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Simi Valley Acorn News

Arrest snafu leads to charges of racism at Westlake Village Target

DETAINED–In a cellphone video taken during the incident, a Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputy confronts two of the  mistakenly accused teenagers. “I did nothing wrong,” one of the accused teens is heard shouting in the video.

The parents of three Thousand Oaks teens who were wrongfully detained at the Westlake Village Target store for a Jan. 17 theft they didn’t commit are filing a lawsuit against the big retailer.

A Target employee incorrectly identified the three Black males as responsible for stealing more than $950 worth of merchandise from the store on Russell Ranch Road. Target security guards stopped the boys from leaving the store and placed them in handcuffs, and families of the three teens are alleging they were singled out by Target employees and subject to excessive force by sheriff’s deputies because they are Black.

The boys were believed to have been connected to a group of other unidentified men who were in the store at the same time and committed the theft.

Deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station confronted the boys—Malik Aaron, 17, and Greg Kim and Aaron Frederickson, both 16—but released them a short time later after it was determined they were not the perpetrators.

“Target summoned the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department, falsely concluding that the youths were ‘decoys’ for actual criminals, who happened to be in the store at the same time, stealing Target merchandise and running out the back exit,” said Toni Jaramilla, an attorney for the families.

“Because the criminals were Black, the Target employees assumed Malik, Greg and Aaron knew them . . . solely because they were Black,” Jaramilla said.

The boys were accused by a Target employee of loitering and asked to leave, but their exit was blocked by a second employee, who put a line of shopping carts in front of them and said they couldn’t depart because of the theft that had occurred, the attorney said.

HANDCUFFED–One of the boys is detained.

Malik Aaron claims a deputy slammed his foot as he was placed in a squad car. The sheriff’s department denied use of excessive force or racial profiling on the part of its deputies.

“The deputies confirmed a grand theft had taken place, but their subsequent investigation revealed the young men were not involved and were released without incident,” Lost Hills Capt. Chuck Becerra said in a statement.

“A concerned citizen, who was not present, has made allegations that the LASD personnel used physical force on one of the young men, as well as damaging his cell phone,” Becerra said.

“An investigation conducted by the deputies’ supervisors determined there is no evidence to support the claims made by the concerned citizen, nor does it support any allegations of wrongdoing, use of force, violation of department policies, or violation of any laws on behalf of the deputies,” the sheriff’s captain said.

La Shaun Aaron, the mother of Malik Aaron, disagrees. She said her son and his friends were “criminalized by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department because the staff at Target deemed them inherently bad.”

“In this case, overt racism created not only a traumatic experience but added to the racial trauma and stress that our children have accumulated,” Aaron said.

Aaron said her son joined Kim and Frederickson on a trip to the local Target to buy snacks following Sunday services at nearby Calvary Community Church.

They were “treated as criminals because of their race,” Jaramilla said.

The attorney said the boys were “embarrassed and feared for their lives,” during the incident.

Jenna Reck, a Target spokesperson, said the employee who identified the boys was fired following the incident.

“We want all Target guests to feel welcome and respected whenever they shop in our stores. We’re deeply sorry for what happened to these guests,” Reck said.

“What happened to these guests is in direct opposition to the inclusive experience we want all guests to have. Our security team member took action and stopped these guests in violation of Target’s security procedures.”

Reck said the store’s management team will be asked to retake the company’s security and racial bias training instruction.

Follow Ian Bradley on Twitter @Ian_reports.


Has COVID and tells all

Yes, you heard right. I have COVID. I tested positive and am on Day 21. I wanted to share with you what it’s like for me.

I’m 58, a Marine veteran, in pretty good shape, active and have a healthy winter coat. My family has it. Many of my friends have it. We’ve been good little “quarantiners” and have no clue how it found us. Some shook the bug in two days, and for some it’s been six weeks. I can see how, if you have a serious current infirmity, this might push you over the edge. However, I’ve had worse colds but none that had this much popularity or longevity. The first couple of days I thought were simply exhaustion. But then the headaches, weird muscle aches, endless futile coughing and insomnia settled in to stay. Coughing fits all through the night, up to this very moment. Sometimes it feels like I’m unable to get a full breath, but then it passes and I’m OK.

I’m sharing this with you, not so you can send me and others to some leper colony in New Zealand, but so you can get a firsthand, nonpartisan account of it. One COVID-positive friend was terrified beyond words from all the news and internet feeds and then her COVID was gone in two days. Others with severe current medical conditions took longer and suffered. I do feel for those who have lost loved ones.

You don’t want this bug. I can tell you from the trenches in this COVID battle—it sucks. Remember, though, you will likely get it. We were always only trying to slow the spread to ease up on our hospitals, but we can never avoid it forever. Once you get it, you’ll feel like you were hit by a truck. Every load of laundry is like running five miles. Aches are like a punch in all your muscles. The steroids and codeine don’t help much. Only time, and I am getting better. So wear that darn mask and maintain personal cleanliness. Delay getting this thing.

It is real and no fun.

Guy Nohrenberg
Simi Valley


Recycle where?

Utility charges going up? Well, I can accept that these regulated monopolies bear increased costs. And I hope that our elected government representatives are ensuring that any increases are right and proper.

What aggravates me? Waste Management tells us many household items should not go into the recycle bins or the trash bin. And then WM does not make it easy to recycle these forbidden items, so I have a box in my garage with old fluorescent tubes, another with dead batteries and old electronics. How many people in Simi just throw this stuff in the trash anyway?

Sure, there used to be a recycle day every other month, make an appointment, etc., unless the appointments are already full. And before COVID restrictions, you could at least leave batteries and electronics at the Easy Street address.

If WM really wants to prevent forbidden waste from just going in the trash barrels and then into the dump, they need to make it easy. Even if it means spending a bit of the money; they collect from us monthly to do so.

Set up a special waste recycle location at Easy Street. Have it open every week. And the city government should encourage, or compel, them to do so.

Bob Wieting
Simi Valley

See articles about local recycling options on Page 8.


Vaccine scene: on and then off

For those of you who think you have an appointment to get a vaccine shot in Ventura County— think again: My wife and I (county residents over 65) registered for the COVID-19 vaccine at the Ventura Fairgrounds and received confirmations from the vaccination clinic on Jan. 12 for our Jan. 28 appointments.

We subsequently have been receiving emails from the County of Ventura saying that residents should not come for vaccines unless they are in Phase 1A—Tier 1, 2 or 3 (healthcare workers, etc.), which we are not.

I emailed the county and received a generic email confirming what I wrote above. We have not received individual notes canceling our confirmed appointments. This is a royal mess-up by County Health. I don’t know who blew it, but someone should be fired.

Let’s hope we can get vaccines soon.

Jonathan Friend
Simi Valley



Let’s show our ‘can-do’ attitude and help vets

We’ve all been guilty at some point of grumbling about the stay-at-home order, but we know deep down it’s for the well-being of our community. One look at overflowing hospitals and we’re immediately reminded of how important it is to stay home.

As stifling as the stay-home mandate may be, there are many people in the county right now who’d trade places with you in a second. These are folks without homes, who struggle daily to find refuge from the elements, especially during winter.

Regrettably, many of those living in cars or makeshift shelters are the very men and women who’ve helped provide the safety we so often take for granted. We’re talking about homeless veterans.

But during a time marked by bad news, a new project coming to Ventura County provides a glimmer of sunshine. And it’s all being made possible thanks to the generous donation of Ojai resident Bill Mors, a retired Navy Seabee and World War II veteran who died Jan. 16 at age 97. (See story Page 13.)

In December, Mors donated $500,000 and promised to contribute 60% of his multimillion-dollar estate to establish Veterans’ Village, a housing project that will create a community of support for homeless veterans and provide them with shelter, food and counseling.

The idea for Veterans’ Village comes from Camarillo-based Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, which is now negotiating to buy a 20-acre site in Ventura to build the project. The foundation has drafted design plans, spoken to dozens of similar veteran housing projects across the country. This is all great news.

Despite Mors’ generosity, there is still a long way to go and a lot more money to raise. Gold Coast began a donation drive late last month to do just that. The goal is $10 million.

Oh, did we forget to mention Vin Scully? The legendary Dodgers announcer, 93, graciously provided the narration for an introductory video that Veterans’ Village will use during promotions to help attract donations.

The construction of Veterans’ Village won’t solve the county’s homeless problem, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

“All of us who enjoy the benefits of peace and freedom provided by the sacrifices of our veterans need to stand up and do something about it,” Scully says in the video.

As we all muddle through this pandemic and abide by the stay-at-home order, consider making a donation to this worthwhile project. To do so, go online to gcvf.org.

If Mors and Scully can step up to make a difference, so can we.


Free speech auditor targets local business

PRIVACY REQUESTED—Manny Vega, the owner of Anacapa Industries, in his office Jan. 19. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

PRIVACY REQUESTED—Manny Vega, the owner of Anacapa Industries, in his office Jan. 19. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Manny Vega assumed the worst when he saw a man dressed in black tactical gear outside of his Camarillo business last month. The former United States Marine and retired Oxnard police officer said his training kicked in as he went outside to investigate.

“I came out of my office and went down and activated my phone since I didn’t know what would go down,” said the CEO of Anacapa Industries. “I said, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Can I help you with something?’ but he didn’t say anything. He looked very threatening.”

After trying to speak to the man, Vega realized he did not have a weapon but a large camera on a tripod. His face was shrouded by a gaiter, dark sunglasses and a black hat pulled down low over his head. To protect himself and his employees, Vega decided to continue using his phone to film the man while following him up and down the dead-end street.

“He went up the street and I went along with him and never blocked his way or entrapped him in the corner. I never got rude with him and I just talked with him,” said Vega, noting that the encounter quickly turned sour as the man began hurling insults and derogatory comments his way.

Unbeknownst to Vega, he had come into contact with a so-called First Amendment auditor, an individual who films in public places to test free speech policies and exercise their constitutional rights.

The auditors often act unruly in order to provoke a heated response that they can capture on camera. The resulting confrontations are then used to create videos that are posted online to, ultimately, make money.

“The ‘auditors’ generate income through the outrage generated from their videos, whether the outrage is at their behavior or the behavior of the people in the video,” the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said.

In recent months, First Amendment auditors have expanded their reach beyond government offices and police departments as they opt to film Ventura County residents, like Vega, on the streets or at their workplaces.

For Vega, the encounter was surreal.

He said he was especially confused when the auditor begged Camarillo police officers to get Vega to stop filming him.

“I had no clue what I bumped into. I didn’t understand who he is or what he is about,” Vega said. “Luckily for me the years of experience being a police officer and dealing with the public allowed me to keep it together and not let the situation get out of hand.”

Despite his ability to remain calm throughout the 40-minute encounter, Vega still experienced the damaging effects of being told he “failed” a First Amendment audit.

“Without ever confirming my relationship to my business he asked his followers to start calling the business to educate us,” Vega said.

Soon after, his phone lines were “inundated” with hate and negativity, leaving his family and office staff in tears. The first amendment auditor’s followers also posted negative reviews of Anacapa Industries on Yelp and Google.

“To come to a private business and start attacking a private business and (then) ask your followers to give ratings, it’s crazy,” Vega said. “It has nothing to do with the First Amendment and everything to do with making money and gaining notoriety.”

Moving forward

A victim advocate for decades, Vega wants to find a way to hold First Amendment auditors and the platforms they use accountable.

“I am leaning more and more toward faulting You- Tube for allowing this hate platform to exist,” he said. “If this person is truly a First Amendment auditor concerned about police or officials violating people’s rights, then he should continue that. But he realized he isn’t getting the followers or likes he wants so now he’s going to private businesses.”

Vega said he also is considering suing the auditor for defamation in order to get his YouTube channel taken down.

“There has to be accountability,” he said. “The root of the problem is how YouTube allows this to happen and how YouTube is providing a platform for these type of guys that are going after businesses that are trying to survive during a pandemic.”


Slow down, save lives

TRAFFIC HAZARDS—Traffic signals were out at the intersection of Los Angeles Avenue and Madera Road Jan. 19. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

TRAFFIC HAZARDS—Traffic signals were out at the intersection of Los Angeles Avenue and Madera Road Jan. 19. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

If you don’t think you need to pay attention to the road, consider this: From January 2017 to November 2020, traffic accidents in Simi Valley claimed 19 lives and left 1,610 people injured. During the same span, 1,045 DUI arrests were made.

The Simi Valley Police Department cited these troubling statistics late last year when it applied for a grant from the state to help reduce the number of people killed or injured on the road.

“(These figures) are significant and I don’t think people realize the number of injury collisions we saw along with fatalities. It’s a little on the alarming side,” Simi Police Cmdr. Tom Meyer told the City Council during its Jan. 11 meeting.

In October 2020, the police department successfully obtained a $122,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety’s Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) that targets collisions involving distracted drivers, drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs and motorists and passengers who don’t wear seat belts.

 

 

SVPD will use the grant money to participate in national enforcement education campaigns like “Click-Itor Ticket”; pay for DUI checkpoints; fund training programs to help officers detect and apprehend DUI drivers; and certify selected officers as “drug recognition experts” who can testify in court during impairment cases.

The funds will also be used to pay for distracted driver enforcement efforts as well as purchase electronic flares, plastic barricades and speed enforcement equipment.

Councilmembers Dee Dee Cavanaugh and Ruth Luevanos questioned Meyer about how DUI checkpoint locations are determined.

As part of the grant requirements, SVPD must hold four annually. Meyer told them that the department uses collision data to determine high-volume traffic areas where checkpoints will have the most impact.

For example, at least 700 cars may come through a checkpoint at Los Angeles and Angus avenues during an eight-hour enforcement period. If the same checkpoint were held on Tapo Street, officers might only encounter 100 vehicles.

“It has to do with the roads most traveled,” Meyer said, adding that high-traffic areas tend to be on the west end of town.

Police Chief David Livingstone told the council that some of Simi Valley’s intersections are more problematic than others.

“(Checkpoint locations are) not something done arbitrarily . . . it’s based on data,” Livingstone said. “That’s what the grant requires us to do.”

DUI checkpoints do not siphon officers away from regular patrols. Instead, the checkpoints are manned by off-duty officers working overtime. The grant money is “hugely beneficial” because it covers those costs, Meyer said.

Meyer told Luevanos that the key to saving lives and making streets safer is getting drivers to slow down. The department’s educational efforts help to an extent, but having a police presence on the roads does the most good.

“It’s well known that when you have a large presence, then people notice others getting stopped and getting cited, (so they) start to slow down,” Meyer said. “By slowing down and . . . abiding by the rules of the roadway, that clearly translates into saving lives.”

The state grant also pays for community education presentations on distracted driving, speeding and bicycle and pedestrian safety.

Just a week after Meyer and Livingstone talked to the council, a pedestrian was struck and killed while crossing the street in an unmarked crosswalk.

John Andre Dupray, 69, died Jan. 15 while attempting to cross First Street from the southwest corner of Pacific Avenue in an unmarked crosswalk.

As Dupray was making his way across First, he was struck by a pickup truck traveling northbound on First Street, police said. The driver stayed at the scene. The investigation is ongoing but drugs and alcohol don’t appear to be factors, authorities said.

Cmdr. Steve Shorts told the Acorn Monday that traffic incidents, such as speeding and collisions, are among the biggest issues SVPD deals with.

“It’s one of our top concerns,” Shorts said.

The one-year state grant runs from Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021. It’s the eighth consecutive year SVPD has been awarded the grant, Meyer said.

The department first applied for the grant in 2012 and received $30,000, far less than the $122,000 sum it was awarded this year. The allocation has gone up because the number of injuries, fatalities, collisions and DUIs in the city has gone up.

After listening to the presentation, Mayor Keith Mashburn asked Meyer if SVPD could present the same data to the public during one of the quarterly police forums the department holds. The commander said he’d be happy to do that.


How hospitals are handling surge

INFLUX—An ambulance parks at the emergency entrance of St John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo on Jan. 16. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

INFLUX—An ambulance parks at the emergency entrance of St John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo on Jan. 16. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Dr. Rick Rutherford doesn’t mince words when asked about the state of local hospitals:

“We are full.”

Rutherford, who works at Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital, said there are too many patients and not enough beds.

“When I walked into my shift yesterday, more than half of our emergency department beds were occupied by patients who needed a hospital bed but were waiting for space to open up,” he said during a Jan. 13 news conference.

Since December, the county’s overall ICU bed capacity has hovered around zero percent, leading healthcare workers to treat the wave of patients in whatever space is available, whether that’s in waiting rooms or, in some cases, tents outside.

Ventura County Medical Center is one of the many area hospitals that have been using the surge plans that hospital leaders created last year to prepare for drastic influxes of COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals have canceled elective procedures, reassigned nurses from those departments and contracted nurses from other states to fill in the gaps in staffing.

Some sites, like Ventura County Medical Center, have set up tents and hospital beds in parking lots to keep up with the surge. Others, like Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, have called in refrigerated trailers to use if their in-house morgues become overburdened.

Amy Commans, vice president of community, employer and government relations at Los Robles, said Tuesday that the hospital had yet to use the trailers, which were brought in at the state’s recommendation.

As of Jan. 15, the Thousand Oaks hospital was at 84% capacity, but Commans said that, given the high rate of patients checking in and out, the number changes daily. On average, 30% to 35% of the hospital’s total patients, typically around 280, are being treated for COVID-19, she said.

“In addition, our team continues to treat all patients here at the hospital, those with COVID and those without—including stroke, heart, laboring mothers and emergent cases. Care doesn’t stop at COVID,” she said.

Since surge plans were put into place this month, St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo has nearly tripled the number of beds available for patients in critical condition by putting additional beds in its old hospital wing.

The hospital has also brought in nursing students from Moorpark College, Ventura College and CSU Channel Islands to help with staffing shortages, said St. John’s President and CEO Darren Lee.

Adventist Health in Simi Valley has added an extra bed in each of its 128 adult rooms, said hospital President Jennifer Swenson.

According to Dr. Raj Bhatia, director of the intensive care unit at St. John’s hospitals, the most pressing problem for many hospitals isn’t acquiring beds but staffing them. And it’s not just doctors and nurses who are needed, but a whole host of medical staff necessary to treat patients.

“We have a finite number of personnel,” the ICU director said. “At some point, we’re going to run out.”

Toll on healthcare workers

The influx of patients is taking its toll on healthcare workers; many are working extra shifts and treating more patients than ever before.

“Members of our staff are physically, emotionally exhausted,” Rutherford said.

Bhatia said he and his team are experiencing similar fatigue.

He suspects the trauma of working on the front lines during the surge will stay with healthcare workers long after the pandemic ends, likely developing into post-traumatic stress disorder for many.

“We see a lot of very sick patients. We’ve seen a lot of death. We’ve seen a lot of people suffering,” he said. “I think the long-term effects of this are yet to be seen, but we’re all tired. This has been going on for almost a year now, and there’s no end in sight.”

According to Commans, Los Robles is providing mental and emotional support through clergy and peer support teams for employees who need it.

“To keep the community healthy, we here at the hospital need to stay healthy too,” Commans said.

A familiar plea

Because of the weeks-long delay between infections and hospitalizations, health officials expect the holiday surge will begin to slow in the next few weeks.

Until then, healthcare workers are pleading with the public to do what it can to keep COVID-19 hospitalizations from increasing, like wearing masks, washing hands and not gathering with others.

“These are scientifically proven acts of kindness,” Rutherford said.

Patients with COVID-19 should still seek care, Rutherford said. Those who have the virus and are struggling to breathe should go to the hospital immediately, he said.

“We’ve learned a great deal about how to treat this disease,” he said. “The death rate is going down, but we have to start those treatments when they can still make a difference.”


King had a dream, residents lend a hand to fulfill it

GETTING IT DONE— At left, Collin Langley, 6, of Simi Valley, paints a post as his brother, A.J., 13, puts up a wet paint sign at Rancho Santa Susana Community Park on Jan. 18. They were taking part in the annual MLK Day of Service to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. At right, Damon Shackelford of Simi spreads bark in the planters at the local park. Below Collin Langley covers his eyes as the Santa Ana winds gust in.

GETTING IT DONE— At left, Collin Langley, 6, of Simi Valley, paints a post as his brother, A.J., 13, puts up a wet paint sign at Rancho Santa Susana Community Park on Jan. 18. They were taking part in the annual MLK Day of Service to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. At right, Damon Shackelford of Simi spreads bark in the planters at the local park. Below Collin Langley covers his eyes as the Santa Ana winds gust in.

By harnessing the power of love and selflessly pouring it back into the world, Martin Luther King Jr. believed that we could create “a beloved community” where goodwill trumps hate and friendship eclipses fear. It was one of his many dreams for a better world.

On Monday, more than 30 volunteers put King’s words into action, spreading out across local public parks to beautify the community and pay tribute to the late civil rights leader’s enduring legacy. As they worked, they were pummeled by blustery Santa Ana winds.

The MLK Day of Service projects were organized by the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District at the request of Brian Dennert, chair of the RSRPD board of directors.

Dennert, a history teacher at Royal High School, said he pitched the idea to the board months ago and all the planning culminated Monday when dozens of residents visited parks in Simi and Oak Park.

At Rancho Santa Susana Community Park, volunteers painted sign posts, pulled weeds and placed wood chips in parking lot planters. Volunteers at Rancho Simi Community Park completed similar tasks and also removed debris from the pond.

Photos by RICHARD GILLARD Acorn Newspapers

Photos by RICHARD GILLARD Acorn Newspapers

Volunteers at Corriganville Park painted over graffiti marring the 118 Freeway underpass, while participants in Oak Park painted the splash pad fence enclosure, irrigation control cabinets and curbs at Deerhill and Mae Boyar parks.

Dennert said he and his family helped by covering up graffiti.

“It was inspiring to see how many people signed up so quickly and to be part of it myself felt really good too,” he said.

King was just 39 years old when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968.

To honor King’s legacy as an “icon for democracy,” President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in November 1983 marking the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In 1994, Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service and put AmeriCorps in charge of encouraging volunteers across the country to get out and help improve their communities.

 

 

Dennert’s inspiration to lead local service projects was spurred by a visit he made years ago to the King Center in Atlanta, Ga. The nonprofit celebrates King’s life and continues his work to promote social change.

“I’ve always taught my students that MLK was a multifaceted man and a big part of his message to others to was serve and help others,” Dennert said.

“Part of what I learned at the King Center is that they want to encourage people not to have a day off, but to have a day on serving and to build a better future together.”

RSRPD officials said all participants on Jan. 18 followed COVID-19 safety protocols. They worked in small groups, wore necessary personal protection like masks and kept a safe social distance.

Dennert said this was the first time local MLK service projects have been organized by the park district and he’s looking forward to continuing the tradition and hopefully growing the number of volunteers who participate.

“My favorite part of this is that when people go to the park where they did work, they’ll be able to see it and remember how they helped beautify the community,” he said. “It’s a small thing, but it’s important.”

To learn more about the park district’s volunteer opportunities, send an email to volunteers@rsrpd.us.


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