Garden Grove Police Launch Probe into Officer Who Waved Baton Out Of Unmarked Car During Protest by Young Activists

FERNANDO DEVERAS, Voice of OC

The Garden Grove Police Dept. has come under fire for its response to protesters on Saturday, July 18. An internal department probe into the waving of a baton out of an unmarked vehicle is underway, officials say.

Video that activists say captures a cop waving a baton at young protesters out of an unmarked vehicle in Garden Grove last week has prompted an internal police department probe, officials confirmed late Monday to Voice of OC.

Organizers of the Saturday, July 18 protest — some of whom just turned 18 years old — are also denouncing the city’s police for their overall response to marchers, claiming officers were over-militarized but did nothing when a vehicle swerved dangerously close to a crowd of marchers and jumped a nearby median.

“The police were there to police the protesters,” said Natalie Martinez, one of the organizers who recently graduated from Garden Grove High School, during a Monday interview. “In no way were they there to protect us.”

Video posted to Instagram on Sunday showed a police baton being brandished and waved out of an SUV with no department tags near protesters rallying in the city on July 18. 

Garden Grove Police Lt. Richard Burillo, in response to Voice of OC questions Monday, confirmed that some officers had responded to the protest in unmarked vehicles due to a lack of marked police cars available that day, and said the filmed incident is “going to be handled internally.” 

“We’re actually in the process of trying to find out which officers did that, and that’s going to be handled internally — that shouldn’t have happened,” Burillo said, adding that unmarked vehicles were used “because we don’t have enough police cars for every officer.”

Martinez, who was a member of the school’s Black Student Union, also decried police for another video from that day showing a car swerving dangerously close to a crowd of marchers and then driving over the curbed median of a wide city intersection.

She and other witnesses of that incident said nearby police did nothing. 

Wendy Callaway, a passing bystander and Garden Grove resident, said the car came way too close to the marchers.

“I saw this car all of a sudden going west on Chapman and it came through and jumped the curb on Euclid and almost hit kids, and I was close enough where I was on the sidewalk where I saw the passenger and driver laughing, and it was really disgusting,” Callway said. “There were cops down just past the driveway into Walgreens and there was one of the gang unit SUV’s and a couple of police cars and they didn’t do anything.”

Responding to questions about officers’ non-response to the incident, Burillo said “I’ll be honest, all our resources were spent out at the protest trying to maintain order and ensure that everyone was safe and that the protest was going to run smoothly, so unfortunately we didn’t do anything as far as going after the car.”

Asked why nearby officers didn’t respond, Burillo said: “Looking at the video, the car was away from everyone, no one was injured, so most of our resources were focused on the protest itself.”

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Martinez said one of her friends was almost hit, and that another vehicle had at one point also driven into the intersection while the driver repeatedly honked the car horn.

In the same Instagram post containing video of the swerving car and baton, another video showed an officer recording protesters with a handheld camera despite Garden Grove officers’ uniforms containing body-worn cameras.

Martinez and other activists on social media decried it as an intimidation tactic. 

JENNY LYNN, VOICE OF OC

Protesters decried an officer’s filming of protesters with a handheld camera.

Burillo said it was the department’s way of getting “both sides of the story.”

“That camera that officer had is a department-approved camera. Obviously every officer in  the department wears body cams, so everything is recorded,” Burillo said, adding that “the other camera is for us to be able to see the crowd and get more intel as far as what’s going on with the protests.”

The protest drew around 75 people at its peak, according to Burillo, and around 40 on-duty officers were on scene. Later in the day, marchers blocked traffic at the intersection of Euclid St. and Acacia Pkwy and police declared an unlawful assembly, ordering the crowds dispersed. 

“As we were at City Hall giving our speeches, an officer interrupts and gives the announcement basically saying we had ten minutes to disperse or we could be arrested, seriously injured — all this stupid stuff, everybody was getting mad,” Martinez said, adding that throughout the day all she felt was hostility from officers.

Att the start of the day, Martinez said she was the first person to arrive at the initial protest location and “I already had noticed an unmarked car with two officers there just watching me.”

From that moment, she said, she knew “how the rest of that day was gonna go.” 

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org