Silent Witnesses, Missing Suspects Hamper Investigation Of Councilman Fight

COMMERCE (CNS) - Riverside County sheriff's officials said today they are still trying to find people who may have been involved in a brawl involving Commerce city officials at an Indian Wells resort, noting that some people apparently fled the scene before deputies arrived.

Deputies responded around 12:30 a.m. Saturday to reports of multiple people fighting at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort, according to the sheriff's department. When deputies arrived at the resort in the 44000 block of Indian Wells Lane, where a California Contract Cities Association meeting was taking place, they found Commerce City Councilman Leonard Mendoza injured at the scene.

Mendoza, who was apparently knocked unconscious in the melee, was taken to a hospital.

“While investigating the incident, deputies attempted to establish details while gathering information from witnesses and possible suspects,” according to a statement from the sheriff's department. “Many individuals on scene were uncooperative and did not provide statements.”

Despite the lack of cooperation from many of the witnesses, investigators said there was evidence that “there were possible involved parties who fled” prior to the arrival of law enforcement. Deputies are still trying to locate “those who may have been involved” or witnessed the alleged altercation.

They did not immediately confirm how many people were allegedly involved in the attack.

On Monday, Commerce Mayor John Soria said in a statement he was planning to press charges, saying he was attacked by two people after he tried to break up a dispute between two Commerce council members.

According to Soria, Councilman Ivan Altamirano and Mendoza were having a conversation that “became elevated and I went to the area to defuse any potential conflict.”

“Upon arriving I witnessed Mr. Mendoza on the floor, apparently unconscious and Mr. Altamirano standing nearby with a facial injury,” Soria said.

Soria said he attempted to establish “a safe distance between people standing in the area and Mr. Altamirano” while others attempted to render aid to Mendoza.

“Within seconds Mr. Altamirano and I were attacked from behind by two individuals,” Soria said. “Mr. Altamirano was knocked to the ground and I was further attacked by these two individuals, being punched several times on the head and face from which I sustained multiple injuries.

“I know who the attackers are, but I will refrain from naming them at this time so that the Riverside County Sheriff's Department can conduct a thorough investigation,” Soria said.

“I want to be clear in condemning the violent behavior from the individuals who initiated these assaults,” he said. “Violence is never the answer, and as elected officials we are held to a higher standard. Such behavior is unacceptable and is an embarrassment to the people of Commerce and Southeast Los Angeles.”

Mendoza told the Los Angeles Times he remembers having a heated discussion with Altamirano, and he asked Altamirano to back away, but he wouldn't.

“I guess he didn't like that and it got heated and it got loud,” Mendoza told the paper.

Mendoza said that a short time later, he felt a blow from behind, and the next thing he remembers is waking up at a hospital.

“It must've been one of those things where I got knocked out with one punch,” he said, adding that he does not know who hit him.

Altamirano issued a statement Monday saying Mendoza was the “physical aggresor” in the confrontation. Altamirano said he “has been threatened by Councilman Mendoza before and this incident fits an unfortunate and documented pattern of misconduct” by Mendoza.

Altamirano said Mendoza was involved in a “heated discussion with others” and then approached him. He said Soria was not involved in the initial conversations but “interceded to try to diffuse the situation.”

But another Commerce councilman, Hugo Argumendo, told ABC7 in Los Angeles that Soria was lying about what occurred. Argumendo said he heard Mendoza hit the ground after being hit, and he went over to assist him, but Altamirano came at him.

“I believe he (Altamirano) threw a punch at me,” he said.

The city of Commerce issued a statement Sunday saying that since the confrontation occurred in another jurisdiction “and the fact that the city is unclear on the specifics, the city has no further comment at this time.”

Mendoza was also in contact with law enforcement “regarding his involvement,” deputies said in a statement.

Photo: Getty Images

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