Seven years ago last May, Sarmiento, then 24, involuntarily received a lesson in the power of abusive police. The Los Angeles County resident attended a 300-person protest in Garden Grove against Jim Gilchrist and his anti-immigrant Minuteman Project. He believes the cops overreacted with force against a handful of protesters and that he was singled out, harassed, mocked, falsely arrested, excessively detained and beaten for expressing political views contrary to ones held by officers.
The gathering had been vocal but peaceful until Hal Netkin, a Minuteman Project supporter, drove his van into the crowd, striking bystanders. Police treated Netkin as though he were a hero and didn’t appreciate protesters’ insistence the driver be arrested for assault. Eyewitnesses say cops began physically confronting the crowd, shoving people with their batons, putting their dogs in attack mode and charging others with horses.
Officers involved in the Sarmiento case have insisted, as you’d expect, they magnificently performed their duties that night without bias after watching this defendant throw full soda cans at cops mounted on horses, police vehicles and police dogs before attempting to flee. One undercover Garden Grove cop who’d infiltrated (and helped to agitate) the crowd recorded that he observed Sarmiento “yelling at police” (see Gustavo Arellano’s “Razin’ la Raza,” Jan. 20, 2006). They surrounded Sarmiento at gunpoint, tackled him and locked him up.
Sarmiento adamantly denied throwing any cans, but more than seven hours later, police transferred him to the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana, where, he says, he was once again singled out, falsely accused of being highly intoxicated—an absurd lie unless maybe Garden Grove cops supplied him a cold 12-pack of Bud while he was in their custody—pulled away from other inmates and shoved into a room where, video shows, deputies tortured him.
While in custody, deputies also aggressively questioned him about his political beliefs (hello, Beijing!) and called him a hypocrite for living in the United States while criticizing a pro-American group such as the Minuteman Project, according to Sarmiento. He says an officer told him, “This is what happens [to people like you].”
Another one mocked him, saying, “This Mexican speaks English!”