Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dozens of LAPD Officers Benched for Their Role in May Day Melee

HOLLYWOOD, CA (CNS) -- Up to 60 officers in an elite Los Angeles police squad who roughed up participants and journalists at a pro-immigration rally at MacArthur Park were taken off the streets, police Chief William Bratton announced.

Officers in the Metropolitan Division's B Platoon ''in all likelihood will not remain in that unit and some of them will not be returning to the Metropolitan function, as a result of some of our investigation into the actions of some of our officers,'' Bratton told media representatives who had assembled at a conference room at KTLA-TV in Hollywood.

The Metropolitan Division is the city's premier police squad, made up of experienced, career officers with extensive training and modern equipment in crowd control tactics, the police chief said.

''This was not the idea that my least-trained, my least-experienced officers were the ones engaged in the activities,'' Bratton told the journalists. ''This was my best, and that was what was extraordinarily disturbing about this.''

Meantime, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attended a ''peace Mass'' at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and went to MacArthur Park to reassure people they would be safe there.

On Tuesday, demonstrators, journalists and police officers were injured in the park when police ordered the crowd to disperse at the end of a pro- immigration march and rally that drew tens of thousands of people. Officers clad in riot gear used batons and fired foam rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Four separate agencies are investigating what went wrong at MacArthur Park, including the FBI.

Bratton initially said ''anarchists'' or ''agitators'' provoked the police by throwing bottles and other objects.

Bratton revealed that the officers seen on videotape firing rubber bullets and manhandling journalists were not the same officers who had rocks and bottles tossed at them by some participants at the otherwise peaceful rally.

''There will be no scapegoats here,'' Bratton said.

He said further disciplinary action will await the completion of an LAPD investigation, which is to be presented to the City Council May 30.

The chief also said that the entire chain of responsibility within the police department will be examined for responsibility.

''I feel very comfortable apologizing in general, particularly to the press corps that were subject to what I believe were inappropriate actions on the part of some members of that unit,'' Bratton said. ''Corruption, brutality, inappropriate behavior, I'm not going to defend. I'm not going make a fool of myself. A lot of what happened on that field that day is indefensible.''

Bratton said 146 foam rubber bullets were fired at a crowd he said was peaceful and lawful -- down from an earlier estimate of 240 projectiles.

Videotape shown around the world shows LAPD officers, including members of the B Platoon, apparently violating numerous LAPD policies, Bratton said.

The chief said a failure of command officers may have been responsible for the melee.

''One thing I know about (police) is you have to control them, because they go out of control faster than any human being in the world'' because of the tension and danger they face daily, he said.

Among the issues to be examined are why a helicopter was used to deliver the order to disperse in English when many of the ralliers only spoke Spanish, and the treatment of reporters and photojournalists doing their jobs, Bratton said.

Representatives from 10 different associations of journalists met with the department's top brass at the TV station to ask why LAPD policies toward the news media that had been worked out after reporters were assaulted by police during the 2000 Democratic National Convention were ignored.

''What is so hard for officers to understand that you don't hurt reporters who are doing their jobs?'' asked Pilar Marrero, a reporter and columnist for La Opinion. ''I mean, it seems to me, you don't have to be highly- trained for that.''

Cecilia E. Alvear, a freelance journalist and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, questioned whether police ever received training to follow procedures to protect journalists that were imposed upon the force following a slew of lawsuits stemming from the DNC incident.

''It's been seven years since that happened and have the policemen been trained to understand that they have to respect working journalists in those events?'' she asked.

Designated safe spots were required in a 2002 agreement with media organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union, and such provisions were made last year when an immigration rally six times larger than Tuesday's was held.

Mary Grady, the department's civilian spokeswoman, acknowledged that ''some failures were made'' and instead of designating an official safe spot for journalists at MacArthur Park to cover the rally, information was communicated verbally.
Reporter Jim Nash of KTLA wondered why police riot gear does not include identification numbers, which he said allows police officers to escape responsibility for individual actions.

Bratton said his department will look into ways to improve media relations and avoid future confrontations. The department is examining how to improve press credentials that would offer the media greater visibility; better ways to identify individual officers; and said more money would be used to equip the department's helicopters with cameras and connect them to traffic and park cameras.

Susan Seager, a board member with the Society of Professional Journalists' Greater L.A. chapter, questioned whether department officials supported a bill being considered by legislators that would allow disciplined officers to be named and the nature of their disciplinary action to be exposed.

Although both the mayor and police chief are listed as supporters on the bill, Bratton said that as written, the proposed legislation is ''too broad- reaching.''

''It would reach into the rights and responsibility of the police commission in what we believe is an intrusive way,'' he said. ''The idea that (Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles') bill as we understand it would allow the public into the internal deliberations of the police commissioners is like going into a jury room with a jury.''

John McCoy, local president of the Press Photographers Association, said what happened Tuesday boiled down to a ''failure here to communicate.''

''I think there needs to be communication, I think there definitely needs to be some training on both sides,'' he said.

While the police chief was meeting with journalists, the mayor spoke at the Cathedral Our Lady of the Angels, where Cardinal Roger Mahony was celebrating what was billed as a Mass of consolation and healing for those who were hurt or frightened by Tuesday's violence.

Outside the cathedral, Villaraigosa said ''it is important for us in these moments to remember that we must come together, work together, to insure that what happened on May 1st doesn't happen again.

''The only way we can do that is to ensure that those responsible for the decisions that were made, that caused the violence, on May 1st be held accountable,'' the mayor said. He said the chain of responsibility starts with him.

The mayor spent the afternoon at MacArthur Park, listening to and reassuring the ''people who marched on May 1st,'' whom he described as ''families ... hard-working people.''


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BS Q, The LAPD officers were attacked first. Toiletbowl Tony benched them just to appease his masters in Mexico.