Saturday, August 27, 2011

Juvenile probation managers on leave over photos

FARMINGTON — The chief and a supervisor of the Farmington juvenile probation are under investigation after three photographs taken in 2009 surfaced last week showing them holding handguns and flashing gang signs in the Farmington office of Juvenile Probation and Parole.

Chief Heather Faverino and Supervisor Krista Lawrence were placed on administrative leave Friday after Children, Youth and Families Department officials were made aware of the pictures.

"Our initial understanding is that the guns are soft-pellet guns," said Enrique Knell, spokesman for the department. "The photos were likely taken during a light moment in the office in a joking manner. However, given the serious nature of our work at CYFD, the photos are, at the very least, inappropriate."

One photograph depicts Faverino mugging for the camera while making a gang sign with her right hand.

Another shows both Faverino, who is holding what appears to be a black gun, and Lawrence flashing a gang sign. The third includes both women holding what appear to be handguns. A Raiders pennant hangs in the backdrop of two of the pictures.

The investigation will determine what discipline is appropriate, up to possible termination, Knell said.

Knell was unclear if any agency policies were violated, but said the agency will continue to investigate. He was unsure how long the investigation will take.

"This is nothing but a training tool that has been blown way out of proportion by some disgruntled employees," Attorney Steve Murphy said speaking on behalf of Faverino and Lawrence.

The employees, Murphy added, "are trying to get their job back and discredit these two hard working probation officers by sending around this photograph that they were using for training purposes."

Part of their work with the department includes giving presentations to kids, families, community members and teachers.

Both Faverino and Lawrence contend that they were taken for the purpose of being used as training.

"These were light-hearted pictures for our purposes in teaching gang awareness," Faverino said. "Not only do we use humor, but we show graffiti and gang signs."

By depicting themselves looking ridiculous holding guns and flashing the gang signs, "it opens the door to discuss the perception of how photographs stay with you and stereotypes you," Faverino said.

The point was to teach the kids so that they could discourage them from posting similar pictures on Facebook and Twitter, she said.

The pictures, however, never made it into a presentation.

Both Lawrence and Faverino believed they were immediately deleted.

"We have done nothing wrong," Faverino said. "There is nothing illegal about these pictures."

The pictures were taken by an employee who no longer works for the office, she said.

The two women questioned how the photographs surfaced, two years after they were taken.

No children or families were present at the time.

The airsoft guns were confiscated from juveniles in the probation system.

"Our protocol is that any ime a weapon is found, the police have to be called to take custody of the weapon," Knell said.

The women confirmed that any illegal item confiscated from children — probation officers often conduct in-home searches — are handed over to the police.

Legal items such as an airsoft gun, however, is kept by officials and likely released back to the child or family once the child is off probation or parole, Faverino said. Records are kept of all confiscated items.

These particular guns were confiscated sometime in 2006 or 2007 and juvenile probation employees, at the time the photographs were shot, were in the process of clearing out such items.

Faverino has worked for Juvenile Probation and Parole for 15 years, having started as a probation officer and working her way to supervisor and eventually chief. She is the chief for the 11th Judicial District, which encompasses San Juan and McKinley counties.

Lawrence has worked in the agency for 10 years and also began as a probation officer, Lawrence said.

"They have a good reputation in CYFD and they don't have a history of being disruptive or getting in trouble on the job," Knell said.

Scott Darnell, press secretary for the governor's office, issued a statement late Friday:

"The activities of the employees in these photos are completely inappropriate and will not be tolerated," Darnell said. "This is a facility and agency that is charged with projecting a positive example for our kids and families. Employees will be held to the highest standard in this administration. This situation will be investigated quickly and wrongdoing will be punished.

Both Faverino and Lawrence said that they are invested in the families and kids they work with daily.

"We're passionate about the work we do here," Lawrence said.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Heritage Elementary School program’s lockdown reflects area’s growing gang problem

Centered in the heart of Lodi’s gang territory, Heritage Elementary School shows scars of the area’s epidemic. Campus custodians regularly clean up broken beer bottles and paint over gang-related graffiti on the campus that serves roughly 600 students. Gunshots are routinely heard in the blocks surrounding the school.

Heritage’s location in the most violent part of Lodi was highlighted when employees of an afterschool program locked down the campus Friday afternoon because of a drive-by shooting in the area.

Alicia Montantes, leader of Heritage’s Bridge Program, heard several gunshots in a four-way stop across the street from the school’s main office and rushed students into the cafeteria shortly before 5 p.m.

Although the situation could have been lethal, the students did not panic, she said.

“They practice lockdown drills quarterly at the school and (the Bridge Program conducts) them monthly,” she said. “Even though they knew there was a shooting, they handled it well.”

More than 100 children participate in Heritage’s afterschool program, and roughly 50 were at the school at the time of the shooting, Montantes said.

The Bridge Program is an afterschool enrichment program funded by Proposition 49 grant funds.

After informing other employees on campus of the lockdown with a walkie-talkie, Montantes and others directed children into the cafeteria or classrooms and had them hide under tables. The children remained there until police came to the school and informed them it was safe.

On Monday, the school’s principal lauded the quick reactions of the Bridge workers, but said the situation is the symbol of larger problems in the area.

“Every school in the district has an action plan for how it handles a lockdown,” said Maria Cervantes. “Our staff did an excellent job Friday. But the violence in the area is starting to become overwhelming.”

The lockdown

Friday’s incident took place around 4:45 p.m. as teenagers standing at the southwest corner of Eden and Garfield streets were fired at from a vehicle heading north, police said. Several vehicles were struck with bullets, but no one was injured in the shooting, police said.

After workers received news of the shooting and rushed the students to safety, employees began calling parents to inform them of the situation and have them pick up their children. All students were collected by their parents before 6 p.m., said Kevin Harkin, vice principal of the district’s Bridge Program.

Friday’s lockdown was the first in several years for the school, but Cervantes said the incidents of violence and vandalism in and around the school have exploded over the past year.

“Every Monday when we come here, there is new graffiti on the walls and gang symbols etched into the windows,” she said.

The last time Heritage experienced a lockdown with police involvement was when juveniles were firing Airsoft guns at street signs near the school in 2009, Cervantes said.

Unlike Friday’s lockdown, the 2009 event took place during school hours.

When do lockdowns take place?

Lodi Unified School District schools may experience a lockdown for a number of reasons, according to Catherine Pennington, assistant superintendent of primary education.

Typically, the lockdown includes locking all doors, closing the blinds and keeping students and staff inside. In serious situations, students might be directed to shelter under their desks, according to Pennington.

Most often when lockdowns occur, the police notify district staff that something is occurring in the neighborhood.

It can range from gunfire in proximity to the school, as occurred Friday at Heritage, to police exploring a domestic dispute in a home two blocks from the school, Pennington said.

The site administrator or person in charge gives direction to staff on the lockdown and then informs their supervisor.

The district’s Connect-Ed system can also be used to notify parents. Depending on the situation, parents may receive special direction to wait until the all-clear has been given and to pick up their students, as they did Friday.

Launched in 2006, Connect-Ed is a phone system that sends recorded messages to student’s homes.

Pennington did not have the date of the last lockdown at a district school.

“There are usually several a year, but most often for things not directly affecting the schools,” she said in an email Monday.

Officer Jim Pendegrast is the school resource officer for Heritage. He handles six other schools in addition to Heritage and routinely checks the campus as part of his patrol, said Cpl. Val Chaban of the Lodi Police Department.

What can citizens do?

In an effort to curb crime in the area, the department could crack down on trespassing at Heritage during the evening, Chaban said. The campus has a no trespassing ordinance, and adults are required to sign in and out during school hours if they are visiting a classroom, Cervantes said.

A “zero tolerance” enforcement on trespassing could cut down on some of the vandalism, Cervantes said, but people will still find a way to enter the campus late at night.

“Unless you put 10-foot high walls all the way around the campus, trespassers are going to get in,” she said. “If someone wants to get in badly enough, they will.”

The department has increased its patrols in the areas receiving the highest concentration of violent crime, but residents in those areas must remain vigilant and assist police, Chaban said.

“We need them to be our eyes and ears,” he said. “We rely on them to help us because we can’t be everywhere at once.”

A meeting between campus employees, district officials and police was held Monday afternoon at Heritage. The forum focused on discussions on how to improve communication between the entities, said Grover Davis, Bridge supervisor for the district.

While he wouldn’t offer specifics about what was discussed at the meeting, Davis said the meeting was productive.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Should realistic toy guns be outlawed?

ALBANY, Ore. - Police locked down a community college campus after reports of a man in camoflage carrying a gun last week.

The man turned out to be a boy playing "Army" with his cousin, carrying a toy gun painted black to look for real.

This isn't the first time toy guns have been confused for the real thing in Western Oregn.

Five Bethel School District buildings locked down in 2007 after a Eugene teenager was seen waving a pellet gun near an elementary school.

And in 2003, a Salem police officer shot and killed a man who pointed an airsoft gun at an officer.

Critics of realistic toy guns say they look too real.

In Oregon, the City of Beaverton banned airsoft guns in 2009.

A California lawmaker proposed a bill requiring toy and pellet guns look like toys.

The law would have banned having toy guns painted black and required that all pretend guns be white, or bright red, orange, yellow green, pink or purple.

The bill never got out of committee.

In the Albany case, the father of the one of the boys said he painted the toy gun black - and now said that probably wasn't a good idea.

"My son likes it to look make it real, so it was painted black," said Peter Hargett. "That was a step too far."

Police did not cite the boys, ages 8 and 11, but did tell them not to play with realistic gun in public.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Teens caught brandishing toy gun while driving

Two Muskegon teens are in trouble with the law after they were observed brandishing an Airsoft gun at 5 p.m. Thursday near Beacon Boulevard and Taylor Avenue in Grand Haven.

Police said a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old was observed by another motorist who thought the front-seat passenger, 17, was brandishing an actual gun, said Capt. Rick Yonker of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety. About a half-hour later, a GHDPS detective was behind the suspect vehicle; and, according to Yonker, officers initiated a stop of the vehicle just south of Robbins Road and positioned their vehicles for a felony stop.

“It’s the most cautious way we’d stop a vehicle,” Yonker said, adding they do those types of stops on belief that a weapon is in the car.

Yonker said the two passengers were asked to leave the vehicle one at a time. After a search, the Airsoft gun was located, as well as a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, Yonker said.

One of the suspects admitted to brandishing the toy weapon and said they didn’t intend for it to be done in a threatening manner, Yonker said.

The driver of the vehicle was issued a citation for possession of a plastic bag of marijuana, and the passenger was cited for possessing drug paraphernalia and displaying an Airsoft gun in a passenger compartment of a vehicle.

The two suspects, whose names haven’t been released, are due to appear in court later this month.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fundraiser held in honor of killed San Gabriel teen

ALHAMBRA - Friends and supporters of deceased San Gabriel teenager Bo Feng will host a fundraiser this morning at Tac City Airsoft in South El Monte.

The all-day event begins at 10 a.m. and is designed to help her family and promote pedestrian safety in the San Gabriel Valley.

"We want to make it safe for everyone," said Selina Feng, whose 17-year-old daughter was hit and killed by an unidentified driver July 15. Feng was struck by the vehicle while crossing the street at the intersection of Shorb Street and New Avenue in Alhambra. She died from her injuries the following day.

While city officials said they need time to conduct studies of the intersection, Alhambra and San Gabriel residents argue that the crosswalk is unsafe.

The fundraiser titled "CQB DAY" will include a free lunch. Airsoft products from Echo1, Socom Gear, and Madbull Airsoft will be raffled off. Tac City Airsoft is located at 2208 Edwards Ave.

One of the fundraiser's organizers, David Eng of San Gabriel, said the tragedy has struck a chord in the community.

"Her funeral service was packed with people from all over," he said. "And there were grown men crying."

Eng said that Feng's untimely death highlights pedestrian safety problems in the San Gabriel Valley.

A 2009 study by the California Office of Traffic Safety found that San Gabriel ranked seventh out of 104 California cities that reported accidents involving pedestrians. That's the highest in the San Gabriel Valley.

Alhambra and South Pasadena were tied for 16th on the list, followed by Rosemead at 17th and Monterey Park at 39th.

Led by Feng's Gabrielino High School classmate Kimiko Nishitsuji, a group presented more than 1,000 signatures Monday at the Alhambra City Council meeting.

The group wants Alhambra and San Gabriel to work together to add reflectors and a button-activated crossing sign to the crosswalk at New Avenue and Shorb.

Both cities would have to agree to the changes. About two-thirds of the intersection is part of Alhambra and one- third is San Gabriel property.

"It shouldn't take a tragedy like the death of Bo Feng for the city to make a change and unfortunately she isn't the first," Nishitsuji said.

Alhambra City Manager Julio Fuentes said the city is looking at the petition and is empathic to the pedestrian safety concerns.

Mary Chavez, Alhambra's director of public works, said the city is waiting to review the results of the ongoing police investigation to see what caused the accident.

Before the city can make changes to any intersection or crosswalk, she added, it must conduct a traffic engineering study that would look at historical data, traffic counts and field observations.

Eng insisted the crosswalk is obviously unsafe.

"Drivers, they just blow by to try and catch the green light," he said.

Read more: Fundraiser held in honor of killed San Gabriel teen - Whittier Daily News

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A blast of friendly fire

A Sunderland backyard was transformed into the set of a special operations video game as teams of boys, some of them dressed in camouflage clothing, maneuvered around barriers shooting at each other in the first Sunderland Airsoft Gun Tournament last Wednesday.

Marc Hood, 12, created invitations for the tournament on a computer and sent them to his friends at Windy Hill Middle School and to the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, said Mark Hood, a U.S. Capitol Police canine officer.

About 20 boys signed up for the elimination tournament that had teams of three shooting Airsoft guns at each other. Hood gave a safety talk before the tournament, which he wants to make an annual event, and made sure all the boys wore facial shields with ear protection and understood that they were not allowed to shoot at someone within 20 feet of them.

“We try to stress safety,” he said.

“It’s almost like paintball,” Hood said, mentioning that they are air powered guns that shoot plastic BBs that “will sting” a bit when someone gets hit.

“It feels like someone’s tapping you,” said 13-year-old Jackson Drum of the pellets hitting.

Hood, who didn’t charge anything to participate and provided lunch for the boys, said, “I want the kids to have fun,” and have the event be a success for his son. Hood even corralled a friend to video tape the tournament and gave each boy a DVD.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Christopher Van Deventer, 13, who said he got upset when he got shot and had to lie down, but he understands it’s just a game. Cody McCarley, 13, said he likes the competition, and seeing the boys’ enthusiasm, it was obvious they were all having fun.

The playing field was down a path in the woods behind the Hoods’ home, and it had 6-foot tall hay bales, 55-gallon plastic barrels and pieces of plywood large enough for two people to hide behind scattered around the approximately 100-yard field. Michael Williams, 13, said, “I like how the stage was set,” mentioning that he liked all the barriers that were made to hide behind during the games because normally when he plays they use trees to hide behind.

“[Mark Hood] did a great job setting up,” said George Harting, whose son Daniel, 13, played.

“He’s been talking about this for months,” Harting said.

Members of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations Team, Cpl. Figueiras, Dfc. Cox, Dfc. Sloane and Dfc. Jones, along with a Calvert County Detention Center’s Ofc. Flynt, who was the on-site medic, all spent the afternoon being tournament judges, ensuring that the rules were followed, and, on occasion, giving the boys tactical instructions as they worked the field.

“You got two men down, you’ve gotta move, go, go,” yelled out Figueiras during the championship game as the boys were holed up behind a barrier. The deputies also made sure that the boys who were hit held their hands up signaling they were hit, and then laid down until a teammate placed a gold police sticker on their shirt, which indicated they were hit. They could then play again until they were hit a second time, and out of the game.

Prior to the tournament, the deputies checked each boy’s gun and made sure they were working properly. Some of the boys just had rifles, while others had both a rifle and a pistol, which was allowed in the tournament. The battery-operated rifles the boys used are considered automatic and carry about 300 rounds in the magazine, and cost anywhere from $100 to $300, said Ronnie Flynt, who knew a great deal about different types of Airsoft guns and said that some guns cost much more.

Playing in tournaments gets them outside away from TV and video games and teaches them about sportsmanship, following rules and winning and losing, Jones said. And when asked of what he thought about the boys’ special operation techniques of dodging behind the barriers and peeking around corners, he said, “They play a lot of video games.” Hood acknowledged that the boys do learn moves from playing the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” video game.

The championship game called for a two-game loss elimination, and the team of 13-year-olds of Cody McCarley, Jozeph Lunczynski and Kevin Clarry won two games in a row, winning the tournament and garnering small trophies. Although the tournament was over, all the boys still wanted to play, so they regrouped on teams and took turns throughout the afternoon.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tacoma man charged with robbing two banks

A 20-year-old Tacoma man pleaded not guilty this afternoon to two counts of first-degree robbery for allegedly holding up two banks in four days.

Jacob Scott Brooks was arrested Monday night shortly after a U.S. Bank in the 17300 block of Pacific Avenue in Spanaway was robbed at 6 p.m.

Brooks entered the bank with a handgun and demanded money from two tellers before fleeing, according to charging documents.

Pierce County sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene and learned a suspect had fled on a nearby Pierce Transit bus. The deputies stopped the bus to speak with Brooks and the other man.

After a short foot pursuit, Brooks was arrested.

A backpack with cash and an airsoft pistol that had been tampered with to resemble a real handgun were found on the bus, Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.

Brooks is also charged with a July 30 robbery at a U.S. Bank branch in Tacoma.

In that case, he allegedly wore a bandana over his face, carried a handgun and forced a teller to fill two bags with cash. He told her “Thank you” and “You did a good job” before fleeing.