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Police Investigated for Allegedly Roughing Up Santa

December 14, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ District of Columbia police may find coal in their stockings this Christmas after officers allegedly roughed up a Santa who was leading carollers outside a holiday party for the handicapped.

Salvatore Gonzalez, 45, clad in a red suit and a snowy beard, was arrested for disorderly conduct Tuesday night after leading a group singing holiday songs outside a 10th annual Christmas dinner for the handicapped at Petitto’s Italian restaurant.

A neighbor reportedly complained that the singing was a nuisance, but Gonzalez said Wednesday he was already finished when police arrived.

``The next thing I knew he was coming up the steps, very belligerent and very aggressive and he told me, `Hey you ... I told you to shut up!′ He threw me against the wall and he was grabbing me by the Santa suit and he was shaking me,″ Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the officer followed him down a stairway. ``That’s when he tried to tackle me, punched me in the mouth and started kicking me.″

At least four officers responded to the scene, and Gonzalez was led away in handcuffs.

Police confirmed they were investigating the incident.

``I initiated an immediate investigation once this came to my attention,″ said police Inspector Jacqueline Barnes.

Restaurant owner Karen Audia Shannon said she went outside in time to see the officers forcing Gonzalez into a cruiser.

``I feel like it was a total misunderstanding. When I got involved, there were four policemen there,″ she said. ``You would have thought they were collaring a murder suspect. They were a little rough.″

Gonzalez said he had consulted with a lawyer and planned to file a civil rights complaint.