Independent Police Oversight Firm to Review Santa Ana Police Team

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
May 12, 2022 Updated: May 12, 2022

SANTA ANA, Calif.—An independent police oversight specialist will review an elite unit within the Santa Ana Police Department after a progressive blog accused some officers of having matching gang-like tattoos and assaulting citizens.

Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin May 11 disputed the allegations made by KnockLA, calling it misinformation.

“This misinformation included baseless attacks on the integrity of some of the most dedicated members of our police department,” Valentin said in a YouTube video. “I want to assure the community that my command staff and I hold our officers to the highest standards.”

Epoch Times Photo
Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin speaks at the police station in Santa Ana, Calif., on March 11, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Last month, the blog accused officers serving with the department’s Major Enforcement Team of sharing gang-like skull tattoos and carrying tokens or coins with a slogan on it.

The blog, which was founded by Ground Game LA, a progressive nonprofit group that has called for abolishing the police, also alleges the officers were involved in misconduct but did not face discipline.

In one instance, according to the blog, the enforcement team allegedly verbally harassed two teenage girls and groped one of them at a Culichi Town restaurant in 2020.

Another alleged incident reportedly occurred a year later when officers allegedly groped a woman during an incident in a parking lot at The Copper Door nightclub in Santa Ana.

The police chief has directed the Office of Independent Review Group, an independent police auditing company, to review the case following an internal investigation, he said.

The group’s Michael Gennaco told The Epoch Times in an email he was asked to review the complaints and said he hoped to have more information about the investigation in the next 30 to 60 days.

“At this point, I am just getting up to speed on the allegations and don’t have anything further to share,” Gennaco said.

According to the police chief, some of the “misinformation” stems from a call made to 911 regarding a public disturbance at the Culichi Town restaurant. Patrol officers concluded that no crime had occurred, Valentin said.

The department received two anonymous complaints months later alleging off-duty officers with the enforcement team had verbally harassed two teenagers and groped one of them during the incident. More complaints followed.

The police department conducted an internal affairs investigation and interviewed community members while also reviewing body-worn cameras and other information from the alleged incident, Valentin said.

During the interviews, the alleged victim told police she was not sure if someone had touched her intentionally or by accident.

“The alleged touching was described as a brief personal contact in a crowded area,” Valentin said. “Additionally, the physical description she provided of the man who allegedly touched her did not match or even resemble any of the MET [Major Enforcement Team] officers.”

The police department concluded the five-month internal investigation after finding no evidence of wrongdoing, he said.

However, Valentin added the matter was still under investigation and the department plans to hold anyone accountable for any violations of department policy.

The police chief noted that similar tattoos and sharing challenge coins were not illegal activities and can represent a form of camaraderie among members of law enforcement, the military, and other groups who work closely together in dangerous situations or professions.

“[Major Enforcement Team] handles some of the most challenging and complex cases in our city and its members are veteran officers and members of our community since its formation in 2020,” Valentin said.

The team has made 1,525 arrests, responded to 81 tactical deployments, and has served 54 search warrants, according to the police chief.

The team has also removed 109 guns from Santa Ana streets, he said.