Patrons complain of police high-handedness in bar raid
By ERNIE FLORES JR.
Recent police raid of a popular bar and eating place in National City has caused unwanted aggravation to several Filipino patrons who claimed they were roughed up and treated like common criminals by police.
The Filipinos- which included a number of professionals and community leaders- said there was no justification for the raid and they denounced what they termed high-handed tactics used by the policemen as they tried to search for weapons. "I've never been treated like this in my life. I was really scared," said Eduardo Manaig, a well-known practicing physician in the South Bay area, who was inside the Discovery Restaurant and Bar on Plaza Blvd. in National City the night of Dec.2 when the police came.
Sonny Castillo, also a bar patron, expressed the same sentiment.
"We were treated thoroughly and for no reason at all. We were simply at the bar enjoying the drinks and the music" he said.
Manaig and Castillo were among 15 people who met Dec. 6 with National City Chief Stan Knee and Councilwaoman Rosalie Zarate to complain about the raid and the conduct of the police officers.
Zarate, who grew up as the step-daughter of a Filipino businessman, arranged the meeting after getting a fill-in of the incident from a number of Filipino leader. "I feel that we have to get the facts from both sides right away," she said.
According to Chief Knee, the police night dispatcher received an anonymous call around 10 p.m., Dec. 2, saying that about five people drinking at the bar had handguns tacked in their waistbands.
Although the call was later determined to be from a person who gave a wrong address and telephone, at the time, the officer-in-charge on duty had no way of knowing if the report was false or not and he had to do what he deemed proper and that was to send 10 uniformed officers to the scene, said Knee.
Manaig said he and about 20 bar patrons were enjoying their beer and listening to songs through the sing-a-long system, when the bar manager said that there was police outside who wanted everyone to come out so they could search for weapons.
"We all went out and we saw the officer with their pistols pointed in our directions. We were then asked to face the wall so they could search us. While one of the officers was frisking me he was also pulling on my hair," said Manaig, who operates two medical clinics in National City and one in Mira Mesa.
"It was a very scary experience," he added.
Chief Knee agreed. I know that if I were in your shoes, I'd feel the same, but on the other hand, we are in an age where there's lot of violence and police have to use tactics that insure their survival and yours. From my point of view as a professional police officer, the tactic used by the police officers at the Discovery Restaurant was not unreasonable," he said.
When asked if there would have been other methods to dealing with the problem, Knee said a plainclothes man could have been sent to survey the situation, but that particular night there was no one available.
As to the fact that the caller gave a false identification, Knee said it did not matter because the police would respond such a call whether the caller identified himself or not.
"We respond to about 60,000 calls a year and about two-thirds of the calls do not give their names and phone numbers," Knee said.
Knee Apologized to the group and to the management of the restaurant for the inconvenience they suffered during the raid. "If not for the call, we would not have been there," he said.
Rick Mendoza, a Filipino artist and one of the organizers of the meeting with Zarate and the chief of police, said three Filipino bars in the National City area had been raided by police within the last few months and he detected a form of police harassment against his people.
Knee denied the allegation that Filipinos are being singled out as objects of harassment by National City police. "If anyone feels that one of my officers did not behave professionally towards them, I'll send my internal investigation unit to look into the matter," he said.
The chief said there are three questions he wants answered about the incident- (1) Did the police respond to the situation? (2) Did they use appropriate tactics? and (3) Did the police officers conduct themselves in a professional manner?
Knee passed around his business card and wanted anyone at the meeting to call him direct if they had any complaints. He promised to investigate the matter speedily and thoroughly.
He also suggested that there should be more meeting between his department and the Filipino community of National City.
While the police did not find any gun after the search, The Filipino Press received an unconfirmed report that there were indeed three men that night at the Discovery who were carrying guns, but they were law enforcement officers. According to the source, one was an agent of the U.S. Border Patrol, another was a sheriff's deputy and the other was a San Diego police officer.
Those who attended the meeting at the City Hall in addition to Manaig, Castillo and Rick Mensoza, included Del Babao, Lito Alfaro (one of the owners of Discovery Restaurant), Rod Federe, Jay Ruiz, Willie Tabao, Relly Mendoza and representatives of the three Filipino-oriented newspapers.