Civil rights lawsuit filed against LA County probation officers over alleged assault involving teen

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Thursday, August 3, 2023
Lawsuit filed against LA County over alleged assault involving teen
A civil rights lawsuit claims several probation officers used excessive force against a teen detainee at a Malibu juvenile facility and failed to share video of the confrontation with the district attorney's office.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday against Los Angeles County, its former chief probation officer and various deputy probation officers at a juvenile camp in Malibu alleges officers used excessive force against a minor detainee and failed to share video of the confrontation with the district attorney's office, despite being urged to do so by county officials.

Among the defendants is Probation Officer Oscar Cross, who was criminally charged last week for allegedly using unnecessary force as he and four other officers tried to restrain Beckham Cardona, who was a 17-year-old juvenile detainee at the Los Angeles County Probation Department's Camp Kilpatrick facility on Oct. 23, 2020.

According to the complaint for unspecified damages filed late Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court, Cross, ex-Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales and officers -- including several managers -- "improperly and unjustly detained, assaulted and asphyxiated'' Cardona after he asked camp personnel for more food.

In a statement, the probation department said it does not comment on pending litigation. However, the department stated it has "a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and unnecessary use of force against our youths. Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of the young people in our care, as well as the safety of our staff who work with them.''

Cardona -- who will turn 20 next month -- and his attorneys held a press conference Wednesday morning to discuss the federal civil lawsuit.

"I want justice," said Cardona. "I feel like this is so bad ... this trauma."

The teen said he still suffers from back pain and said he was afraid to come forward due to alleged threats indicating he would be sent to adult prison while being housed at the Camp Kilpatrick facility.

"Not only did they brutalize him but they covered it up," said Cardona's attorney Luis Carrillo. "They covered it up and they failed to report child abuse. They could be prosecuted for that crime of failure to report child abuse."

Video of the incident was first made public by The Los Angeles Times.

According to the complaint, the officers "wrongfully restrained Cardona and then pinned him down at several points of his body, bending his body in half, causing extreme pain'' and cut off his air supply when Cross and other officers allegedly "placed excessive weight on Cardona's throat and/or chest.''

Attorneys further contend in the suit that despite their client's "unimposing physical attributes and repeated pleas for his mother and painful screams to remove the excessive weight from (his) throat and/or chest, the officers continued to asphyxiate, assault, and bend Cardona in half, causing (him) to experience immense pain and near-death due to the lack of oxygen to his lungs and brain.''

Cross and fellow officers "did not release pressure from Cardona's neck and/or chest until (his) body was limp from the excessive force, at which point two officers carried Cardona away.''

The lawsuit claims that at the time of the confrontation, Cardona was "unarmed, underfed, not committing a crime, had not threatened anyone, was not about to harm anyone, and posed no imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to anyone. As a result of the excessive force, Cardona endured severe pain and suffering, emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, and blunt force trauma to his extremities, thorax, and head.''

According to a story published in The Times regarding video evidence of the assault, Gonzales initially failed to "share the video with oversight agencies that monitor'' the probation department and even declined to share the video with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office "for review, despite being urged to do so by other county officials.''

After the video was made public, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon announced last month he had filed criminal charges against Cross in connection with the alleged assault.

Cross was charged with one count of assault under the color of authority. He faces three years in county jail if convicted.

READ MORE | LA County probation supervisor charged with assault, accused of excessive force in restraining teen

Oscar Cross allegedly used excessive force as he and four other deputy probation officers attempted to restrain a juvenile. WARNING: The video above includes material some viewers may find disturbing due to its graphic nature. Viewer discretion is advised.

The district attorney refused to say whether any other probation officers will be charged, saying that there are still "multiple investigations going on.''

County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath told reporters when the video was released that she was "horrified to learn about and to witness through the video a clear and disturbing use of excessive force that occurred in my district,'' and said she was further disturbed when little was done by our prior chief probation officer to hold the perpetrator responsible for this heinous act.''

The Times reported that Gonzales -- who was fired by the Board of Supervisors in March -- did not heed recommendations to fire Cross or provide the video to the district attorney.

Los Angeles County Probation Oversight Commissioner Franky Carrillo said the criminal filing against Cross "will send a clear message to the department that this is something that cannot be accepted.''

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.