Two Salvadorans who were arrested early Saturday morning as they were leaving a fund-raising dance in Washington said yesterday that they were beaten, threatened and abused by the arresting officers, who they said repeatedly dismissed pleas from one of the men to be interviewed by a Spanish-speaking officer.
Willie Vazquez, head of the Mayor's Office of Latino Affairs, met with Police Chief Maurice Turner yesterday to demand a full investigation of the incident. Turner, who said he had not heard of the incident until his meeting with Vazquez, yesterday ordered an investigation into the alleged "name-calling and use of force." Other police officials declined to comment and the officers involved in the arrest could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.
The two men arrested are identified in police records as Pedro Aviles and Oscar Martinez. Aviles, 24, is well known in the Adams-Morgan community through his work at the Latin American Youth Center. Martinez is a construction worker.
Police records show that both men were booked and released at the 4th District police station after each paid a $10 fine for disorderly conduct. According to the police report, Martinez was taken to D.C. General Hospital for treatment of wounds. The report said he was "fighting and kicking" at police officers when he was arrested, and that he broke free and tried to charge one of the arresting officers. The report also said that the officer "struck him twice in the face."
A legal aide at the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) said the arresting officers were initially called in to deal with a knife-wielding drunk, but that instead of arresting the man with the knife the officers arrested and beat the two bystanders, disregarding her requests to release them. The man with the knife walked away, witnesses said.
Monday, Martinez showed his black-and-blue eyes, swollen cheek, and forehead with two stitches in it, and said several police officers had inflicted the blows. Aviles showed a medical report from the Washington Hospital Center that states he came in on the day of the incident, suffering from "severe . . . and multiple contusions" on the nose, lower lip and upper arms.
Both men were at a party last Friday evening at Sacred Heart Church at 16th Street and Park Road NW, to benefit CARECEN, an organization that provides legal services for recent arrivals from Central America. At around 1 a.m. on Saturday, a guest called police to help break up a fight, according to Gretta Siebentritt, a paralegal assistant at CARECEN.
Martinez said he was leaving the party when a man with a knife approached him on the steps of the church and began threatening him with it. Two police officers grabbed Martinez and started beating him while he protested that he had done nothing, he said.
Two officers held him while a third hit him with the back of his gun, Martinez said.
Siebentritt said yesterday that when she tried to tell a police sergeant that he was arresting the wrong men, he threatened her with arrest.
Aviles said he was walking back to the church from a nearby parking lot when he overheard a sergeant speaking into his Walkie-Talkie.
"He was saying something sarcastic about 'Mexican-Americans,' and I said loudly to some of my friends 'Oh, so now we're Mexican-Americans,' and the sergeant wheeled around and grabbed me . . . He pushed me over to the police car and started beating me. He hit my head, then my nose, then my mouth, and I saw the blood start dripping on the car. When he was done he bent next to my ear and said, 'Welcome to America, wetback . . . ' "
Martinez said he asked several times if he could talk to a Hispanic police officer. "They told me I wasn't in my country anymore." Martinez said he was released about 6 a.m. Saturday. Aviles said he was released around 3 a.m. He was met at the door by Luis Rumbaut, the acting director of the city's Bureau of Paternity and Child Support Enforcement.
"I was at the party when I heard about Pedro's arrest," Rumbaut said. "I know him and his family very well . . . The last time I saw him was when he acted as master of ceremonies for our Hispanic Festival this year. People were very upset about the way they had seen Pedro being treated, and I decided I would go to the station and see what I could do. As I arrived I saw Pedro coming out, bleeding and looking dazed."