Police warrant-clearing event gives fresh start to Long Beachers

In the sunny parking lot at Long Beach City College’s Pacific Coast Campus on Saturday morning, people with warrants for their arrest line up to talk to officers from the Long Beach Police Department.

The group is mixed: Young and old, middle-aged, grandmothers and parents with kids on their hips came to clear their names and get cleared for minor infractions that eventually led to bench warrants.

A police officer reminds the group that the event is only for outstanding traffic or non-violent misdemeanor warrants and that participants will  be cleared and given a new date to appear in court.

“That’s so relieving,” said one man in line, Frank Tagoai. “It sounds so good to hear that from a cop.”

The Long Beach Police Department for the first time offered a warrant-clearing event to try to clear up the thousands of warrants sitting in the system since the 70s.

For Tagoai, this is the fresh start he needs.

The 31-year-old retail worker made some mistakes when he moved to Long Beach 10 years ago: He got a ticket for riding his skateboard on the wrong side of the street, another for riding a bike without a license and other tickets for not paying for Metro train passes.

He never paid the tickets or showed up to court, which led to warrants for his arrest.

“Back then, I was irresponsible,” he said. “But I wasn’t really a bad kid like that.”

Now he works two jobs and goes to LBCC to study fire science and he’s going to an adult school to finish his GED. He wants to clear up his record so he can join the military.

“The older I get, I realize two retail jobs isn’t enough,” Tagoai said. “But warrants are scary.”

He recalled one time about two years ago when he and a friend were pulled over on the Palos Verdes Peninsula on the way to a construction job. His friend’s car windows were tinted too dark, the officers said. When they ran Tagoai’s information, they arrested him for his old warrants.

“Those things are pretty scary,” he said. “It made me more disappointed in myself.”

The officers released him a few hours later and told him to take care of the warrants and the tickets.

It wasn’t until this week that he started calling attorneys to find out how much it would cost to clear the warrants and the tickets.  Attorneys told him it would cost thousands of dollars. He shared the story of his predicament with a coworker who told him about the event the LBPD was holding.

“It was a really big relief, like everything happened at the right time,” he said.

Another coworker chimed in and said that the police were just going to arrest him on the spot, but he didn’t believe that for a second, he said.

So he woke up excited and early to finish his work and get to LBCC for the event. He waited in line with a smile and anticipation to be called up to the table.

“I can’t wait to continue on with my life as, I guess, a free man,” Tagoai said.

When police officer Salvador Alatorre called him up, he sighed with relief. Tagoai handed Alatorre his license and another officer went back to the police car to run the information in the computer.

They came back with three warrants—all for Metro tickets.

“Yeah those Metro ones get everybody,” Alatorre said. He noted that many of the warrants they had cleared so far were for traffic tickets. “Not everybody has the money to go get an attorney. We feel good about this (event).”

Next to Tagoai, an older woman was getting a warrant cleared for an old traffic ticket.

An older man walked up to officers at the table to thank them for holding the event. He told the police they were “changing lives.”

“We’re not trying to put people in jail for traffic warrants,” Alatorre said. He said the LBPD may hold the event again, though he wasn’t sure when.

He filled out a long white paper and gave Tagoai a court date for Dec. 14.

“Don’t miss it,” he said as Tagoai signed the paper with a big smile.

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.