A federal class-action lawsuit against a group of wealthy middle-aged surfers in the Los Angeles area seeks to have the group labeled a gang and accuses the city and police department of Palos Verdes Estates of turning a blind eye to the group's violent, criminal behavior.
Police Officer Cory Spencer, who works in nearby El Segundo and is a surfer himself, and surfer and filmmaker Diana Milena Reed brought the suit on behalf of those who have allegedly been unlawfully excluded from enjoying the waves at Lunada Bay for years.
The suit alleges that a group of surfers known as the Lunada Bay Boys acts as a gang with its own turf within the city, engaging in offenses that include assault, battery, vandalism, intimidation, and harassment. It also suggests the men use a stone and wood fort they built on the beach to sell and use illegal drugs and as a base of their general criminal activities.
The lawsuit names eight alleged members of the group and 10 anonymous "John Does" as defendants and accuses the city of Palos Verdes Estates and its police chief, Jeff Kepley, of failing to enforce laws against the Bay Boys.
The surfers are accused of throwing rocks and dirt clods, slashing tires, and assaulting non-locals who try to use the beach and ocean in Lunada Bay.
"Their assaults (throwing rocks, running people over with surfboards, shoves, slaps, punches, etc.), thefts (wallets, wetsuits, and surfboards), vandalism to vehicles and personal property, and threats are for the purpose of establishing a certain intimidation to drive out-of-area beachgoers, which they label riffraff, away from the coastal area of Lunada Bay," the suit claims.
'I think it's outrageous. Maybe the federal government or the court will step up and put a stop to this nonsense.'
The surfers involved allegedly listen to police and fire radio scanners and communicate by walkie-talkie to warn others if the police are coming to enforce the laws.
According to the suit, Spencer, the police officer in El Segundo, had wanted to surf Lunada Bay for some 30 years, but after working gang-infested neighborhoods as an LAPD officer had avoided the area because of the threat of violence.
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In January, he decided to try surfing the Lunada break. He paid security guards $100 to watch his vehicle and belongings and proceeded to paddle out. On his second wave, Spencer was allegedly run over by another surfer and had his hand sliced open by the surfer's board.
Reed tried to surf Lunada Bay at the end of January as well, according to the suit.
"She was accompanied by her friend Jordan Wright. Reed and Wright encountered members of the Lunada Bay boys, who screamed profanities at them and said words to the effect of 'you can't surf here,'" the lawsuit says.
Reed was also once allegedly called a whore along the trail down to the water by a man in his 40s or 50s — an incident that the suit says occurred in front of police, who then asked Reed if she wanted to make a "citizen's arrest." Reed declined, but returned to the beach again and again, once after having talked about her experiences with the Los Angeles Times, and claims she was harassed by the men there, who poured beer on her and made sexually explicit comments.
'People will just fucking duke it out, fucking work your car and get in fights.'
Kepley said in 2015 that he would try and step up enforcement against the harassment and violence on his beaches, telling the Times that the group was made up of "affluent, mostly middle-age men" who had adopted a "gang mentality."
But no recent arrests have been made, the suit says.
The city released a statement today saying it "has not had a chance to evaluate the allegations [in the suit] and will respond accordingly."
"The City of Palos Verdes Estates and its police department are committed to protecting the safety of all those who live, visit, shop and recreate in the City," the city manager's office said in the statement. "Our Police Department takes seriously its public safety mission and has and will continue to monitor and enforce the laws in Lunada Bay specifically and indeed everywhere in the community."
Police Chief Kepley did not respond to a request for comment.
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A video secretly shot during a visit to the bay and published by the Guardian last May caught some of the men at the beach harassing journalists who tried to surf there.
"You shouldn't fucking come down here," says one man. "Stay away from this area, this bay right here."
"The reason there's a lot of space is because we keep it like that, we fucking hassle people," goes another clip. "People will just fucking duke it out, fucking work your car and get in fights."
The video didn't show a physical act of aggression, but included secretly recorded analysis offered by a member of the local police department following the intimidation.
"We know all of them," a woman, identified as a police officer in the lawsuit, can be heard telling the journalists. "They're infamous around here. They're pretty much grown men in little men's mindsets. They don't like anyone that's not one of the Bay Boys surfing down there. It literally is like a game with kids on a schoolyard to them and they don't want you playing on their swing set. But you know it is what it is. If you feel uncomfortable, you know, then don't do it."
Attorney Michael Sisson has twice successfully sued member of the Bay Boys, and sought and failed to get an injunction against them in local courts. He praised the most recent lawsuit and said he was hopeful that it had a good chance of succeeding in federal court.
"There have been gang injunctions that have been enforced and upheld in California — for instance, the Crips, the Bloods, MS-13 — and there are known gang territories and areas that the LAPD has to enforce daily and the courts have found that they're constitutional," Sisson said. "So I don't see any difference between the Bay Boys up in Palos Verdes who are assaulting people and vandalizing cars and throwing rocks at people. I see not one shred of difference between them and any other gang in the area in Los Angeles."
He called the violence "generational" and said that there has been a culture of violence in Palos Verdes for 40 years. He thinks the local community and the police are "deliberately indifferent" to the surfers' behavior. One of Sisson's clients was assaulted by one of the surfers at Lunada Bay in 1995 and had the assault caught on video.
"It's pretty unnerving, the fact that they'd do that so publicly, knowing they were being filmed. It belies their position that this is rare or doesn't happen very often or that they're not supported by the local police department. They are," Sisson said. "I think it's outrageous. Maybe the federal government or the court will step up and put a stop to this nonsense."
'The media trying to develop a story about the PVEPD being sympathetic to us is complete BS.'
Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for VICE News for comment. The defendants have yet to publicly respond to the complaint, though the site Surfline ran an interview on Wednesday with an unnamed member of the group.
"I believe the harassment is as bad as the media portrays it," he said, likening it to the defensive localism typical of popular surf spots. "If you're down there and we don't know you, then someone or multiple people are going to say something to you and at the very least make your whole session completely miserable. I am not aware of anyone being physically assaulted down there in years."
The surfer dismissed any suggestion of complicity between the Bay Boys and the police, which would likely have to be substantiated for a federal judge to order local police to investigate more diligently.
"The media trying to develop a story about the PVEPD being sympathetic to us is complete BS," he remarked. "We have been harassed by the police for years and often get pulled over for no reason other than them trying to prove a point. The reason why nobody has been arrested at the bay is because there hasn't been an incident that has warranted an arrest."
He expressed confidence that the Lunada Bay Boys could successfully defend themselves against what he said was a misrepresentation of the group.
"If this suit becomes real we will fight for the truth and demand that the slander created here will be handled by the judge accordingly," he added. "We're all disgusted and it seems the vibes are only going to get uglier."
Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen Photo via Flickr