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Bratton cites staff failures in melee

Chief blames actions by an elite LAPD unit on a 'command and control breakdown' and faulty preparation.

May 30, 2007|Patrick McGreevy and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

The Police Department's preliminary investigation into the May Day MacArthur Park melee confirms that a "breakdown" in police command and control took place and offers explicit new detail on the roles of two top officers who were quickly reassigned by Chief William J. Bratton.

The report, presented to the city's Police Commission on Tuesday, was immediately criticized as being incomplete. Some City Council members and community activists complained that it fell far short of the detailed accounting Bratton had promised after 42 people were injured in an incident that threatens to again sully the reputation of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Members of the civilian Police Commission responded by calling on the department to consider more training and possible term limits for officers assigned to the elite Metropolitan Division, which has been characterized as insular and aggressive.

The unit provided crowd control at the May 1 immigrant rights rally but ended up clashing with civilians after some in the park began throwing rocks and bottles at officers.

Those injured included seven officers and nine media workers, as police clad in riot gear used batons and hard foam bullets to clear the park. Ninety-four people have filed complaints alleging they were mistreated.

Council members, including Ed Reyes, who represents the MacArthur Park area, said Bratton's report spent too much time discussing "agitators" throwing bottles but not enough on who was responsible for force by officers "that crossed the line."

"I'm disconcerted," Reyes said. "The issue of accountability needs to be addressed more. If we can't show accountability, how can we regain the public's confidence?"

Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said he was disturbed at how far short the report fell.

"We were promised an open and thorough investigation, but what was shown had critical facts omitted," he said. "It made no mention why thousands of peaceful participants were ordered to leave the park and were made the subject of police use of force."

Bratton, who will present the report to the full City Council today, told the Police Commission that what happened at MacArthur Park was an aberration for a department that has policed hundreds of rallies without incident, but that it would result in additional changes in policy, personnel and training to prevent a recurrence.

The chief and his command staff provided the commission with a detailed, minute-by-minute report on the rally, using a PowerPoint presentation that featured maps, radio transmissions among officers and videotape from surveillance, police and television cameras.

Bratton said the problems began before the day of the demonstration.

"Based on the preliminary findings, I believe that the main reason for the department's controversial actions and large use of force in response to an environment of rock and bottle assaults on our officers by a small group of agitators ... was quite simply a command and control breakdown," Bratton said. "It began at the planning stages and dominoed throughout the event itself."

For instance, department documents drafted in planning a response to the rally did not identify a media staging area, he said.

The chief said faulty preparation by police for a rally attended by 6,000 people caused problems later, including confusion over who was in charge.

The report does not name any of the officers who are being investigated for possible use of excessive force. However, Bratton singled out two members of the command staff who were reassigned days after the incident -- Deputy Chief Cayler "Lee" Carter and Cmdr. Louis Gray -- for criticism as the highest ranking officers at the scene.

"There was a failure to convey to all the various entities what the chain of command was," Bratton said. "There was great confusion as to who was the incident commander. It was not clear to us who was making decisions."

Bratton said it appeared that Gray made most of the decisions on the police response "with the acquiescence of Chief Carter."

The chief said it appeared that Gray made the decision to use foam bullets and beanbag rounds "but at no time was Cmdr. Gray at the scene where that action was initiated," Alvarado and 7th streets.

"Chief Carter, on the other hand, was at the scene of that incident ... and as best we can tell never issued a single order during the time he was with the members of Metro. At this period of time we can't explain it -- a two-star chief that's engaged in the middle of the activity and makes no effort to control at all."

The report shows that the police officers in riot gear were able to sweep the entire park of protesters and others from 6:17 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Some people had begun throwing rocks and bottles at officers around 5:15 p.m.

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