Minuteman Flap Leads to Home Search
A Garden Grove officer's 0 flashlight isn't found in the house of a woman who took part in the rowdy protest in May.
By Daniel Yi
Times Staff Writer
June 18, 2005
A simmering dispute between Garden Grove police and those who protested a local speech by the founder of the Minuteman Project last month intensified Friday over an allegedly stolen 0 flashlight.
With a warrant in hand, Garden Grove police on Thursday searched the Westminster home of Theresa Dang, 24, for a flashlight that authorities say fell from an officer's pocket during the raucous May 25 demonstration in front of the Women's Civic Club of Garden Grove.
Dang was one of the nearly 300 people at the rally, which turned violent after one of the attendees forced his van through the crowd that decided to block the driveway.
The search for the flashlight angered Dang's attorney, who called it political retaliation for Dang's open criticism of police tactics during the demonstration. "It's seems bizarre," said attorney B. Kwaku Duren.
But police Lt. Mike Handfield defended the search, saying it was part of a serious criminal investigation. "We have a video of her taking the flashlight," he said Friday. "We are going to try and do everything we can to recover the flashlight ….The fact is, she took something from a police officer."
Handfield said the Maglite flashlight was the officer's private property. "We issue Maglites, but they are not very high quality," he said, so officers buy better ones on their own.
The flashlight has not been recovered, Handfield said, and police will continue the search. If it doesn't turn up, he said, the department will seek restitution from Dang, who has been charged with misdemeanor petty theft.
Dang said Friday she does not have the flashlight, but declined to say whether she took it during the demonstration. "It remains to be proven," she said.
The search of Dang's house comes amid an ongoing dispute between the protesters, who claim police were overly aggressive in controlling the crowd, and the police, who say they were forced to intervene after some demonstrators began hurling objects at the officers.
The rally had been called to protest a speech by John Gilchrist, the Aliso Viejo man who in April led a citizen patrol to the Arizona-Mexico border to look for illegal immigrants.
Five people were arrested at the demonstration. Three have have been charged with misdemeanor and felony charges, including attacking a peace officer. But many of the demonstrators blamed police for exacerbating the situation by indiscriminately chasing nonviolent protesters, a charge denied by the Police Department.
"The problem is that police started getting aggressive even with people who were not [throwing things]," said Duane Roberts, one of the rally organizers.
During a City Council meeting Tuesday, about a dozen protesters — including Roberts and Dang — asked the city to investigate allegations of police abuse. The council turned them down. Mayor William Dalton did not return calls seeking comment.
Two days after the City Council meeting, three police officers served the search warrant at Dang's house, which she shares with her parents and two siblings. The warrant, authorized June 9 by Orange County Superior Court Judge Nho Trong Nguyen, sought a single item: a "black full-sized Maglite with small diameter handle."
"There was a lot of confusion going on that night," said Roberts. "If I had seen a flashlight on the ground, I would have picked it up too. It was dark and I wouldn't have wanted anybody to stumble on it."
Dang said she was not home when the officers arrived, but spoke to the officers by phone. "They said, 'We have a search warrant. Do you have any idea what we might be looking for?' " Dang said.
"I told them, 'How would I know?' "
The officers searched every room. "My dad was the only one home," she said. "He felt violated."
Handfield said his department acted properly.
"We are 100% within our legal rights," he said.
"We've been accused of taking sides [on the demonstration], but we will apply the law equally to anyone. If they choose to have a thief among them, that's their choice."
Times staff writers David Reyes and Lomi Kriel contributed to this report.