By Carlos Avalos
A former officer was run out of the Fontana Police Department, several officers with that agency have told the Sentinel, because of the policeman’s cultural and attitudinal differences with a core group of high ranking and favored members of the department.
Police officer David Ibarra was an officer at the Fontana Police Department for ten years, from 1996 until 2006. While working at the Fontana Police Department, Ibarra was the National Latino Peace officer of the year in 1999 and recognized by Former Congressman Joe Baca. He received several accommodations for his work in the community. He was also a member of the United States Naval Reserve, with which he served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
Those accolades and that service did not isolate him from the pitfalls of serving in an organization in which some of its members often found themselves at odds with many of the values, and in certain respects at war with members, of the community.
According to some Fontana Police Department officers who served with Ibarra, he encountered harassment from his fellow white officers, and specifically experienced severe mistreatment by and harassment from a married couple of Germanic descent employed by the department. This husband and wife were referred to as the “Golden Couple,” according to department members. Sources within the department stated there were “dozens” of occasions where Ibarra was so put out by the treatment he had received that he made complaints to his superiors. The couple in question, according to some of the department’s officers, evinced apparent Nazi affiliation that was known by the department’s higher ups. The couple engaged in activities that could be construed to indicate reverence for Adolf Hitler. The officers said they, Ibarra and many other Fontana Police officers had on numerous occasions witnessed the husband click his back heels together and raise his right hand with his palm facing downwards and would say “Heil Hitler,” while they were in the Fontana Police Department parking garage just after they had been given their daily briefings and were about to head out onto Fontana’s streets in their patrol assignments.
On at least one occasion this behavior occurred in front of former Fontana Police department Sergeant Jim Anderson, the officers said, but nothing was done to curtail the officer’s action. The Sentinel was told that the emulation of Nazi mannerisms appeared to be vectored at Ibarra in particular, perhaps as part of an effort “to get under Ibarra’s skin.”
The Sentinel was unable to ascertain whether the histrionics by the officer in question were sarcastic displays or whether he was indeed acting out of a genuine affiliation with the Nazi movement. The potential of false dramatization aside, the officer on numerous occasions made disparaging comments about Ibarra to him personally and to other officers, according to some of those officers.
Over the police radio, the officer would taunt Ibarra and state that he was not good at his job or not carrying out his assignment correctly. Officer Ibarra at one point was assigned to work in the crime prevention unit with the distaff element of the Golden Couple, the wife of the officer with the fondness for the Nazi soldier impersonations. The female officer would constantly ask Ibarra if “he thought she was racist” because she thought another Mexican-American officer’s kids were ugly, officers told the Sentinel.
Ibarra was one of just a handful of Fontana police officers who resided in Fontana. Ibarra lived on the west side of Fontana in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. This earned Ibarra the sobriquet, while he was serving on the Fontana Police department, of “Mr. Fontana.” A number of the department’s officers constantly ridiculed Ibarra for his decision to live within the city that he served. On occasion Ibarra would retort by asking why it was that his fellow officers felt compelled to carry a gun with them while in Fontana when they were off duty. To their responses that they did not trust the people who lived in Fontana and needed to watch their backs, Ibarra would chuckle at their fearfulness and brag that he could walk around or go to any part of the city in a tank top, flip flops, and without his gun.
A few of Ibarra’s admirers who are yet employed with the department said that Ibarra was able to circulate in the Fontana community fearlessly because he had a reputation of treating those he encountered with respect, without bias, equally and fairly.
Ibarra volunteered at many local events in Fontana and because of this his face was a fixture in the community. Moreover, Ibarra was a certified translator and the press information officer for Mexican T.V networks Telemundo and Univision. At one point, Ibarra had a national syndicated program called “PLACAS,” which was a Mexican version of Cops, the television show.
In 2001, Ibarra applied for a special enforcement detail (SED) position as a hostage negotiator. Ibarra was a licensed psychiatric nurse at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, a state run facility for the mentally ill. At the time of his application into the special enforcement detail unit he was working as a part time charge nurse at a psychiatric facility in Riverside.
Officers currently with the department told the Sentinel that as part of the selective process for induction into the SED unit, prospective officers being considered for recruitment are subject to evaluation by the members of the special enforcement division. Unit members hold a secret table discussion and vote on who they want on their team. The Sentinel was told that the majority of SED officers voted to accept Ibarra, but according to the SED’s only Mexican American officer, during the secret meeting the German American male officer and Obie Rodriguez, who is of Cuban descent, vetoed allowing Ibarra into the special enforcement division.
Subsequently, however, sources told the Sentinel, Ibarra did in fact become a “semi special enforcement detail officer,” and was utilized in the capacity of SED’s hostage negotiator after he was originally rejected. Nevertheless, Ibarra was not looked upon, the officers told the Sentinel “as a fully fledged SED member.”
On one occasion, the Sentinel was told, Ibarra was wearing his SED pin on his uniform when he was approached by SED Sergeant Douglas Imhof, a long time member of the tactical team. Imhof tugged on Ibarra’s pin, according to this version of events, and in a rude tone said, “I guess they will let anyone wear that pin.” Ibarra removed the pin and never wore it again.
In 2005, Ibarra was serving in Iraq, during which time all emails Ibarra sent and received as well as those of his fellow sailors were monitored and placed on a time limit. While Stationed in Habaniya, Iraq, between Ramadi and Fallujah, Ibarra was on base in support of the 5th Marines’ ground operations, U.S Navy Petty Officer Ibarra received an email from Fontana Police Department Internal Affairs Investigator Mark Jacobson. The e-mail stated that a complaint against officer Ibarra had been received and was being investigated by the internal affairs unit. While that complaint was later determined by the department to be unfounded, the email called upon Ibarra to sign the internal affairs letter and mail it back to the Fontana Police Department. The email was seen by Ibarra’s superior officer, Navy Commander Jeff Giles. Giles asked Ibarra “why his police department would send him an unfounded false Internal Affairs letter to a war zone?” Ibarra had no answer for his commander. Ibarra was embarrassed because personal matters should be confidential and there was no need, he believed, for this email to be sent to him. Mark Jacobson, who sent the email, was later disciplined for his actions.
When Ibarra returned to the Fontana Police Department as a decorated war veteran he thought that he would be welcomed with open arms by his fellow Fontana police officers. This was not the case. The harassment that he was subjected to by his fellow officers and specifically the so-called “Golden Couple” continued. According to department members, Ibarra complained to then-lieutenant Robert Ramsey, and Ibarra documented several incidents of his mistreatment in his personal calendar. Lt Ramsey made a copy of Ibarra’s calendar but no action from the department’s administration was forthcoming.
Ibarra, despairing of any prospect that the department and what was termed its “Good Ol Boy” system would change, challenged his superiors, questioning them and other officers why the Fontana Police Department was not representing the population of Fontana, in particular pointing out that the upper command staff of the department was nearly devoid of minorities.
Fontana Police Department sources confirmed that Ibarra, while serving as Scott Snyder’s field training officer, heard an account of Fermin Rincon’s 2002 death at the hands of Fontana officers. Snyder had been a paramedic at that time and manned an ambulance that was dispatched to the scene where Rincon died on that fateful evening in 2002. Snyder told Ibarra that Rincon’s windpipe was crushed so badly that when he attempted to put a breathing device down Rincon’s throat, he was unable to. Sources in the department confirmed that Snyder directly told this to Ibarra.
Sources within the department told the Sentinel that Ibarra had grown acutely aware of the department’s practice and custom of treating minority officers and minority residents differently compared to white officers and white residents living in the community.
Sources in the department also confirm that Mr. Ibarra did not like, respect, or appreciate that the Fontana command staff would constantly send Ibarra to deal with the Hispanic community residents’ problems or calls. To Ibarra, this showed that the command staff at Fontana PD did not really care about familiarizing its command officers with the Hispanic portion of the population they serve.
The Sentinel was told that the special enforcement detail strove to attract like-minded officers into that unit and had a hazing ritual for all members initiated into SED. It is unclear if this type of hazing ritual still takes place but it was definitely something that has taken place in the past, the officers said. When SED members join the team, they are encouraged to drink alcohol until reaching a state of severe inebriation. At that time the officers are asked to drop their underwear and get on their hands and knees. While they are so postured, they are instructed to form a circle and, after a long chain is wrapped around their genitalia to link them, they are obliged to progress in a circular motion. This is known as the Fontana Special Enforcement Detail’s infamous “Elephant Walk,” which provides both a symbolic and actual demonstration of the need for members of the unit to carefully coordinate their activity and recognize that action contrary to the interest of one member can and will be contrary to the interest of all members. This might explain why so many qualified candidates, minority and white, never make the SED team, as some individuals are unwilling to partake in the Elephant Walk rite.
In August of 2006 Ibarra submitted his resignation after he was offered a deputy sheriff’s position in another state. While in the locker room on his last day of work at the Fontana Police department, Ibarra told a collection of minority officers, “Do not love the Fontana Police Department because they will not love you back. They hire us Mexicans and African Americans because they have to, not because they want to.”
The Sentinel was able to locate and contact Ibarra, who lives in a Southern state where he has since achieved the rank of sergeant with the agency that now employs him.
The Sentinel asked about the alleged racism that exists in the Fontana Police Department.
Ibarra said that he “put all of the bad things that happened at the department behind me and in the past.” Ibarra is the first Mexican American sergeant at his current department. He said the chief at his department “does not tolerate racist cops. He has fired several police officers that have made racist comments.”
Ibarra also went on to say that “There are good officers [in Fontana]. I still have friends at the department. As for change in the department, that will only happen if they bring an outside minority officer into the department to be chief, the DOJ [Department of Justice], F.B.I, or an outside entity looks into the department, a woman chief is selected; or, lastly, the Fontana police department is disbanded and the sheriff’s department takes over.”
Asked if he could offer any validation to the information supplied to the Sentinel by officers yet employed by the Fontana Police Department with regard to his tenure there, Ibarra characterized it as “one hundred percent accurate to the best of my knowledge.”
By Carlos Avalos