Immigrant rights demonstration in Los Angeles in early April. This action led up to larger protests against American immigration law on May 1.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Police Blame Themselves for Melee at May Rally
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
New York Times
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 9 — Poor training and a variety of errors by police commanders led officers to turn on demonstrators and journalists at a pro-immigration rally here in May, the Los Angeles Police Department concluded in a report issued Tuesday.
The report said the Metropolitan Division, the department’s de facto riot police, had received no crowd-control training in the 18 months leading up to the rally, that officers and commanders at the rally had not been sure who was in charge, that orders to disperse had been given only in English despite the fact that the crowd was largely Spanish-speaking and that radioed requests for guidance from superiors had been met with silence.
“There were a number of instances where the events paused long enough so that what was happening in the park could have been stopped,” the report said of developments spinning rapidly out of control in MacArthur Park. “Instead, the failing leadership, breakdown in supervision and breakdown in personal discipline” caused ill-informed commanders to “take action without understanding how their decision might affect the final outcome.”
That outcome included reports by 246 people of injuries ranging from bruises to broken bones after officers, flummoxed by a group of up to 50 provocateurs who threw bottles, rocks and food at them, fired rubber bullets and swung batons even as demonstrators were trying to disperse. Scenes of officers trampling journalists who were covering the rally, which had been called to urge Congress to grant legal status to illegal immigrants, were played repeatedly on local and national television.
Scores of people have since filed lawsuits or claims against the city, and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, as well as the Police Department’s internal affairs bureau, is investigating.
In some 100 pages of voluminous detail, the report provides the Police Department’s official account of events that Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, called “dark and tragic.”
Mr. Villaraigosa praised the report as a “promising first step” in making the department accountable for acknowledged failures. He and others, including members of the civilian commission that oversees the department, said the report was characterized by candor lacking after past police scandals.
Jack Weiss, who heads the Public Safety Committee of the City Council, joined Mr. Villaraigosa, Police Chief William J. Bratton and several other officials at the news conference, and said: “This is the first time that a report has emanated from within the department itself that has named names of commanders and of command staff and has not minced words. That is a first in modern L.A. history.”
The largest share of the blame fell on Deputy Chief Caylor Carter, the highest-ranking police official at the scene, who, the report said, failed to prepare adequately for the rally and in fact reprimanded a captain who had urged greater planning. Mr. Carter, informed by Chief Bratton in the aftermath of the melee that he was being demoted, chose to resign instead.
Chief Bratton, who said at the news conference that he too accepted blame, apologized long ago for the actions of his officers. Indeed, the report issued today echoed a preliminary version released soon after the rally.
Chief Bratton has since reorganized his command, and Tuesday’s report said 26 officers had been identified as possible targets of disciplinary action, though the chief said he would await the outcome of the investigations before deciding on any punishment.
Representatives of some of the people injured at the rally were not completely satisfied with the report.
Carol Sobel, one of a team of lawyers representing 176 people, said in an interview that it avoided tough questions about the department’s culture and why the police here are repeatedly accused of brutality.
“It does not go to the institutional cultural problems in this department,” Ms. Sobel said. “Why does this happen over and over again?”