SALINAS, Calif. (KION) A decades old civil rights organization advocating for Latino Americans is now facing controversy over what reportedly happened at the 2019 LULAC State Convention in Southern California.
“We have a moral and ethical responsibility to report any suspicion of neglect or abuse,” said Fernando Armenta who is a former Salinas Chapter 2055 president and life-long member.
He is the only member of the Salinas Chapter 2055 who has been willing to speak up about a situation he and a couple of others believe was swept under the rug.
Some members, who have been reluctant to go on camera, are blowing the whistle, claiming high-ranking members within the organization did not handle a situation involving a teenage girl correctly.
“Who in this council stood up to protect and defend before and after the fact if something did occur?” Armenta said.
In May of 2019, a group of teens attended LULAC’s annual convention in Garden Grove.
According to several sources, on the trip, one teenage boy was able to get his hands on some alcohol at a stranger’s hotel party and later sexually assaulted a teenage girl who was part of the trip. Rather than quickly getting to the bottom of things, the situation was dismissed- despite a youth director sounding the alarm and calling for an internal investigation into the matter.
It was not until a year later that the incident was reported to police in April of 2020. Initially, the report was taken by the Salinas Police Department. However, it was determined that because the alleged sexual assault incident happened in Garden Grove, it was not in Salinas’ jurisdiction.
Garden Grove Detective Pete Garcia confirms with KION that they are currently investigating a sexual assault involving a Salinas minor at the LULAC convention. Garcia could not say when the case was transferred to his department or provide any supplemental reports.
KION also reached out to the victim, but she did not want to comment.
KION obtained notes taken by a deputy state director for youth, Ana De Castro, and verified them with three members of the Salinas 2055 chapter.
The notes detail the events that led up to the alleged sexual encounter during the earlier hours of Sunday, May 19th and say that three adult chaperones were informed of the incident later that morning.
According to the notes recorded by De Castro, a teen called her and said he wanted to speak with her in person about an incident that had occurred in his hotel room involving his room buddy.
The boy told her: “At around 3:00 a.m. noises woke me up in my room. There were two people in the next bed that were making noises. I think they were having sex based on the noises. (The suspect) brought a girl over and was having sex with her. Eventually (he) got up and went to the bathroom and started to throw up.”
The suspect, a minor, had allegedly been drinking.
When De Castro, questioned the alleged victim, she said:
“Saturday night (the suspect) calls (her friend) and tells her that he wants to go into a stranger’s room. (She) and I both go with him to this stranger’s room and we talk to him about leaving. We convince him and we took him to his room. He calls again and he is outside our hotel room. I took him to his room because (she) was too tired to go. I waited until he was in the room and was staying there.”
De Castro recorded in her notes that the girl’s stories were not matching up and called for a special meeting with members of LULAC’s leadership: President Chris Barrera; Vice President at the time Irene Barrera; Irene Barrera's fiance and LULAC member Guillermo Hernandez; Treasurer Jacob Sandoval; De Castro and Aurelio Salazar, who did not attend the convention.
“There was a meeting called to discuss procedure on how to address the situation. Agenda attached," De Castro wrote.
During that meeting, one members said the discussion quickly escalated and became a shouting match.
It was agreed that parents would be contacted, but it is believed they never were.
Days later, De Castro recorded a conversation with LULAC’s State President, Yvonne Duncan, and wrote:
“Yvonne called me stating that Guillermo is very upset that this was getting out of order. The stories by the girls are not matching up, therefore 'it is now a family matter.' Yvonne said that I need to stay out of it. I commented: that the family life is one thing and the LULAC is another.”
An internal investigation appears to have gone nowhere.
KION reached out to Duncan for comment, and she declined but provided a statement once KION continued questioning LULAC’s leading members.
"While we cannot comment on a specific incident or investigation, out of respect for the privacy of those individuals involved, we can assure you that LULAC takes all allegations of misconduct very seriously.
Still, a couple of members with the organization believe the situation was dismissed because the suspect in this case is a relative of both Irene and Chris Barrerra. The boy, we are told, was not even supposed to be there because he was not part of the chapter’s youth council.
LULAC chapter# 2055’s president Chris Barrera, who recently ran for mayor, refused an on-camera interview but in a phone conversation with KION called the allegations “false.”
KION has learned that since learning about our story, the organization at the state level has hired an attorney to carry out an internal investigation.