Chief admits officers "fell short"
She told her son to turn the other cheek, to avoid violence, and let the system handle the problem. But for her son and his girlfriend, the system failed.
At a community forum meeting addressing crime and juvenile delinquency Wednesday night, “Tracy,” who declined to use her real name because she said she feared retaliation within the Latino community, demanded answers.
South Lake Tahoe Police and Fire Chief Brad Bennett admitted that his department had not responded appropriately.
“Some of the officers fell a little short of what they should have done, and we’re dealing with those officers,” Bennett said. “I’m not afraid to say we messed up, and we’re working to correct the situation.”
Tracy said she first called the police when three girls, one an ex-girlfriend of her son’s, smashed a back window on their camper. She asked for an officer to come and view the damage, but no one ever arrived.
She called again after her son told her the girls had threatened his life. She asked to make a written statement on the incident, but was assured that it wasn’t necessary.
On Monday, as her son and his girlfriend were walking home from their bus stop, they were attacked. Three South Tahoe High School girls were implicated in the incident. Tracy said they were the same girls that had threatened and harassed her son in the past.
Tracy said her son attempted to protect his girlfriend by placing his body over hers, but the attackers were still able to kick the girl in the head several times rendering her unconscious.
A neighbor witnessing the fight reportedly pulled the girls off and called the police. Tracy said when she arrived, two police officers were there. She told them the past history, the girls’ names and their addresses. She said her son’s girlfriend was drifting in and out of conscious as she lay on the ground.
After taking statements, Tracy said the two officers left without contacting the victim’s parents or seeking medical attention for her. Tracy took the girl home, and the girl’s parents took her to the hospital. Bennett said the girl was not unconscious when the officers arrived.
“The officer didn’t recognize the possible injuries at that point,” Bennett said. “They may have used some poor judgment.”
“I feel guilty and mad, and angry. I’ve always told my son to stay away from violence. My son is not a violent boy, and he has done what me and his father have told him to do,” Tracy said. “After the attack he was so angry. He told me, ‘I’m doing like you told me to and look what happened.’ I couldn’t even talk to him. I didn’t know what to say. I admire my son because it is really hard to remain neutral.”
Tracy went to the girl’s parents later that evening after the attack, and was told that no police had contacted them.
Delicia Spees, program coordinator at Tahoe Family Connections, said Tracy’s calls to the police were not the only ones ignored. Spees translated for the victim’s parents during a meeting with Bennett on Wednesday. She said the girl’s parents told Bennett that they had called the police five times about incidents of violence and harassment directed at their daughter and had received little response.
Spees said action against the girls was not taken until the victim’s parents contacted the school Tuesday morning and demanded action. The girls were arrested on suspicion of felony assault around 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Bennett said the officers had planned to have the school resource officer follow up the next day and that was why they didn’t conduct further investigation Monday afternoon.
Tracy said she went to the forum because she knew Bennett would be there, and she is speaking out because she hopes things will change.
“When I spoke with Chief Bennett he was very gracious, and he is aware of the situation and problems happening in this area,” Tracy said.
Spees said Bennett had been very active in trying to get the community together by attending things such as a community forum, and the Latino task force.
“There have been some communication problems,” Bennett acknowledged. “Part of that has been a language barrier, and a cultural barrier. It is our job to break those down. Some of it has to do with understanding the process. Understanding what we can do for them and what we can’t do. Officers have not been communicating the options. People call about harassment and expect us to go out and arrest people, which we can’t do. We are trying to reach out to the community. It is beyond a police problem. It is a school problem, and a community problem, and we all need to work together to fix it.”
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