Girl, 11, to go on trial for rock incident
Mayor stands by police in face of ethnic bias claim
- Greg Lucas, Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
Fresno -- Until the afternoon of April 29, 11-year-old Maribel Cuevas' only connection with law enforcement was involvement in a mentoring program sponsored by the Police Activities League.
But that day a rock she says slipped from her hand struck Elijah Vang, 8, in the forehead. A 911 call led to Maribel being arrested by Fresno police officers, handcuffed and taken to Juvenile Hall, where she stayed for five days before a judge released her on the condition she wear an electronic ankle bracelet.
On Wednesday, Maribel is scheduled to go on trial in Juvenile Court on felony assault charges. Authorities say the rock-throwing incident was too serious to be treated lightly.
But critics of the Police Department's actions, including Maribel's father, say the treatment would have been different if Mirabel wasn't a Latina living in one of the city's poorer neighborhoods.
"If this was a middle-class or upper-class neighborhood it would have been a very different outcome," said the Rev. Floyd Harris Jr., who led a 100- person vigil Friday in front of Juvenile Hall to support Maribel.
"Police don't have the same respect for people of color in this town," Harris said.
Fresno's mayor, Alan Autry, commended the department in a statement. "In Fresno, we love our children too much to treat this like it was just a childhood dispute when in fact the consequences could have been tragic."
Maribel says she was defending herself against Elijah and other boys who had thrown rocks and water balloons at her and some of her younger siblings while they were playing behind the low chain-link fence of a relative's front yard in their largely minority neighborhood.
"She's a good girl. She's never been in trouble,'' said Martin Cuevas, father of the girl. "We are worrying what is going to happen,'' the father of six said in Spanish in a telephone interview in which he said he was surrounded by his children, ages 12, 11, 9, 6, 4 and 1.
"A criminal they don't treat like this," he said. "(Maribel) will never have trust in the police after what they did to her."
Police defended their actions, saying Maribel intended to hurt the boy and resisted arrest, kicking toward the officers and scratching one on the arm.
"As far as the criminal investigation and how it was resolved, the matter was handled in an appropriate way," said Sgt. Anthony Martinez, a Police Department spokesman. However, because of complaints, the department has opened an investigation of the handling of the case, Martinez said.
If convicted, Maribel would probably not be incarcerated, but criminal justice experts questioned the severity of the charges.
"Usually stories like this make headlines because there is something intuitively outrageous," said Michael Vitiello, a criminal law professor at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. "This is very uncommon given the ages of the children involved and all the other ways it could have been handled."
Maribel's case has attracted international attention, seemingly getting notice everywhere but in Fresno, even though the local paper has run several stories and letters to the editor.
"I was a little surprised it was more of a national and international issue," said Ken Shockley, a city spokesman. "We haven't gotten a lot of local anger or feedback. The negative e-mails have been out of state and out of the country."
Organizers of Friday's vigil say Maribel's treatment proves the need for an independent police auditor, an idea the mayor favors but the City Council has rejected. A meeting is scheduled for Aug. 27 to create a community "cop watch" program to monitor police actions.
Maribel's father said his daughter has suffered both mentally and physically from her incarceration and the intense pressure regarding her court date.
She has required doctor's visits and medicine, her father said, and a trip to a psychologist last week. "It's affected all of us a lot.''
A field-worker who earns $250 a week, Martin Cuevas says his daughter's situation has prevented him from working. "I have to go to her appointments, the lawyer, the doctor," he said.
Maribel's lawyer, Richard Beshwate, blames part of her treatment on inaccuracies in the initial police report of the incident. The report is weighed by judges, probation officers and the district attorney in deciding a case's disposition.
The police report listed Maribel's age as 13 and said she threw a 5-pound rock at Elijah, whose age was misstated as 6. He is 8. The rock caused a 4- inch gash, the report said.
A report from the hospital where Elijah was taken said the cut was 1 1/2 inches. It required several stitches. After earlier press reports, the police said the rock was actually 2 1/2 pounds. Maribel says the rock that left her hand was much smaller.
The Vangs have since moved and were unavailable for comment. Maribel's lawyer said the father of the boy, although unhappy about his son's injury, expressed regret that charges were filed against the girl.
"They misassessed what they had and didn't spend any time to investigate, " Beshwate said. "They arrested her and handcuffed her and asked questions later."
Police reports and interviews with witnesses describe the incident this way:
Maribel told her lawyer's investigator she and her 6-year-old brother were playing the front yard of a house with another boy, also 6, and his sisters, ages 4 and 3.
Elijah, his cousin and five other boys stopped in front of the house, harassing them.
Elijah threw three water balloons at her, two of which hit her in the face, Maribel said. They also threw nine or 10 rocks. Two of the rocks hit her, Maribel said, one in the shoulder, one on the side.
She picked up one of the rocks that had been tossed at her and tried to pretend to throw it, she said, but it slipped out of her hand and hit Elijah in the forehead.
Maribel's brother gave Elijah a towel to hold over his bleeding cut. She said she went to Elijah's house to tell his parents he was hurt, but they weren't there.
When she returned, Maribel's mother was there, as were police officers.
"I placed her into handcuffs and she began struggling with us," the police report says. "She threw herself to the ground and started kicking at" one of the officers, the report continues. "We were able to get Cuevas into the back of the patrol vehicle and she began kicking the door and continued crying."
Cuevas was taken to Juvenile Hall. A witness said the officers told her Maribel would be back in several hours. Instead, she stayed there five days before a hearing.
"It was filled with cholas (gang girls)," said Martin Cuevas. "My girl isn't anything like that. It was traumatic."
Told she would be returned to Juvenile Hall if the bracelet did not show she was home by 3 p.m., Maribel refused to return to school.
After being allowed by her school to leave 30 minutes early to ensure she arrived home in time, Maribel returned to classes.
At a hearing the following month, a judge allowed her to stop wearing the bracelet.
Martin Cuevas said there is one bright spot -- reaction and support from around the country.
"There has been a lot of anger about what they've done to us," he said. "We've seen letters on the Internet from Miami, Florida, all over ... people are very helpful because this is about children and the way they're treated."
Well, if the boy's father isn't upset, why is the city so upset?
Are you thinking what I am thinking? A second rock thrower? Were there any grassy knowls in the area?
How fucking stupid do the jizzy jackson suck-ups think we are?
Perhaps she was just cleaning it and had an NT(hrow).
How does a rock slip horizontally and with such force that it causes a 4" gash?
I was thinking about how a rock that size could lay my big ol' butt out, let alone an 8 year old getting beaned with it. (Note: The word "beaned" is used in the context of the colloquialism referring to getting struck in the head. No other meaning is implied or intended).
Yup, the minorities nailed it on the head. It's not about justice, the cops are all racists.
Yup. Uh-huh. Yeah.
It "just slipped" and the cops lied about how big the rock was. She's such a "good girl" it must have been someone else and she was framed.
Hey, if the other kids threw first, it IS self defense, right?
Nope. She claims that it sliped out of her hand. That's different than claiming that she was protecting herself with reasonable means.
It also tells me that she now thinks she shouldn't have done it/she overreacted, hence the claim that the whole thing was an accident.
And I love the claim that if this happenned in a "white" neighborhood, nothing would have happenned.
I don't know EXACTLY what neighborhood they mean, but a busy Satruday night in the neighborhood where I live involves illegal overnight street parking, the occasional loud music etc.
No ADWs that I know of.
EVERY time these rabble rousers make that claim, I'm thinking "Yeah, whitey covers up kids trying to run over cops with no repurcussions on a daily basis."
My point is, generally, middle class neighborhoods don't generally contain kids that behave this way. When they do, ie Kliebold and Harris, you don't see me shedding tears over burying them.
Slipped or was defending herself?....13 or 11 y/o assailant....8 or 6 y/o victim, 5 lb or 2lb rock, 4" gash or 1.5" gash - it's all the same. She hurled a deadly missle at someone. What pisses me off is that her non-English speaking father is making excuses and saying, "(Maribel) will never have trust in the police after what they did to her." He should have explained to her that it was wrong and you do the crime you do the time.
The problem here is a field-worker who earns $250 a week with 6 children under 13. Anyone want to guess what HIS immigration status is?
Update - They dropped the charges:
An 11-year-old girl charged with assault with a deadly weapon for throwing a rock at a boy during a water balloon fight was ordered to attend a mediation program with her young victim after her trial was scrapped in juvenile court.
Maribel Cuevas was prepared to face a felony trial Wednesday when lawyers reached a deal behind closed doors that allowed her to escape detention and avoid pleading guilty.
Cuevas was arrested in April for throwing a two-pound rock at a neighborhood boy who had pelted her with a water-filled balloon. The rock gashed the boy's forehead, and the girl spent five days in Fresno's juvenile hall and a month under house arrest after police said she resisted arrest and scratched an officer's arm.
Since then, the girl's behavior and law enforcement's response to it has become water cooler and editorial page staples far from Fresno. The girl's parents joined church leaders and the state chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network in a vigil last week. They say the felony charge in no way matches her childish crime.
But Fresno's mayor and police chief say Maribel's case was handled appropriately, and that assault with a deadly weapon is the proper charge for an act that might have had fatal consequences.
Maybe ole Martin Cuevas shouldn't have had too many kids that he couldn't teach them all to be good upstanding pistol shots instead.
A 2lb rock?!?
Holy fuckin shit.
Hmm, I did that back in middle school.....tossed a rock and hit a girl in the forehead.
It's an evil hi capacity Assault Rock!
if you don't like it go back to your own country.
1) While I don't think a kid throwing a rock at another kid should result in a felony, it shouldn't go unpunished either. If I threw a rock at someone and it wasn't because I was in fear of physical harm, you can BET my ass would get beaten when my parents found out about it. And I can't say I didn't deserve it in nearly every case.
2) Fuck you, you racist bastards. "Wouldn't happen in a white neighborhood" my ass.
3) Welcome to America. Now speak english!
4) Stop breeding. There's a reason you're in debt.
5) Suuuure, blame the cops. They're the ones who attacked a kid with a friggin' rock.
It's kalifornia, 'nuff said.
So when America collapses, do you think we'll be an anarchy with small locally controlled Shires, or do you think Mexico will carve us up into states?
She was on CBS evening news! Had it on only for background noise. www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/08/03/national/main713807.shtml