Luis and Diego Lobaton were returning to their family’s store in City Heights after sneaking a late-night cigarette.
As the brothers, along with Luis’ girlfriend, walked back to the store from up the street, they were followed by two San Diego police officers. Four more officers soon joined the scene. In a brief but violent encounter, Diego was handcuffed and detained as he opened the door to the store, and Luis was punched repeatedly by an officer who barreled inside with other cops and arrested him.
Hedy Julca, the Lobatons’ mother and the owner of the store, tried to get between two officers who were pounding on Luis Lobaton. An officer wrestled her to the floor. She, too, was handcuffed and arrested.
There was no 911 call, no worried neighbors who drew the officers there that night. Police on patrol simply watched the brothers separately take out keys and enter the store, and decided something nefarious was in the works.
They were both placed on immigration holds while in custody, though Lobaton is a U.S. citizen. He was held for three days as family members scrambled to find his birth certificate to prove his citizenship.
Julca and the toddler are in therapy, Julca said. Luis Lobaton said he has suffered from memory loss and neck pain.
Police spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer confirmed the department is conducting an internal affairs investigation over the incident
Attorney Randall Hamud filed a claim for unspecified damages on behalf of the family.
The family says that the officers weren’t wearing them the night of the incident; SDPD would not confirm whether any of the officers were wearing them or not.
A report filed by Officer Kelvin Lujan said that he and his partner, Officer Sam Euler, were patrolling the 4600 block of University Avenue when they saw Luis Lobaton, 21, and his girlfriend, Emily Fajardo, 18, strolling on the sidewalk. It was about 10:30 p.m. and the pair raised the cops’ suspicion, though the report doesn’t say why. Their suspicion was fueled further when Lobaton unlocked the front door to the store, which was closed, and the couple went inside.
The police reports say officers sensed that Lobaton and Fajardo were engaged in a commercial burglary..
The version of what happened next that is spelled out in officers’ reports and the version told by members of the family differ wildly. But several surveillance cameras inside and outside the store captured the incident and appear to largely back the family’s version of events.
Some of the significant points of contention between police and the family:
Officer Michael Usrey says that at one point Julca “grabbed [the door] and pulled it shut” while Lujan was trying to talk to Luis Lobaton inside. The video doesn’t appear to show Julca holding the door shut, though she may have closed it at some point. But the video does make it clear once Julca opened the door to speak with Lujan, another officer held it open until the cops rushed inside.
• Each report says that the officers were not told that the family owned the store until after arrests were made. One even says that Luis Lobaton “now understands why [officers] were there and was appreciative they were looking out for his mom’s store.”
The family, of course, disputes that.
“I told [Lujan], ‘This is my business.’ I told him Diego had a key to the store. How could he be robbing the store? I told him Diego and Luis are my sons,” Julca said.
“You’ve got several cops standing by the door telling the family, through an open door, that they believe they are burglarizing their own store and nobody told them, ‘Wait a minute, officers. This is our store’? Who’s going to believe that?” said Hamud, the family’s attorney.
Three officers say in their reports that Luis Lobaton assumed a boxer’s or fighter’s stance. Lujan writes that he believed “Lobaton was now in a position to cause bodily harm and or injury to me.”
The video shows that Luis Lobaton was inside the store, with his mother standing in front of him, and officers outside on the sidewalk. Luis Lobaton’s left arm is extended, and he’s holding an object with a light, presumably a cell phone, in front of his face. Lobaton said he was attempting to record the interaction on his phone. Lobaton does not appear to swing or lunge at the officers in the video and actually appears to be backpedaling when an officer rushes inside and begins striking him. (Jump to about 10:29:31 on the surveillance video clock.)
Beyond videos casting doubt on officers’ accounts of any aggressive actions by Luis Lobaton, there’s another reason the police version doesn’t make much sense: Luis Lobaton said he has had a brain tumor since he was a child and getting in a fistfight with a cop, or any situation that might invite blows to his head, was the last thing he wanted to do that night.
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