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LAPD shake-up continues; melee's toll grows


May 09, 2007
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LAPD shake-up continues; melee's toll grows

The number hurt May 1 jumps from 10 to 24, officials say. Bratton replaces a demoted deputy chief.

By Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton continued to shuffle his command staff Tuesday as investigators disclosed that 24 civilians — more than twice the number originally reported — had been struck by police batons or projectiles during the MacArthur Park melee.

That news came as Bratton briefed his Police Commission supervisors for the first time since the May 1 incident at a packed public hearing during which dozens of community activists voiced outrage over the use of force by officers attempting to break up an immigrant rights rally.

Previously, the department had said 10 civilians and seven officers were injured when police wearing riot gear moved into the park after agitators began throwing rocks and bottles at them. The larger number revealed Tuesday includes 10 members of the media.

A team of 15 detectives from the Bureau of Professional Standards is investigating about 60 complaints of police misconduct that have been received so far, officials said Tuesday.

"There are a lot of moving parts, but we have prioritized those who have come forward to make a complaint that they were injured, and who were witnesses," Bratton said.

An initial after-action report, designed to broadly outline what went wrong, will be completed for review by the City Council by May 30, Bratton said, but a more detailed investigation determining whether individual officers violated department policy probably will take 90 days.

In addition, Bratton said Tuesday he was expanding the number of elite Metropolitan Division officers ordered to undergo retraining in crowd control and media relations. He also said officers ranked captain or above would be included in reviews of crowd control rules and tactics.

On Monday, the chief announced that he had demoted and reassigned the head of the Operations Central Bureau, Deputy Chief Cayler "Lee" Carter, who was the highest-ranking officer in MacArthur Park during the melee. He also reassigned the bureau's No. 2, Cmdr. Louis Gray.

On Tuesday, Bratton announced that he had promoted Cmdr. Sergio Diaz to the rank of deputy chief and asked him to take over for Carter.

Diaz, a 30-year veteran of the LAPD, had been assistant commanding officer of the Special Operations Bureau. A native of Cuba, Diaz speaks Spanish and assumes command over an area of the city with a large immigrant and Spanish-speaking population. He has previously served in command positions in the Hollywood Division and other areas.

The command staff change was welcomed by Police Commission President John Mack, who called the May Day incident a "very disturbing and troubling event." He told Diaz: "We have high expectations but we also have confidence in you."

Bratton's condemnation of officer behavior was criticized Tuesday by Bob Baker, head of the police union, in an appearance on KFI-AM (640). Baker said some comments by the chief were "way over the top" and "inappropriate and unnecessary."

Baker warned that the public could see a "mass hesitation" by officers if they are asked to respond to similar incidents.

The chief's briefing was followed by the first public hearing on the incident. It played out before an audience of more than 200 people jammed in an auditorium at Parker Center, the Police Department's headquarters near City Hall.

The commission heard nearly four hours of angry testimony, most of it from those injured at the rally and activists calling for systemic changes in the LAPD.

More than 20 of those who testified called for Bratton to be fired, and many demanded that the city create an elected civilian police review board to independently investigate police abuse allegations. In the past, LAPD leaders have fought off similar proposals, saying the civilian Police Commission appointed by the mayor provides adequate independent oversight.

"To us, the police action of May 1 was clearly an action to suppress our movement and instill fear," said Raul Anorve, a rally organizer and executive director of the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California.

Angelas Salas, another organizer, said police did not provide sufficient warning before they fired 148 foam-rubber projectiles at the crowd.

"What we saw was that there was no attention paid to the safety of the crowd, especially the children," Salas said.

Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and a close advisor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said: "We are saddened that on May 1 our rights were not protected."


Others who testified talked of being hit by officers. Frank Garcia, a cameraman for KMEX-TV Channel 34, said he failed to understand why police did not follow rules setting aside safety zones for the media.

"It seems that that day it was payback to the media," Garcia said. "We didn't deserve to get hit."

Pete White was among those who called on the Police Commission not to grant Bratton another five-year term as chief — a decision the officials had been on the verge of making before the May Day trouble.

"We're saying, 'Send him packing back to Boston,' " White said.

The commission postponed a decision on Bratton on Tuesday, citing the fact that one panel member was absent.

Bratton also drew criticism from activists opposed to illegal immigration who said he should be fired for supporting restrictions on officers' ability to ask people about their immigration status.

"I believe Chief Bratton hung his force out to dry that day in an attempt to coddle his constituency of illegals," Alison Wood said.

A minority of speakers, including Jim Gilchrist, a co-founder of the anti-illegal immigrant Minuteman Project, voiced support for the police officers. Gilchrist called on the chief to reinstate the two reassigned command officers.

"It was not the fault of the Los Angeles Police Department," Gilchrist told the commission. "The blame should go directly to the anarchists."

Many of the 60 formal complaints are expected to turn into lawsuits against the LAPD.

On Tuesday, Venice attorney Stephen Yagman filed a federal racketeering suit against the department, alleging that a Metro Division officer broke the jaw of a 39-year-old man who was picnicking with two female companions in the park.

According to court documents, Geoffrey Baker, a food service employee at UCLA, was on a blanket in the park and talking with friends when he was confronted by the unidentified officer.

When Baker tried to explain that he was there for a picnic, the suit alleges, the officer backhanded him across the lower jaw with the baton. Baker was hospitalized for a broken jaw, Yagman said.

LAPD officials said they were unaware of such an incident.


patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 The Los Angeles Times
 

Full story: LAPD shake-up continues; melee's toll grows





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