The FBI will open a civil rights inquiry into the Los Angeles Police Department's actions at an immigration rally at which officers cleared a park by wielding batons and firing rubber bullets, the bureau said Thursday.
By Jeremiah Marquez
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — The FBI will open a civil rights inquiry into the Los Angeles Police Department's actions at an immigration rally at which officers cleared a park by wielding batons and firing rubber bullets, the bureau said Thursday.
The preliminary inquiry seeks to determine "whether the civil rights of protesters taking part in the May 1st immigration rally were violated," according to an FBI news release.
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, center, greets LAPD officers while heading to a news conference at 77th Street Division in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Police Chief William J. Bratton had said earlier Thursday that he planned to meet next week with the FBI to see whether a bureau probe of Tuesday's clashes at MacArthur Park was possible.
"I have no issues with the FBI coming in ... and taking a look at it," he said.
The FBI probe is the fourth official investigation of the violence. The U.S. Department of Justice will review the bureau's results and decide whether to initiate a full-fledge investigation.
Police investigators plan to review extensive video of Tuesday's rally, where police clashed with a crowd in MacArthur Park, wielding batons and firing 240 rubber bullets.
Bratton said in an appearance on CBS's "Early Show" that he was "not happy" when he watched videotape of the events.
Los Angeles police clash with demonstrators at an Immigration Rally, Tuesday, May 1, 2007. (Clips Syndicate 2007) Watch video
The chief said he hoped a federal review would show the department has nothing to hide while dispelling any claims that police had targeted immigrants or immigrant rights activists. Rally organizers decried the police behavior as brutal.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced late Thursday that he was cutting short a trip to Mexico and planned to return to Los Angeles today.
"I've decided to go back because I think it is necessary to make sure people know everything is in order and that we will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation," he told Televisa news network.
The clashes started around 6 p.m. Tuesday, when police tried to disperse demonstrators who moved into a street, according to rally organizers and reporters. Officers used batons to push the crowd back to the sidewalk after several people threw rocks and bottles at them, then cleared the park, authorities said.
News images showed police hitting a TV cameraman to the ground, shoving people who were walking away from officers and injuries from the rubber bullets. Bratton has said the use of force occurred while officers were trying to deal with 50 to 100 "agitators" who were trying to provoke police.
A police order to disperse probably wasn't effective because it was in English and given from a helicopter, Bratton said Wednesday. Many at the protest were Spanish speakers, he said.
Seven officers suffered minor injuries, and another was pushed off his motorcycle. About 10 other people were treated for minor injuries, though authorities expected the number to rise.
The Police Department has opened two investigations, one to create an "after-action report" that evaluates planning and operations, and another by internal affairs to probe complaints against officers.
Bratton said department investigators were still in the process of identifying all officers involved in the clashes, but that no decision about placing any on administrative leave would be made until the probe is finished.
An independent review also has been undertaken by the investigative arm of the city's civilian Police Commission, a five-member board of mayoral appointees that sets policy for the Police Department.
Police union leaders urged against a "rush to judgment."
"Our officers gave a legal dispersal order and were met with violence. In the coming days it will become clear what transpired," Los Angeles Police Protective League President Bob Baker said in a news release.