LAPD TAKES A BEATING OFFICIALS PROMISE INQUIRY INTO POLICE USE OF FORCE.
The Los Angeles Police Department came under fire from all sides Wednesday for aggressive tactics at the end of a peaceful immigrants-rights rally, where officers fired successive rounds of rubber bullets into crowds with women and children, knocked reporters to the ground and struck protesters with nightsticks.
As images of the violence aired for hours on local television, city and police officials tried to deflect what amounted to near-universal condemnation of the actions of some 600 LAPD officers late Tuesday.
Police Chief William Bratton and Police Commission President John Mack vowed to launch three investigations, and the City Council asked for a report within 30 days.
"To me, it's outrageous that we fired 240 rounds (of nonlethal-weapon ammunition) and not one arrest was made from that," Bratton said during a tense news conference, hours after he told KNX-AM (1070) radio that "some of what I've seen as chief of the department does not look appropriate."
Several people, including seven officers, were hurt during skirmishes at MacArthur Park after the rally. About 10 people were taken to hospitals for treatment of minor injuries, including three journalists.
Controlling his emotions, Bratton said he considered several of the news photographers and reporters who were struck as friends.
He added that he would review not only what happened but how decisions were made and which procedures were used.
He blamed the provocation on a group of about 75 to 100 protesters who taunted police with rocks and bottles.
"It's clear they were there to provoke us, and they did that," Bratton said.
As pictures of female reporters getting knocked to the ground, demonstrators being kicked and protesters lifting their shirts to reveal welts and bruises flashed across television and computer screens Wednesday, organizers of the march announced their own investigations.
A civil-rights attorney condemned the LAPD for tactics he compared to those used to quell protesters during the 2000 Democratic National Convention, when the city was forced to pay out more than $5 million in settlements.
From San Salvador, where he's traveling on city business, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he was deeply concerned and asked Mack and Bratton to ensure a thorough investigation.
"Any time that our law enforcement officials employ force, the public has an absolute and unqualified right to expect and demand an aggressive review of the facts," the mayor said in a statement.
Various news media groups issued statements condemning the police response, including the Los Angeles Press Club, which represents almost 500 members of the media.
"There is no excuse for these attacks, which sent several news professionals to the hospital," Executive Director Diana Ljungaeus said. "The press pass issued by (the LAPD) ... clearly identifies reporters and photographers. It's doubtful that your officers could have mistaken newspeople for protesters."
The incident started after 6 p.m. when police tried to disperse demonstrators who had moved off the sidewalk near the southeastern edge of the park, adjacent to Alvarado Street.
Over the next 40 minutes, tensions escalated, leading police clad in riot gear to sweep west through the park, prodding protesters with batons and shooting rubber bullets.
Angelica Salas, who was emceeing the event from the back of a flatbed truck, said organizers began to shut down the stage and direct people out the west side of the park when they realized there was a disturbance.
Within moments, she said, a line of officers swept in from the east, shooting rubber bullets. Some of the participants couldn't hear the orders and began running in the direction of officers.
"There were women running with their children," Salas said. "I covered one woman with her two girls. She was incredibly scared."
Most people said they couldn't hear the dispersal warnings -- which were given in English to the mostly Spanish-speaking crowd -- because of a helicopter hovering overhead.
Despite weeks of coordination with the LAPD over the march, Salas said lines of communication shut down during the rally. Organizers were frustrated that the department did not ask for their help to safely direct families out of the park.
"They just plowed right over us," said Elisa Ross, a producer for Telemundo Noticero, a Spanish-language network, who was preparing to go on-air live.
A reporter and three camera crews for the TV station were injured. The crew had been underneath a white tent set up for a live media feed, and families were clustered around the makeshift studio to see the newscast.
"We said we were with the news media, but they stopped at nothing. There was no warning," Ross said.
The Radio and Television News Association of Southern California called for an investigation into "violent treatment of journalists," as did several other journalist associations.
"There is evidence that officers knocked reporters to the ground, used batons on photographers and damaged cameras, possibly motivated by anger over journalists photographing efforts by officers to control the movements of marchers," an RTNA statement said.
Concerned that the incident could trigger more violent confrontations with police, the City Council on Wednesday passed an emergency motion asking the civilian Police Commission and Bratton to come to the council chambers and publicly share the results of their investigation.
"The urgency is that we need to step up and show that we are taking this seriously and we are going to look at this thoroughly," said Councilman Jose Huizar, who co-sponsored the motion with Councilmen Ed Reyes and Jack Weiss.
"If we don't, there's a possibility that other incidents, such as the one we saw (Tuesday) night on TV clips, may occur again," Huizar said. "I don't want that on my conscience. I don't want anybody else to get hurt."
The Los Angeles Police Protective League issued a statement saying the eruption started over officers' trying to disperse demonstrators who had moved off the sidewalk and into the street.
"Our officers gave a legal dispersal order and were met with violence," league President Bob Baker said. "In the coming days, it will become clear what transpired. Until then, there should be no rush to judgment."
Hours after the melee, some attorneys said they are preparing to file a class-action lawsuit against the LAPD.
"This will chill the rights of people to assemble," said Cynthia Anderson-Barker, who represented a class-action group of DNC demonstrators and will file another lawsuit against the LAPD on behalf of people injured by officers at the end of the immigrant march.
"It's a needless expenditure of taxpayer money. They haven't used this force since 2000, but they chose to use it at an immigrants-rights demonstration."
Council President Eric Garcetti said he was upset with the image of police attacking protesters and the news media.
"One of the fundamental cornerstones of democracy is freedom of speech and the right of assembly," Garcetti said. "Another cornerstone is the freedom of the press."
(1 -- color) Police in riot gear prepare to disperse a crowd that spilled off the sidewalk and onto Wilshire Boulevard at Tuesday's immigrants-rights march.
Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
(2 -- color) LAPD Chief William Bratton says he will launch an investigation into the use of force by his officers at the end of Tuesday's immigrants-rights march.
John Lazar/Staff Photographer
(3 -- 5 -- color) These images taken from myfoxla.com Web site show LAPD officers trying to disperse immigrants-rights marchers with force Tuesday.
(6) A video image shows KCAL cameraman Carl Stein on the ground during the LAPD response which injured several journalists at Tuesday's immigrants-rights march.
(7) This video image shows an LAPD officer, fifth from left, firing a rubber bullet at the end of an immigrants-rights march Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles. Both marchers and journalists were injured, and some sought hospital treatment.