Sunday, September 04, 2011

IA: Racist goon

You've probably heard that every story has two sides, this one has at least three. The off-duty Sheriff's Deputy, the car full of men, and the bystander who just happened to be there when the confrontation went down.

The men say they were on their way to work when they were attacked by a gun-wielding deputy. Their story is a lot different from the deputy's. He says he is the victim.

Much of this was a case of he said, he said. Until now. We found a witness who doesn't know the deputy or the three workers, but claims he saw exactly what happened.

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Ernesto Rojas says he and two co-workers were heading to a construction job Saturday afternoon on I-235 when they became the victims of road rage.

Rojas says he put his turning signal on to merge and the officer didn’t let him over. When he slowed down, the off-duty officer slowed down. When he tried to pass the officer, he sped up.

Rojas says he got off on University, when the driver of the car told him to pull over. That driver, off duty Polk County Deputy Sheriff Shawn Vanhoozer then got out of his car. That's where the stories differ. Rojas says Deputy Vanhoozer attacked him.

Rojas says Vanhoozer ran to his door and when Rojas tried to get out of the car, he says Vanhoozer started to hit him.

Rojas says his friend, Luis Loza, got out of the truck to help, and that's when he says Vanhoozer pulled out a pistol and struck Loza with it. Loza can't remember what happened after that.

“I heard he said, ‘I have a gun’” Says Loza. “But then, after that, I cannot remember that much. I guess I froze and he came to me and hit me.”

It took five staples to close the wound.

We went to Vanhoozer's house to get his side of the story. His patrol car was in the driveway but no one answered the door. He tells police, he was the victim, that the truck almost hit his car with his wife and 18-month old daughter inside. He says he pulled over, grabbed his gun and confronted the men--but they threw the first punch.

Police are looking for witnesses. We found one. We are not revealing his identity, he's afraid police will retaliate. But he tells us he saw the whole thing from the parking lot of a Taco Johns restaurant.

He says, "There was a red truck, and I believe a white or silver car setting there and there was a white gentleman leaning into the driver’s side of the truck just wailing on somebody. I mean beating them hard."

The witness told us Vanhoozer then turned his rage on a passenger in the truck. “The white gentleman turned around and hit him once and almost knocked him out,” he says. "To me it looked like the white gentleman was being the aggressor just beating whoever was close."

That's not a surprise to the folks at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Back in 2005, they filed a complaint against Vanhoozer for racial profiling, claiming he was targeting Latino's, often pulling them over for no reason. He was disciplined, but folks at CCI say that obviously wasn't enough

Ruth Schultz at CCI says, “Definitely, what he did appears to be racist. Appears to be an act based on race. You could call it a racial hate crime even. Assaulting three guys in a truck and it seems like it was because they were Latino and he's had a history of racial profiling

Schultz says, if these accusations turn out to be true, she will call for Vanhoozer's job.

Des moines police say the incident is under investigation. We are told they interviewed two workers at the Taco Johns who witnessed the fight. Investigators are not releasing the 911 tapes from the incident.

A spokesman for the department says they have no reason to doubt Vanhoozer's side of the story, and the deputy remains on the job.

Original report here

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