Did Imperial Irrigation District Director Anthony Sanchez hit his stepson with a belt? It’s a question law enforcement authorities are asking as they look over a video given to the Sheriff’s Office on Thursday that allegedly shows Sanchez hitting his stepson with a belt at their Heber home, according to multiple sources.
Now Sanchez is cooperating in the investigation dealing with the alleged child abuse that reportedly occurred Wednesday morning.
The video was given to Sheriff’s Office officials, and the man who filmed the incident said it shows IID Director Sanchez hitting his stepson with a belt after the stepson dropped a baseball Sanchez had thrown to him. In the initial video, posted on YouTube before being given to the Sheriff’s Office, the hitting continues through almost three minutes while the person videotaped unseen from a neighboring house. Toward the end of the video, the person filming started to yell at the man hitting the boy.
About 1 a.m. Thursday the Sheriff’s Office got a call from a resident of Heber who gave patrol deputies the video footage of the child playing catch with a baseball in the backyard, according to a statement from Lt. Scott Sheppeard. The man in the video — who was not identified by Sheriff’s Office personnel but whose identity was confirmed as Sanchez by IID officials — used a belt to strike the child a number of times.
The Sheriff’s Office said in the statement from Sheppeard that the incident has been investigated since the time it was reported. However, that was the only information that could be released as of this time.
Sanchez represents Calexico, Heber and a majority of the city of Holtville as the Division 5 IID director. He is serving his second term on the board, starting his time with the district in 2006.
Sanchez’s attorney, Ryan Childers, made clear that Sanchez has not been charged with anything, nor are any charges pending, he said. He is cooperating with authorities but at this time there’s no reason for him to turn himself in, he said.
“What’s happening in the context of the video itself is certainly disturbing,” Childers said in response to the video. “We recognize that. But we need to let the Sheriff’s Office have time to fully investigate the incident so all the facts can come to light.”
Sanchez contacted Childers’ office Thursday morning and has since canceled a business trip out of town to cooperate with the investigation, Childers said. His wife and children, including the stepson reportedly in the video, are on a previously planned trip to Alabama, where the wife is from. Sanchez was set to head there as well after a business meeting in Los Angeles, but those plans have been put on hold.
If sheriff’s officials want the child to be brought back to Imperial County, the family will cooperate, but so far there is no indication that that will be necessary, Childers said. He has made contact with the police in Alabama to work with local authorities.
“Our position at this point is we want to let the sheriff’s department do their job, let all the facts come to light, and then we may be in a position to address things at that point,” Childers said.
Others had clear opinions about the case, though it’s only in the early stages for the Sheriff’s Office.
Oscar Lopez, 36, of Heber took the video that sparked the controversy. He said Thursday that he’s happy people are becoming aware that something took place before noon Wednesday, when he shot the video.
Lopez said he didn’t start taping from the beginning of the incident, as he thought it was the parents’ right to discipline their child, he said. He would hear raised voices, then the ball hitting the fence behind the kid. However, it got out of line, he said.
Lopez said he kept hoping the man would stop, but he didn’t. Finally, Lopez started to pound on the window, nearly breaking it before opening it up and shouting down at the man.
“That’s enough, me, yeah me,” he said, screaming down at the man in the video, trying to get his attention.
“You have a problem with the way I’m raising my kid?” came the response.
“Yeah, I have a (expletive) problem with you beating the (expletive) out of him because he can’t catch the damn ball,” Lopez replied.
Lopez said Thursday that he wasn’t sure if he invaded his neighbor’s privacy, though the bedroom window of his house looks down on the neighbor’s backyard. The only thing he could think to do was post it on Facebook to ask people what he should do with it. He said he didn’t even know who the neighbor was until he started getting messages from people identifying the man as IID Director Sanchez, Lopez said.
“This is not just some drunk down the street,” he said. “This is a guy in leadership here. He is supposed to be representing the people of District 5.
“… I’m happy that he’s been identified, and maybe they don’t prosecute him. Maybe he’s not found guilty,” Lopez said, “but at least it got out and somebody knows.”
It is not clear what implications the video may have on Sanchez’s position with the IID. District General Manager Kevin Kelley said Thursday he was going to reserve comments at the time, and that he didn’t want to speculate on the impact it would have on the IID.
“This is obviously an unfortunate and disturbing incident, but it’s a matter that is best left to the authorities,” he said.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-337-3441.
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