victim with a broomstick.
Diaz rushed to help, Cho said. Garcia attacked Diaz, biting him on the hand during the scuffle. But Diaz, with the help of two other good Samaritans, held Garcia until police arrived.
The victim suffered a broken hand, but no permanent injuries, Cho said. Without Diaz, “It could have been much worse.”
Diaz said he never thought twice about getting involved. “An old person like that, it could have been by father. It’s not right,” he said through a Spanish interpreter.
Jennifer Clark, 43, of Redondo Beach and Connie Tejada, 58, of Downey stopped by a Fremont Avenue Starbucks in Alhambra for coffee on Sept. 12, 2013, when they noticed a man yelling at a woman in her 20s as she sat in a car.
The man — later identified as Frank Hernandez, now-66, of Rosemead — had met the victim at his church and lured her to the coffee shop by telling her he had a gift for her, Deputy District Attorney David Ayvazian said. He cut off his GPS tracking device before meeting the woman.
Hernandez brandished what appeared to be a revolver, forced his way into the woman’s car, threatened to kill her and pistol-whipped her, Ayvazian said.
As the terrified victim made eye contact with Clark, “She mouthed, ‘help me,’” Clark said. Clark then told the man, “She doesn’t want you here. You need to go away now.”
As the attacker fled, Tejada used her cell phone to take video footage of Hernandez and his license plate, which she promptly handed over to police, helping them promptly arrest Hernandez, officials said.
“We believe that she was going to be kidnapped, possibly worse, and these two women got involved and stopped that from happening,” Ayvazian said. If not for Clark and Tejada, “who knows what harm this innocent woman would have had to suffer? And another violent predator would be continuing to roam our streets.”
Francisco Godinez, 40, of South Gate and Zinobi Gerbs, 44, of Burbank were honored for intervening when they saw Trino Godinez, 47, attacking his ex-wife with a knife following a planned custody exchange at a Burbank gas station.
The woman ran from her car at a red light after the suspect hopped into the car, brandished a handgun and threatened the woman, Deputy District Attorney Melanie Buccat said. The attacker chased after her, stabbing her three times.
Frank Godinez leapt from his work truck to help and struck the knife-wielding attacker in the head with a wrench before he, Gerbs and an off-duty sheriff’s deputy subdued the man.

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Montebello doctor sentenced for molesting patients

MONTEBELLO >> A judge sentenced a Montebello doctor to five years in prison Friday for sexually molesting four female patients in his care, officials said.
Arturo Vargas, 44, pleaded “no contest” Friday to two counts of felony sexual battery, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials said in a written statement.
A jury convicted Vargas in February of two counts of sexual exploitation by a physician for molesting two additional patients, but acquitted him of seven charges involving four other alleged victims, officials said. The Los Angeles Superior Court jury failed to reach verdicts on more than a dozen additional charges.
Vargas entered Friday’s “no contest” pleas during what was scheduled to be a pretrial hearing on the remaining charges.
In addition to being sentenced to five years in state prison, Judge Curtis Rappe also ordered Vargas to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Montebello police first arrested Vargas in Jan. 2012 after a woman reported being molested by him at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Offices on Towne Center Drive, authorities said. Seven additional women subsequently came forward and made similar allegations of molestation at the Baldwin Park facility, as well as at other medical facilities in Los Angeles County.

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Montebello man, 75, sentenced for wife’s murder

MONTEBELLO >> A 75-year-old man convicted of strangling his wife of 44 years at their Montebello apartment received a sentenced of 15 years to life behind bars Wednesday, authorities said.
Baghdo Hayrapetyan, 75, received the sentence from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta, court officials said.
A jury convicted him Oct. 30 of second-degree murder for the March 5, 2012, strangling death of his wife, 63-year-old Anahit Hayrapetyan, according to Los Angeles County District Attorney’s officials. At a hearing the following month, the same jury determined that Baghdo Hayrapetyan was sane at the time of the killing.
The couple, who had been married for more than four decades, became involved in an argument at their home in a seniors’ apartment complex in the 2000 block of West Whittier Boulevard.
Rescuers and police arrived at the scene to find Anahit Hayrapetyan unconscious and not breathing, Los Angeles County sheriff’s and coroner’s officials said. Baghdo Hayrapetyan was also suffering from stab wounds on his torso that were believed to be self-inflicted. He was initially hospitalized in critical condition before receiving medical treatment and facing trial.
The crime was first discovered by worried family members who went on the apartment to heck on the couple after being unable to contact them, Lt. Eddie Hernandez of Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said.

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Medical service dog goes missing in Montebello


MONTEBELLO >> Police asked the public to keep an eye out for a Montebello family’s service dog, which went missing last week.
Pipistrello, a 2-year-old Australian terrier called “Pip” for short, was last seen Tuesday in the 300 block of North Greenwood Avenue, near Harding Avenue, Montebello police Lt. Rich Meadows said.
More than a pet, Pip is a service dog who aids her owner, who suffers from a medical condition, Meadows said.
Upon hearing of the lost service dog, Montebello police decided to help the family spread the word in hopes that someone will find and turn in Pip, the lieutenant said.
Pip is reddish-blond and was wearing a pink collar and a dog tag attached to the collar with a pink, heart-shaped clip, officials said.
Anyone who spots the dog is asked to contact Montebello police at 323-887-1313.

PHOTO courtesy of the Montebello Police Department

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