Boisterous fans celebrating Mexico's advance in soccer's World Cup clashed Tuesday with police in Huntington Park, resulting in a near-riot in the city's central business district.
Several businesses were looted, police said, but there was no immediate estimate of damage. A 3-year-old girl was hit with a bottle and several officers suffered minor bruises, police said. There was no word on the girl's condition.
At one point, more than 100 revelers, mostly young men, ransacked a fireworks stand on Pacific Boulevard, quickly overpowering employees who tried to prevent the plunder. Ecstatic looters ran off with armfuls of Fourth of July fireworks, some of which were ignited and tossed back at police.
"This is no way to celebrate," said a shaken Stella Garibay, who was working at the fireworks stand when the looters rushed it.
Authorities in the largely Latino city eight miles southeast of Downtown Los Angeles said arrests numbered no more than a dozen, as their priority was to disperse the crowd.
Hundreds of riot-ready officers from half a dozen cities and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department descended on the Pacific Boulevard shopping strip, where the melee broke out.
Authorities called Tuesday's disturbance worse than the outbreak of violence in the same area last Friday after Mexico's 2-1 World Cup victory over Ireland. Anticipating trouble, police had more than tripled their staffing Tuesday.
Tuesday's incident began about 11:45 a.m., police said, shortly after Mexico tied its World Cup match with Italy, thus assuring its place in the second round. Throughout Los Angeles, Mexican supporters began to wave the green, white and red flag of Mexico and motorists honked their horns in celebration.
In Huntington Park, police said, about 4,000 people gathered, and some began to pelt officers with rocks, bottles, fireworks and eggs. Huntington Park police called for reinforcements about 12:30 p.m., issuing a tactical alert seeking help from other departments.
Many soccer fans drove to the Pacific Boulevard strip from elsewhere after news spread via word of mouth and reports that the area was the site of Mexican soccer celebrations.
A phalanx of officers in riot gear soon pushed the rowdy crowd north up Pacific Boulevard, hurling several sting balls--small non-lethal explosive devices filled with rubber pellets. Officers also used pepper spray and fired hard foam bullets, but Lt. Michael Gwaltney said no lethal force was used.
Officers soon dispersed the crowd from Pacific Boulevard, but many celebrants moved to nearby streets. Police were wary that violence could erupt anew, al though the situation was declared stable about 4 p.m. Officers closed off a 10-block stretch of Pacific Boulevard during the afternoon and planned to keep it blocked off all evening. Scores of businesses were forced to shut their doors.
Some witnesses maintained that aggressive police tactics aggravated matters. "I wasn't doing anything and the next thing I knew the officer sprayed me in the face," said Patricio Rojas of Huntington Park, who was recovering from the effects of what appeared to be pepper spray applied to his face.
However, Lt. Gwaltney said officers only reacted after fans, some intoxicated, blocked traffic, began making hazardous turns and tossed items at police.
Meantime, in Mexico City, there were reports of a death as fans crowded around the Independence Monument, traditional site of soccer celebrations.
Times staff writer Juanita Darling in Mexico City contributed to this story