Civil Rights

Community Leader Handcuffed, Harassed by Los Angeles Police

When an elected official is subjected to intimidation and humiliation by “law” enforcement, are any of us really safe? And if there is no public outcry, can we be assured that it won’t happen again to another law-abiding Venetian? Ivonne Guzman, elected board member of the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) and outspoken community member, was handcuffed for close to an hour by 16 policemen in eight police cars for reasons that one can only speculate on. Did they target her because she spoke out in support of the Venice RV residents? Because she opposed the motion to keep the extra 21 police officers in Venice during a VNC meeting that the officers themselves were attending? Because of her role in the community? Because she is a woman?

She was driving to Mar Vista from Lincoln Blvd. and Sunset Ave. on January 8 to give a ride home to Petr Hromadko and his daughter Monae Hromadko . When she pulled into the driveway of his home 8 police cars surrounded her car with flashing sirens and 16 officers with drawn guns ordered everyone in the car to exit with their hands up. Ivonne Guzman and Petr Hromadko proceeded as ordered and were immediately handcuffed, but Monae Hromadko, suffering from cerebral palsy, was unable to understand or respond to the officers. Guzman and Petr Hromadko tried to explain Monae Hromadko’s situation to the officers, but they were ignored.

Refusing to cooperate with Guzman and Petr Hromadko, the officers approached Monae Hromadko with drawn guns, screaming through loud speakers commands that she could not understand. Meanwhile Petr Hromadko, who has raised and cared for Monae Hromadko for all of her 21 years, worried that the officers ignoring his explanations might harm his daughter, who is susceptible to spasms and seizures. Once they realized that she is indeed handicapped, they left her in the car and kept Ivonne Guzman and Petr Hromadko handcuffed because, according to the police, they were conducting a kidnapping investigation.

Sixteen officers and eight police cars were probably not necessary, but someone may have thought that they would be intimidating. A kidnapping call could have been made by someone seeing Petr Hromadko put his daughter in the car back on Lincoln Blvd. and Sunset Ave., but why would the officers follow the car all the way to Mar Vista while the presumably kidnapped child could be harmed on the way?

If the police would have really suspected kidnapping, they would have immediately asked for the identification of the father and daughter. Instead, they decided to draw guns and handcuff everyone. In addition, the officers did not end the standoff when Petr Hromadko volunteered to prove that there was no kidnapping by showing identification for him and his daughter. The officers were obviously not even remotely concerned with Monae, since they left her in the freezing car, with the doors wide open, without proper supervision while her father was handcuffed in front of his house and not allowed to approach his own disabled daughter.

The officers told Guzman that they did not run her license plates, but nevertheless called her by name without ever asking for her ID. Sergeant Mark Reina, who personally knows Guzman from the VNC, and the Ocean Front Walk Task Force, which she chairs, did not acknowledge the fact that he knows her, but instead treated her as a possibly dangerous criminal.

After what seemed like an eternity, especially for Monae Hromadko, who was terrified, the officers took the handcuffs off Petr and allowed him to take his daughter inside the house. Guzman, on the other hand, was not released. Instead, she had to take a sobriety test, which she passed. When all was said and done the officers left without further explanations or apologies.

It does not seem that the police officers were really trying to “protect and serve,” as they claim, but instead they targeted Guzman and harassed her for an hour under the guise of an alleged kidnapping call that was probably never made. The purpose of the hour-long standoff was to intimidate her as well as anyone else who might contemplate speaking out against extra policemen or in defense of the homeless in Venice.

The community came together at the January 18 VNC meeting with an outpouring of love and support for Ivonne Guzman. Venetians spoke out against the inappropriate conduct of the LAPD and demanded answers and investigations. Guzman herself wrote a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and police Chief Charlie Beck stating the details of the incident, but she has yet to receive a formal answer.

This is just one of many incidents of police abusing their power, using excessive force and selective enforcement, going so far as to violate our human rights. It happens every day, usually to the weak and vulnerable, it is not a shocker anymore, but when an elected official is so blatantly targeted for her role in the community, it is even more alarming. And we can’t help but wonder: where does it stop and what can we do about it?

The Beachhead Collective is concerned and outraged at the treatment that one of our elected representatives received at the hands of Los Angeles police.

We urge Councilmember Bill Rosendahl to speak up on Ivonne Guzman’s behalf.

We urge that a citizen’s committee be convened to investigate this incident and report to the community and the department of justice.

-The Beachhead Collective