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Minister in Scuffle With Police Won't Be Charged

L.A. city attorney declines to prosecute Nation of Islam's Tony Muhammad, who says he is relieved but angry the inquiry took so long.

July 29, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad and two of his security guards won't be charged with criminal battery for a scuffle last year with Los Angeles police officers, the city attorney announced Friday.

Closing a case that had sparked tension between African American community leaders and the police, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo rejected a request by Police Chief William J. Bratton to charge Muhammad with misdemeanor battery on a police officer.

"After conducting an extensive factual investigation and a thorough legal analysis, and in accordance with the recommendation of the prosecutors in my office, I have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to file charges against Minister Muhammad and his two security guards in this matter," Delgadillo said in a statement.

Muhammad was attending an Aug. 25 street vigil for a Hyde Park shooting victim when an altercation occurred and police took him into custody. At the time, authorities said Muhammad had joined in a mob assault on officers.

Muhammad appeared after the confrontation with a bruised and swollen face and said police had kicked him in the face when he was on the ground handcuffed. He has since sued the LAPD, alleging that officers used excessive force.

Investigators found that an officer was pushed during the incident, but there was insufficient evidence that it was a deliberate act by Muhammad. Investigators said it was unclear how contact was made and whether it was the result of the minister being shoved into the officer by those standing behind him, according to two sources familiar with the investigation. The probe found insufficient evidence that Muhammad willfully committed battery on the officer.

The investigation also did not find evidence that Muhammad willfully spit on an officer. Instead, it appears that as the minister yelled at the officer at close range, spittle inadvertently sprayed onto the officer, the sources said.

Muhammad, the western regional minister of the Nation of Islam, said he was relieved by the decision but angry that it took so long to make.

"I'm happy my reputation is intact," Muhammad said. "I know I didn't do anything wrong. It's a shame it took so long for what we knew was so obvious."

The minister said the LAPD now needs to discipline the officers involved in the incident.

"I'm going to pursue the lawsuit," Muhammad said. "The lawsuit is not just about me, but it also says we want policy changes. The LAPD should be held responsible for the actions of their officers, because their officers are wrong."

In a statement, Bratton said the department thoroughly investigated the incident before submitting the case to the city attorney. It will now be up to the department, and ultimately the Police Commission, to determine whether the two officers acted properly.

"With today's decision, the department will now determine if force used during the incident was in or out of policy," Bratton said.

The scuffle occurred at a vigil called by African American leaders on South 10th Avenue to protest two shootings that had occurred in the neighborhood over the previous 24 hours.

Two LAPD gang enforcement officers were patrolling the neighborhood that evening when they came upon two SUVs double-parked on 10th Avenue, according to the city attorney.

When the officers got out of their patrol car, they were confronted by a crowd that included Muhammad and members of the Rollin' 60s Crips street gang, Delgadillo said.

LAPD officers initially said that Muhammad was arrested after he pushed an officer and after others at the vigil stole a radio from a second officer and ripped off his name tag and pocket flap. Detectives said Muhammad suffered a bruised face when officers wrestled him to the ground to handcuff him.

Muhammad was arrested on suspicion of battery upon a police officer and resisting arrest, and two of his security guards were arrested on suspicion of obstructing the police officers' efforts to arrest Muhammad, Delgadillo's statement said.

However, the city attorney said his investigation found insufficient evidence that Muhammad had assaulted an officer. Instead, the probe found that one of the officers was assaulted by an unidentified gang member, and the other officer, upon being surrounded, was forced to use pepper spray to fend off the crowd.

Two weeks ago, more than two dozen African American community leaders, including ministers from other churches, packed a Police Commission meeting to demand an end to the criminal inquiry of Muhammad.

Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., the attorney who defended singer Michael Jackson against molestation charges, had volunteered to defend Muhammad pro bono because he was outraged by Muhammad's treatment.

"I happen to know him as a man of peace," Mesereau said Friday. "To have him beat up like that and then accused of assaulting a police officer is absurd."

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