A camp for at-risk kids turned into a nightmare after several drill instructors physically and verbally abused children. Now their attorney says the incident will cause long-lasting physiological scars.
hen the small California city of San Luis Obispo approved of the Leadership Empowerment Discipline boot camp, most assumed it would be a relatively harmless program aimed at getting at-risk youth back on track. The children who attended were supposed to learn about communications, character development, discipline, and leadership. Instead, the camp would turn into something of a nightmare for everyone involved.
Four officers who worked at the camp are now facing disciplinary charges. All four were arrested on suspicion of physically and emotionally abusing campers, some of whom where as young as 12. A Los Angeles injury attorney representing one of the children says their time at the camp could leave long-term psychological scars.
After receiving reports that children were being abused at the camp, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department launched an investigation, and confirmed the allegations. The disturbing findings were initially obtained through interviews with the children, and later confirmed by video evidence.
Of the 37 campers attending the program, 15 boys and girls came forward and said they were physically assaulted by the camp’s drill instructors. Others indicated they had been spoken to abusively on several occasions.
“It really gives us no pleasure to arrest police officers or anyone in law enforcement,” said a Sheriff’s Department spokesperson. “It proves that nobody is above the law.”
According to Gregory Owen, an attorney representing several of the abused children, the officers “slapped, punched, and stepped on their hands and backs while doing push-ups.” Some children spoke of being taken to a “dark room”, where they were beaten. Owen also says the children suffered bruises and one boy had broken fingers.
But Owen says the psychological damage will be much greater.
“This sort of thing undoubtedly will affect these children forever,” he said. “Every time they go down the street and see a cop, they are literally scared. That’s not going to go away.”
When investigators first questioned the children, most denied being abused. This is common in victims of abuse, as the abuser will often threaten them with harm for “telling”. One 13 year-old boy finally spoke up, however, telling authorities the “terrible” bruising around his windpipe was the doing of camp drill instructors.
The bruises were so extensive they caused ER staff to suspect the boy’s mother of abuse. The revelation that the injuries came from trained police officers must have been all the more horrifying.
“They went one child after another and obtained the truth,” Owen told The Los Angeles Times. “This isn’t a greedy plaintiff’s attorney. This is young people who told their stories truthfully to police officers.”
Making the story even worse, parents actually paid to send their children to the camp. The program costs $400.00, and was supposed to teach children important values and improve unruly behavior. Instead, their days at the camp were dominated by physically and verbally abusive drill instructors.
Officers Edgar Gomez, Carlos Gomez-Marquez, Marissa Larios, and Patrick Nijland were arrested on “suspicion of cruelty to a child, criminal threats, misdemeanor battery, criminal batterty, and abuse under the color of authority.”
None of the officers involved have spent any time in jail so far. They all posted their $20,000 worth of bail upon being served the arrest warrants. On September 21st, three of the four officers plead ‘not guilty’ to the charges brought against them.
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