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San Diego Cops: Family Thanked Us For Beating, Arresting Them In Their Own Home

Photo caption: Diego Lobaton (right) stands with his mother, Hedi Julca, and her son, Bruce,...

Photo by Dustin Michelson

Diego Lobaton (right) stands with his mother, Hedi Julca, and her son, Bruce, inside their cell phone store in City Heights. Hedi, Diego and his brother, Luis, were arrested on July 29, 2014 when San Diego Police stopped the brothers for suspicion of breaking into the store as they were going inside from smoking a cigarette.

Voice of San Diego has a head-spinning story of a policing debacle involving a late-night cop patrol, two Peruvian-American brothers, and a break-in that wasn't.

Late one night in July, Luis and Diego Lobaton were ambushed by San Diego police, Luis was beaten up, and they were both arrested. Their crime: walking into their family's store, to which they had keys, after a cigarette break:

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. The whole thing went down because of a suspected burglary in the brothers' own home.

But where this story really goes off the rails is the miles of sunlight between the police report and video footage from the store's surveillance camera, according to Voice of San Diego's analysis:

  • Police say Luis, 21, took a "fighter's stance" and that Luis attempted twice to hit one of the officers. "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," says the Voice report.
  • Police say Diego, 20, tried to lock the door to stop officers from going inside. This never happens on the video.
  • Police say the boys' mother, Hedy Julca, tried to pull the door shut when one of the officers attempted to talk to Luis. The video shows Julca opening the door, another officer holding it open, and the cops entering the store.

There are also notable discrepancies between the family's account of what happened and what the police report says:

  • The officers say it wasn't until after the arrests were made that anyone mentioned the brothers' connection to the store. The mother says this isn't true, and that she told the officers that Luis and Diego were her sons and that she owned the store.
  • The police report says Diego told the offiers that Luis was a gang member. The family denies that Diego said this, and alleges that the cops pressured Diego to say he "understood" why officers would suspect Luis as a burglar. "That hurt," Diego told the Voice.

The family also argues that it doesn't make sense for Luis to get in a fistfight with the cops, or anybody, because he has a brain tumor. Julca and her three-year-old son, who also witnessed the incident, are in therapy, and she is facing possible deportation back to Peru. Luis says the minute-long confrontation left him with memory loss and neck pain.

The charges against Luis and his mother were eventually dropped. And while the police report claims that Luis told police officers that he appreciated the officers concern for his mom's store, the mother and the Lobaton brothers have filled a claim against the police department, which is already under scrutiny.

The Police Department has faced numerous charges of officer misconduct in recent years, and a federal review of the department's misconduct policies is due later this month. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has instituted reforms aimed at cracking down on misconduct, including outfitting officers with body cameras. 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.

Go read Voice of San Diego's in-depth investigation, which includes two videos contradicting the police reports, and also reveals that five months after the July incident, San Diego police once again followed one of the brothers into the same store, telling their mother he was "acting suspicious."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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