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46 Arrests : GM Executives Defend Police Action at Plant

October 10, 1985|ALLAN JALON | Times Staff Writer

General Motors officials said Wednesday that they now believe police acted properly last week when they arrested 46 people, most of them GM employees, outside the company's plant in Van Nuys.

"I don't have a problem, no problem at all, with what happened," the plant's personnel manager, K. C. Beck, said after an hourlong meeting Wednesday among police, GM and United Auto Workers officials.

But Beck also predicted there would be no repetition of Thursday evening's incident in which 75 police officers made the arrests--most in public--during the break in the plant's evening shift. "You will probably never see it again . . . the timing was unusual," he said.

Called Unnecessary Earlier

Earlier this week, a GM spokesman Harry Kelly called the arrests at Blythe Street and Van Nuys Boulevard "unnecessary" and said GM wanted "to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Kelly said then that GM officials were unaware of problems with public drinking and the sale of drugs outside the plant, and that the company did not know in advance of the police crackdown.

But, after the Wednesday meeting at the auto assembly plant, Beck and police said police had discussed the action beforehand with the plant's acting security chief, Kirk Bechtol.

"Security was notified about a week before we did it and on the evening before," said Capt. Art Sjoquist, commanding officer of the Van Nuys Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Sjoquist said that, although plant security officials "made us aware" that the shift break comes shortly after 9 p.m, police "weren't coming here to get GM employees."

Well-Timed Appearance

Workers, however, noted that police appeared just after evening shift workers went on break and on a payday. The arrests were made near a liquor store where many employees cash checks.

The incident has prompted charges from workers that police used excessive force. Pete Beltran, president of United Auto Workers Local 645, said 45 to 50 union members allege they were hit by police and that the union local is considering filing a lawsuit against the police.

Sjoquist denied that police acted improperly, describing the situation as a "near riot." Police said several hundred GM workers heckled them and threw bottles and cans at them.

Sjoquist said the action was part of a stepped-up effort to rid the corner of Blythe Street and Van Nuys Boulevard of public drinking and drug dealing. Of the 46 people arrests outside the plant, 40 were for public drinking, police said.

Asked to respond to workers' allegations that the size of the police force helped provoke the incident, Beck said: "I could see 200 police officers out there and I'd be out there helping them if I had to be to clear up the problem."

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