Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Police to review clash at LA rally

By PETER PRENGAMAN, Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES - Police Chief William J. Bratton said Wednesday that some of the police tactics used to clear immigration protesters from a park were inappropriate, as news videos showed officers striking people with batons and firing rubber bullets into crowds that included children.

Images showed police hitting a television cameraman to the ground and shoving people who were walking away from officers at Tuesday's demonstration. Some injured people were seen in the videos, including a Hispanic man with a bleeding welt on his stomach and back.

Bratton promised an investigation and said he would discuss the matter further at a news conference later Wednesday.

"Quite frankly, I was disturbed at what I saw," Bratton told KNX-AM. He said the actions of some officers "were inappropriate in terms of use of batons and possible use of nonlethal rounds fired."

The Police Commission, a five-member board appointed by the mayor, has opened its own investigation, said panel spokeswoman Tami Catania. Officers who violated department policy could receive discipline ranging from written warnings to firing.

Andre Birotte, the department's inspector general, said his office was trying to determine what exactly officers said to disperse the crowd and whether the order was in Spanish — the native language of most protesters.

Rally organizers denounced police actions as brutal and unnecessary, and worried what the clash could mean for an immigration rights movement known for its peaceful rallies.

The clash at MacArthur Park started after 6 p.m. when police tried to disperse demonstrators who had moved off the sidewalk onto the street. Authorities said several of the few thousand people still at the rally threw rocks and bottles at officers, who fired rubber bullets and used batons to push the crowd back onto the sidewalk.

"They were pushing children, elderly, mothers with their babies and beating up on the media," said Angela Sambrano, director of the Central American Resource Center. "The aggressiveness against the immigrant community is unbelievable."

Several people, including about a dozen officers, were hurt. About 10 people were taken to hospitals for treatment of injuries including cuts, authorities said. None of the injuries was believed to be serious. At least one person was arrested, but police have not released a name.

Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said the trouble was instigated by "a group of anarchists, not associated with the rally."

Spanish-language TV station Telemundo said one of its reporters and three camera operators were injured and taken to the hospital by police. Fox 11 aired video of a station camerawoman apparently being struck by a baton-wielding police officer in riot gear.

KPCC radio reporter Patricia Nazario said she was hit in the back and ribs with a baton, then hit her head and twisted her ankle while falling from a blow.

She described an interaction with an officer who was hitting her.

"'Why did you hit me? I'm a reporter,'" Nazario recalled saying Wednesday during an interview on her station. "And he hit me again, harder that time, and I fell; and I fell on the dirt and my phone flew like about 12 feet in front of me."

The Radio and Television News Association of Southern California called for an investigation.

"There is evidence that officers knocked reporters to the ground, used batons on photographers and damaged cameras, possibly motivated by anger over journalists photographing efforts by officers to control the movements of marchers," the group said in a statement.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was traveling in El Salvador during a trade mission, said the clash was "a most unfortunate end to a peaceful day."

Protesters marched in cities nationwide attempting to persuade Congress to create a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Tuesday's protests were smaller than similar demonstrations a year earlier that drew hundreds of thousands of people in some cities.


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