PuebloFest civil rights lawsuit against Tulare and its police chief detailed by attorney
The city of Tulare and its police chief are being sued in federal court over alleged civil rights violations for characterizing the PuebloFest 2017 — a Mexican music and cultural festival — as a Mexican cartel and gang gathering, as well as discriminating against the organizers based on their race.
Emilio J. Huerta, an attorney representing brothers Esau Torres and Euler Torres who organized the three-day event, said the civil rights lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno on March 15, and the city was served on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Huerta and his clients held a news press conference in front of the Fresno federal courthouse to announce the lawsuit.
The festival was slated to be one of the largest Mexican festivals in the San Joaquin Valley, according to the lawsuit.
The suit, against the city and police chief Wes Hensley, alleges that after the city granted the permits for the event, Hensley and other city entities imposed rigorous requirements on the Torres brothers that are not typically imposed on others using the venue. In addition, the alleged discriminatory practices undermined the festival’s success, the suit says.
A Tulare police spokesman, Sgt. Edward Hinojosa, on Monday said Hensley is aware of the lawsuit and was choosing not to provide a statement at this time.
Mario Zamora, with the Tulare City Attorney’s Office, on Tuesday, he released a statement. Zamora said that according to the plaintiff’s own complaint, they specify that the city of Tulare and the organizers have worked on other events since 2005, such as Viva Tulare, which continues to take place.
“The Plaintiffs give no explanation as to why, after working for over a decade together, staff became racially motivated and conspired against them or this event as alleged,” Zamora said in the statement. “Plaintiffs also give no support to their claims that the City characterized this event as cartel or gang related.”
Huerta said “without a doubt” his clients were discriminated against based on their race.
“We are hoping to put a spotlight on the city’s illegal practices in requiring people of color, minorities, Mexicanos, to undergo more rigorous requirements,” he told The Bee. “They basically made them undergo requirements that weren’t imposed on other people who were using the same venue.”
The lawsuit claims that among the requirements that were imposed on the Torres brothers were that they were not allowed to sell tickets for the event on the day of the festival at the venue location. Huerta said typically 80 percent to 90 percent of tickets for similar events are sold on the day of the event at the venue.
Huerta said his clients were expecting to draw some 30,000 festival-goers on average for each of the three days, but instead only about 10,000 people attended the event for each of the three days, which led to a loss of over $4 million.
The lawsuit doesn’t seek a specific amount of money for damages. Huerta said his office is still gathering more evidence, and they continue to discover more damages through that process.
“We are confident it’s going to be in the millions of dollars,” he said. “My clients lost a lot of money.”
The Torres brothers were present during Tuesday’s news conference and spoke about the alleged discrimination they faced.
“It was our hope that PuebloFest would be an annual festival where we here in the San Joaquin Valley would be able to celebrate our musical culture while at the same time benefiting our local economy,” Esau Torres said in a news release. “Instead, we fell victim to racist and discriminatory practices of the City of Tulare’s Police Department.”
Huerta said his clients were required to pay various fees for permits with the city, and were even threatened with cancellation of the event. The Torres bothers were allegedly also forced to hire a large number of police officers for the event, and food vendors were required to get permits.
“Food vendors had operated at the venue before and weren’t required to have permits,” Huerta said.
Huerta said his clients also hope that this lawsuit will prompt city to rewrite its policies in order to have clear standards.
During the press conference on Tuesday, Huerta said his clients were “mandated that they pay cash to the city police for police personnel, including hiring the gang unit to come out and be there on the day of the event.”
“Their civil rights were violated,” he said.
Zamora said the city will defend itself from the allegations.