Cellphone video shot by the victim's girlfriend shows a group of teens attacking a 16-year-old Otay Ranch High School sophomore on Thursday, April 11, at the Cotixan taco shop on East Palomar Street in Chula Vista.
Chula Vista police announced Wednesday they had arrested four juveniles and two adults, all between 15 and 19 years old, in connection with an attack on a 16-year-old boy in a taco shop last week that was captured on video and shared on social media.
The victim, who suffered a broken wrist, told police he did not know his attackers when they approached him around 3:30 p.m. Thursday inside the Cotixan restaurant on East Palomar Street. The group of teens confronted the victim as he was sitting with his girlfriend and began beating and kicking him, police Capt. Phil Collum said.
The victim told police he also lost a smart phone and Apple watch in the incident.
"They were jumping on my head, they were stomping on it, (some of them) had cleats on," said Paul Martin, the Otay Ranch High School sophomore who identified himself as the victim, with permission from his parents, at an anti-bullying rally Wednesday evening.
"It was horrifying, I thought I was going to be dead any second," he said. "I thought I was going to pass out and they were going to keep on kicking me 'til I stopped breathing."
Several videos were recorded of the attack. They show young men viciously punching, kicking and stomping the victim. One attacker is seen throwing a chair at the boy as he is curled on the ground covering his head. The attack seen in one of the videos appears to last about 20 seconds.
Investigators were able to identify the suspects, all of whom attended Morse High School or a continuation school on the Morse campus, with the assistance of the San Diego Unified School District.
Police said they also worked with representatives from the Sweetwater Union High School District, the District Attorney's Office and other officials as they investigated the case.
The four juveniles — ranging in age from 15 to 17 — were arrested early Wednesday after their parents or guardians brought them in voluntarily, police Capt. Vern Sallee said. The two adults, who are 18 and 19, were taken into custody Tuesday.
All six were arrested on suspicion of robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and burglary.
Investigators said the attack apparently grew out of a dispute the victim had with one of the suspects over comments made on social media.
"The assault appeared to be related to an ongoing online dispute between the victim and one of the juvenile attackers," Collum said in a statement. "The dispute began last month when the victim and suspect got into a heated exchange on social media over comments made to one of the victim's friends."
Paul Martin and his family held a rally Wednesday evening outside the restaurant where the attack occurred. They billed the event as a peaceful anti-bullying protest.
"I hope we can take this bad situation and turn it into something better for this community and put an end to violence between us youth," he said.
Margarito Martin, Paul's father, said the dispute stemmed from his son defending a friend who was being bullied on social media. He said the main online antagonist was one of the teens seen beating his son in the videos.
Martin said his son and the boy's girlfriend typically walked to Cotixan most days after school to wait for rides home. On Thursday, the young couple were the only people in the taco shop when the group of teens attacked Paul, the father said.
Three videos of the incident show six teens attacking the victim. It is unclear if several others who had gathered near the brawl participated in any way.
"As for the number of attackers, it is an ongoing investigation, and if we identify more suspects, we will follow those leads," Sallee said in an email.
In an interview with the Union-Tribune on Tuesday, before the arrests were announced, Margarito Martin was critical of the Chula Vista Police Department, saying they were slow to pursue the case early on, even when the victim's family and others reportedly contacted police with what they said were the identities of those involved.
Martin said police took their complaints seriously only after several TV stations began airing footage from the attack over the weekend. On Monday, police Chief Roxana Kennedy called the victim's family and later met with them at police headquarters.
Chula Vista police Capt. Eric Thunberg said Tuesday that his department took the investigation seriously from the beginning, but that tips and promising leads began pouring in after footage of the beating was aired on television and posted online by news media. Thunberg said the family's meeting with Kennedy on Monday was "positive and cooperative."
"We support this family at their time of need, and we're very sorry that this happened to you," Sallee told the Martin family at the Wednesday evening rally as he stood with his arm around Paul Martin's shoulder. "We're very sorry you've had to go through this, but I've got to say, this has been a brave young man, and a fantastic mother and father fighting for their kid."
Sallee assured the protesters — a group of at least 100 people — that investigators responded immediately and treated the matter seriously, but credited the videos that later emerged for giving police the leads they needed "to crack this case."
Margarito Martin on Tuesday also criticized employees at the restaurant for not doing more to help his son.
In two of the videos, an employee can be heard yelling at the attackers, briefly drawing the attention of at least one of the teens, who quickly turns his attention back to the brawl and begins punching the victim.
Margarito Martin said the employees refused to call 911 even after the assault.
"I can't even get started on the restaurant," Paul Martin said when asked Wednesday how he felt about the actions of its employees.
Cotixan was closed Wednesday during the rally outside its front doors. A handwritten sign on the doors apologized for the closure, attributing it to the installation of a security system. A uniformed guard was seated inside the locked taco shop.
On an outside wall, a printed sign expressed solidarity with the victim and his family.
"Cotixan Chula Vista and its employees strongly condemn the actions happened here on Thursday April 11th," the sign read. "We wish the Martin-Cruz family the best in these bad times and we offer our unconditional assistance to the family and police in any way we can."