Friday, May 11, 2007
May Day Rally Organizers Sue LAPD Over Attack on Demonstrators
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A coalition of immigrant rights groups and a number of individuals have filed a potential federal class-action civil rights suit against the Police Department alleging that officers violated the constitutional rights of demonstrators at MacArthur Park on May 1.
The police actions were “abominable,” Santa Monica attorney Carol Sobel told the MetNews yesterday. Sobel is one of more than a dozen attorneys—a veritable who’s who of the local civil rights bar—representing the plaintiffs in connection with the suit, which is backed by the National Lawyers Guild and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The suit by the Multi-Ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network, which spearheaded the May 1 march, seeks damages and a court order barring the police department from “disrupting” demonstrators and unreasonably using baton strikes and less-lethal munitions to disperse crowds.
Chief Bratton Named
The complaint names LAPD Chief William Bratton, recently reassigned Deputy Chief Cayler Carter, and Commander Louis Gray, the “incident commander” at the event, as well as the city, as defendants.
It accuses the department of “unreasonably using and unreasonably threatening to use ‘less-lethal’ munitions to disperse peaceful demonstrators, unreasonably using and unreasonably threatening to use baton strikes against peaceful and dispersing demonstrators, unreasonably using and unreasonably threatening to use motorcycles against peaceful demonstrators as a means of crowd control, unreasonably using and unreasonably threatening to use other forms of physical force against peaceful and dispersing demonstrators, all without any warning, a deficient and improper declaration of an unlawful assembly and insufficient time to comply with the patently unlawful order to disperse.”
It also alleges an announcement from a police helicopter ordering protesters to leave was “inaudible to most of those in the park” and only given in English despite the prominence of Spanish speakers at the rally.
The suit is the latest of several brought in the aftermath of the rally, which ended with riot police using batons and rubber bullets to drive protesters and journalists out of the park. It has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess, who also oversees the federal consent decree governing LAPD discipline practices.
Bratton told a journalists’ group Sunday that officers moved in after rocks and bottles were thrown at them by 30 to 40 agitators, leading the elite Metropolitan Division’s B Platoon to move through the park and fire 148 rubber bullets to break up what had been a peaceful and lawful rally. The chief said much of what the officers did was “indefensible.”
The chief said up to 60 members of the platoon are no longer in the field. Additionally, he said, some officers will “in all likelihood” not return to the Metropolitan Division.
The complaint filed yesterday repeats accusations voiced elsewhere that the officers could have isolated the troublemakers, but instead “pushed the supposed ‘agitators’ into those lawfully assembled in the park,” then “advanced on the peaceful participants” and “used their batons to shove anyone in their path and to hit people with batons, indiscriminately.”
In a related development, a coalition of civic leaders, legal advocates and newspapers is seeking all internal LAPD records concerning the police action.
In a letter to Bratton and top leaders of the city’s civilian Police Commission Wednesday, the coalition formally requested copies of all videotapes of the incident, policy documents, the names of all officers involved, communications on the use of force at the event and memos between elected city officials.
“This will definitely help prevent any cover up,” Peter A. Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, one of the groups involved in the request, said.
Police officials said they had not reviewed the letter but were committed to a transparent investigation.
“As the chief has said, transparency is something we believe in,” said Sgt. Lee Sands.
Bob Baker, president of the police officers union, said it was “preposterous” to believe the department would hide information when the independent Police Commission and inspector general are investigating.
“They are getting into personnel records, which state law prohibits,” he said. Baker last week urged the public to respect the integrity of the investigations that are underway and avoid rushing to judgment.
Besides Schey’s group, the letter writing coalition includes, among others: MALDEF, La Opinion newspaper, the Mexican American Bar Association and Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.
The suit filed yesterday is Multi-Ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network v. City of Los Angeles, CV-07-3072-GAF.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company