By Brian Whitehead | | San Bernardino Sun
Published: March 6, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Updated: March 6, 2018 at 3:58 pm

The chairman of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce filed a public claim against San Bernardino on Monday, March 5, alleging his civil rights were violated by several city officials at a recent City Council meeting.

The claim is a precursor to a civil lawsuit.

Frank Montes, the chamber chairman, also alleges that he was threatened by former city attorney James F. Penman and intimidated and bullied by San Bernardino police officers.

On Feb. 21, Montes spoke for several minutes during a San Bernardino City Council public hearing on commercial cannabis regulations. As he concluded, he chided the council for not working together and then mentioned gangs in the city before City Manager Andrea Miller interjected to rein his comments back to the topic at hand.

According to the claim, Montes attended the council meeting “to advocate on behalf of small business when he was assaulted and threatened during and after his public comment.”

Montes’ attorney, Tim Prince, said Penman, from the audience, repeatedly asked his client: “Where you from ese?” in a feigned Spanish accent.

Penman, in a phone interview Monday, March 5, said that he grew up in one of San Bernardino’s historically Latino and African-American communities, and that he asked: “Where you from, vato?”

“‘Vato,’ where I grew up, is a complimentary term,” Penman said. “‘Where you from, vato?’ is something that might be said on the calles, out on the street. ‘Where you from?’ In other words, ‘Come again?’”

The former city attorney and Montes engaged in a brief verbal altercation, during which Penman said he told Montes: “No te agüites, ese” – loosely translated to “Don’t get angry” or “Don’t get upset.” Mayor Carey Davis interrupted and asked the audience to respect the speaker.

City Attorney Gary Saenz admonished Montes and Penman, calling them “out of order” for the exchange.

“It’s rather shocking that this kind of behavior occurs at the temporary City Hall,” Prince said in a telephone interview Thursday. ” … The mayor’s failure to control the situation and the city officials’ and Police Department’s involvement is disturbing.”

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