The fallout from a six month investigation into police bribery and conspiracy in the town of King City continues. Since the arrest last month of four police officers and a tow truck company owner in the small agricultural town located in California’s Salinas Valley, charges have been filed and the community is letting its frustration be known.
The arrests were the result of a six-month investigation into the King City police department by the Monterey County District Attorney’s office. At a press conference, district attorney Dean Flippo said that his office had been alerted to possible corruption when members of the community, mostly poor and Spanish-speaking, spoke about how they were victims of the theft of their cars and money and other things and they felt as if there was nothing they could do about it.
This led to the early morning arrest in February of several officers and a tow truck business owner who were alleged to have taken bribes and run a car-impound scheme. Two of the town’s police chiefs – one active and one retired – were arrested as well as the owner of Miller Tow. The officers were charged with bribery and conspiracy, and several other officers were arrested, some for crimes not directly connected to the car scheme. In all, about a third of the town’s police force was arrested that day.
According to complaints filed in the King City case of bribery and conspiracy, one officer was allowed to keep one car for every 10 or 15 that he steered toward the tow company. Complaints also alleged that one of the officers sent over 80 percent of the cars that were towed to Miller Tow, even though the department had contracts with three other towing companies.
Since the original arrests in late February, the community has taken actions to make sure that something like this never happens again. At a public meeting at the town library, the consul general of Mexico in San Jose came to speak with residents about their rights. Many residents are from Mexico and come to work in the largely agricultural town.
Local civil rights groups also spoke to the audience about their civil rights and what they could do to if they have encounters with law enforcement. As part of the presentations, a staff member from the American Civil Liberties Union, coached the audience on how to say “I want a lawyer” in English.
Other members of the community, including the owner of the El Sinaloense restaurant, sat down with members of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a latino civil rights organization, to discuss forming a local chapter.
Other legal action is being taken. On March 10, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the members of the community who were victims of the alleged scheme. The suit is seeking compensation for those who had cars impounded and paid to have them returned.
On March 10, two of the officers allegedly involved in the car towing scheme were in Monterey County court. The King City officers pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy and are due to be back in court on April 2 as the fallout continues.
By Dan Reyes