Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton on Sunday offered his strongest apology yet for the actions of an elite platoon of Metropolitan Division officers who swarmed a May Day immigration rally in MacArthur Park, and said that those officers are off the streets until he finds out what went wrong.
Saying he watched extensive videos of Tuesday's incident, which left several reporters and rally attendees injured by batons and rounds of foam bullets and sock-like projectiles, Bratton called the officers' conduct indefensible.
"I feel comfortable apologizing.... Things were done that shouldn't have been done," Bratton told a group of journalists who gathered at the KTLA-TV Channel 5 studios in Hollywood. "I'm not seeking to excuse it.... As one human being to another, there were things that shouldn't have been done."
Bratton said the 60 or so members of the Metropolitan Division's Platoon B have been "stood down" and won't return to active street duties until they have undergone retraining that meets his level of comfort.
"Some of them in all likelihood won't be returning to the Metropolitan Division as a result of our findings," he said.
Any disciplinary action won't come until the LAPD issues a May 30 report to the City Council. "Some of this will be career-impacting," Bratton added.
The chief made it clear that incident commanders would be just as accountable.
He said the officers in the Metro unit, an elite corps of men and women trained in various crises including crowd disturbances, had 15 to 25 years on the force and are among the most highly trained of the LAPD's 9,500 officers.
"This was my best, and that was what was extraordinarily disturbing about this," Bratton said.
The police union warned Sunday that remarks being made publicly by the city's leadership could have a paralyzing effect on officers' morale.
"We should be waiting until all the facts are in before anyone judges this issue. As a detective, I can't decide something based on one piece of evidence," said Bob Baker, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "This is having a profound impact not only on Metro, but every police officer in this city. We are being damned before a trial or investigation."
The chief acknowledged at the meeting, organized by the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, that a 2002 agreement to protect journalists and the public -- prompted by similar scenes at the 2000 Democratic National Convention -- wasn't followed last week. (The agreement included a so-called safety zone for reporters covering news events.)
"Clearly, a number of my officers were in violation," Bratton said, noting many reporters and members of the public were unaware of an order to disperse as a skirmish line of officers swept from the southeast corner outward across the park.
The dispersal order was given in English from a helicopter that was not over the park where the predominately immigrant crowd was gathered.
LAPD officials acknowledged that, unlike the downtown march earlier in the day, the MacArthur Park rally's safe zone for media was not known to all journalists and was established later in the day.
Mary Grady, the LAPD's media relations director, said Rampart Division commanders didn't establish such an area, which required her staff to set one up in an area where TV vans were parked.
"There appears to have been here a failure to communicate" by the LAPD commanders at MacArthur Park, said John McCoy, president of the Press Photographers Assn. of Greater Los Angeles.
Media representatives questioned why any police officer wouldn't understand why it was wrong to hit reporters and camera people. "It seems to me you don't have to be highly trained for that," said Pilar Marrero, a reporter and columnist for La Opinion.
Bratton said commanders know they must keep order among the officers. "One thing I know about them [police] is you have to control them, because they go out of control faster than any human being in the world" because of the traumatic circumstances of the work, he said.
Bratton said the officers in helmets seen on video firing the foam bullets and other projectiles and using batons are not the ones who were initially targeted by agitators about 5:15 p.m. with rocks and bottles, which escalated events at the rally.
Bratton said some elite Metro units did leave before the incident, but commanders had a more than adequate number of officers to control the crowd. He said officers outnumbered the agitators 15 to 1.
Reviews of videos, reports and interviews show the number of agitators was not the 50 to 100 initially indicated, but more like 30 to 40, Bratton said.
Similarly, officers fired 148 foam or sock-like projectile rounds instead of the 240 initially announced.