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DEPUTIES' CONDUCT UNDER REVIEW : RIVERSIDE SHERIFF CALLS CLUBBINGS `EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE'.

Byline: Jeannette DeSantis, Terri Hardy and David Bloom Daily News Staff Writers

As debate flared on problems of immigration and police abuse of minorities, Riverside County Sheriff Larry Smith said Wednesday the videotaped beating of two Mexican nationals by his deputies was excessive force.

``I was shocked and deeply disappointed,'' Smith told reporters. ``We have to uphold the highest standards of conduct in this department. Sadly, I didn't see these standards on the tape. It was clearly an excessive use of force.''

The FBI and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department are conducting criminal investigations into the clubbings that followed a high-speed pursuit of a pickup truck containing about 20 suspected illegal immigrants.

The deputies, Kurtis Franklin and Tracy Watson, are on paid leave as an internal review proceeds.

Late Wednesday, the Immigration and Naturalization Service released 18 of the undocumented immigrants into the custody of Mexican government officials in Los Angeles.

Among them was Enrique Funez, 30, who was one of the two people seen being hit by batons as they were arrested by deputies on the side of a freeway in South El Monte.

The second person, Alicia Soltero Vasquez, 32, from Mexico City, had bruises to nine areas of her body, a split lip and a possible concussion, her attorney, David Ross, said Wednesday.

Rosemary Melville, deputy director for the INS's Los Angeles district, said the woman was released Tuesday after it was discovered that she suffers from a serious pre-existing medical problem.

The woman initially had identified herself as Leticia Gonzalez because of concerns that her family might suffer repercussions, Ross aid.

The Mexican nationals will be given ``voluntary departure'' status, which allows them to remain in the U.S. for six months.

The Mexican consulate will keep track of them, and they can apply for work permits, said Melville.

Ross said the Mexican consul general guaranteed the immigrants would be available if needed for the criminal investigation.

He said the 18 ``are doing fine, though they're a little shaken up. They've had a very trying experience in the United States.''

Riverside County prosecutors, meanwhile, say they are reviewing the possibility of filing criminal charges against the immigrants in the pickup for throwing debris onto the freeway during the 80-mile pursuit.

Pieces of the pickup truck's camper shell were thrown at officers and other motorists, said Laurie Marquette, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

``It's a felony to throw things at another car, a rock, a brick, anything capable of doing a lot of damage,'' said Randy Tagami, assistant district attorney in Riverside.

Authorities chased the pickup at speeds up to 100 mph from Temecula in Riverside County to South El Monte in Los Angeles County.

At his news conference in Riverside, Smith told reporters that his department will assist with the investigation into the actions of Franklin, a 20-year veteran, and Watson, who has been with the department for five years.

``There will be no cover-up,'' Smith told reporters. ``No one is above the law, particularly police who exercise the power of arrest.''

Watson was investigated last year after shooting and seriously wounding a suspected car thief after the man ignored commands to show his hands, said Sgt. Jim Raavelo of the Corona Police Department.

After examining reports completed in an internal investigation by the Riverside Sheriff's Department, prosecutors found no criminal liability.

``There was not enough evidence to proceed with a criminal case,'' Tagami said.

In 1993, a lawsuit was filed against Watson alleging the officer hit and kicked a Latino youth as the boy lay on the ground during an arrest in the Lake Elsinore area.

``There were . . . bruises everywhere,'' said Francisco A. Suarez, a Pomona attorney and board member of Police Watch. ``He had done nothing wrong; it was a racial thing.''

Riverside Sheriff's spokesman Mark Lohman said he has no information about the case.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: David Ross, lawyer for beating victim Alicia Soltero Vasquez, speaks to the media about his client's condition Wednesday.

David Sprague/Daily News
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 4, 1996
Words:671
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