New Questions raised over how LAPD handled May Day march
- New questions raised over how commanders handled march
By Richard Winton & Matt Lait, Staff Writers
The Los Angeles Times
9:32 PM PDT, May 3, 2007
Los Angeles -- The Los Angeles Police Department removed dozens of elite
officers from immigration protest duty in the hours before a violent clash
with immigration marchers and reporters, sources said Thursday, raising new
questions about how commanders handled the incident.
The disclosure came as the FBI opened an inquiry Thursday into the clash
that left 10 people injured.
Police Chief William J. Bratton escalated his criticism of the officers'
tactics and said the department's three investigations would focus on the
actions not only of line officers but of the top brass who gave the orders.
"There were mistakes made here all the way up and down the line. I want to
make that clear," Bratton said. "Was there lack of supervision? Was there
lack of leadership? What were (the line officers) directed to do?"
Bratton and other LAPD officials declined to discuss the deployment plan or
other specific details of the investigation. But the disclosure of the shift
provides more details of how commanders managed the protests and suggests
that police might have been caught off guard by the scope of the protest.
Three platoons of the highly trained Metro Division, which were originally
set to be at MacArthur Park for the end of the immigration march and rally,
instead were either sent home or to another assignment, including one in
South Los Angeles, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke
on the condition of anonymity because it involves ongoing investigations.
(The size of a platoon varies, but sources estimated that the total number
of officers moved were 50 to 80.)
The redeployments occurred shortly before a group of agitators began
throwing bottles and other debris at the remaining officers. As crowds grew
and tensions rose and officers came under attack, sources said, commanders
scrambled to get some of the departed officers back. Some arrived just as
the confrontation began. The sources said it was not clear why commanders
ordered the platoons to depart.
Bob Baker, president of the L.A. Police Protective League, said his
organization had heard from its members about the redeployment and said some
officers thought that not enough officers were at the scene.
"Why would you take away assets when you know what happened at that location
a year before?" Baker said, referring to similar disturbances that occurred
at the end of the 2006 May Day rally at the park.
Even with the reduced staffing, several hundred LAPD officers -- including
many not in the Metro unit -- were in the vicinity of the park when
commanders decided to clear the area. It is not clear whether extra officers
might have changed the outcome.
LAPD officers fired at least 240 rounds of foam, sponge or fiber projectiles
as they swept through the park about 6:15 p.m. The move came after police
had clashed with a small group of protesters near the intersection of 7th
and Alvarado streets.
Sources have said that neither the top commander nor captain were on the
skirmish line as officers confronted the crowd. Bratton also said the LAPD's
order to scatter, which was made from a police chopper only in English, was
On Thursday, Bratton offered a more detailed and pointed critique of the
police actions, particularly those involving Telemundo anchor Pedro Sevcec,
who was broadcasting from under a canopy. He was pushed to the ground while
on live television as police shoved through.
"Here you have a tent clearly (for the) news media," Bratton said. "(The
anchor) wears a suit and tie and there is clearly cameras ... and the
knocking over of cameras in the tent, that behavior is not under any
He also said that he was troubled by reports that police used force on women
and children who had gone to the park to play.
"The idea that officers would be firing -- some of these devices send out
five or six projectiles with one shot -- that is a concern," Bratton said.
Andre Birotte, the LAPD's inspector general, said part of his investigation
will focus on whether there were adequate resources and training for the
"Were there sufficient planning and resources detailed and dedicated to this
event, and was LAPD's response appropriate to the actions of the crowd?"
Birotte said. "If they thought they were undermanned, it could play a role
in why they used the force they used. We are going to look at that issue."
The FBI said in a statement that its "preliminary inquiry" will examine
"whether the civil rights of protesters taking part in the May 1st
immigration rally were violated." The FBI had opened similar probes after
other recent high-profile LAPD incidents, including the videotaped beating
of Stanley Miller in 2004 and the fatal shooting in 2005 of a 13-year-old.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, speaking to reporters in Mexico City during a
stop on his nine-day trade mission, said he would welcome the FBI's role in
the investigation of Tuesday's violence.
Mexico's counsel general in Los Angeles, Ruben Beltran, said in Mexico City
that he trusted Bratton to deal with the violence in an honest and candid
way. Beltran, who witnessed the melee in the park, said Bratton called him
Wednesday in Mexico to say that the Police Department would reach out to the
immigrant community and take its investigation seriously.
Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Patrick McGreevy and Duke Helfand in
Mexico City contributed to this report.
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