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LAPD takes blame for park melee

The chief apologizes for flawed leadership during the May 1 rally. A new report says at least 26 are under investigation.

October 10, 2007|Richard Winton and Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writers

The resulting mix-up left no single "incident commander" in control and made line officers uncertain about who was directing the operation. In one radio transmission, a lieutenant referred to the person in charge as "they," underscoring the absence of a single leader as LAPD policy requires. The report said officers noticed "obvious tension" among the three command officers and that numerous requests over the radio for information and resources went unanswered, leaving lieutenants in the field to formulate their own plans to control the crowd.

When clashes with protesters and journalists began, officers used more force than LAPD policies allow, the report found.

Officers shot 146 less-than-lethal rounds, including foam projectiles that were fired directly into the crowd rather than at the ground as LAPD policy mandates. Police also used batons to strike protesters and journalists more than 100 times. Many of the baton strikes were inflicted on peaceful demonstrators, the report found.

"Officers struck individuals who appeared to be passively standing in place, not engaging in aggressive and/or combative behavior," the report said.

Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said the revelations about the use of batons was one of the most startling findings in the LAPD report.

"It revealed that officers and supervisors believed they were free to use their batons ... if peaceful protesters failed to respond to dispersal orders quickly enough. Knowledge that this is wrong is the basic use of force policy," he said.

The report concluded that the source of the incident was a group of 20 to 30 individuals who provoked police by throwing sticks, pieces of concrete and water bottles filled with ice and gravel.

LAPD officials decided to disperse the crowd by declaring an unlawful assembly. Yet even as commanders tried to gain control of the situation, they failed to give protesters sufficient notice to disperse, the report found.

A sound truck that would have allowed police to deliver their order for the crowd to leave never arrived on the skirmish line and the message was broadcast from a helicopter in English after riot-helmeted Metro officers had already begun to clear the park. The declaration did not include required directions on where to go.

Police wound up moving the small group of agitators toward peaceful protesters and members of the media assembled in the northern section of the park.

"Had a higher degree of leadership been exhibited that afternoon, the events of May 1, 2007, may have never occurred," the report concluded.

Carter said he had been advised by his attorney not to comment, but he disputed the information in the report.

The president of the police officers union said the report properly acknowledged poor planning and communication problems but said it is still far too early to judge the actions of individual officers.

"As we have consistently said, training is the backbone of good police work," said Tim Sands, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "Constant, updated training ensures that officers know not only what to do, but can implement the department's policies, procedures and expectations for any given incident."

The report received a far more mixed reception among community leaders.

Gladys Limon of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said voiced dissatisfaction.

"It raises more questions than it answers," she said. "There is obviously excessive force here. We won't be satisfied until the issues involving these 26 officers and ways they treated peaceful women, men and children are fully revealed."

Veteran civil rights attorney Luis Carrillo said he was pleased with some aspects of the report but that it was still too early to close the books on the incident.

"Part of it was refreshing, the breakdown in command and control, tactics and planning," said Carrillo, who represents demonstrators injured in the melee. "But it is still incomplete because we don't know if any of the police officers will be disciplined or whether the D.A. will charge any officers."

The report is available online at

Times staff writers Anna Gorman and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.



Faults in leadership

Here are some of the leadership breakdowns cited in the MacArthur Park report:

Planning: LAPD commanders underestimated crowds for the immigration protest and turned away more officers who could have helped control the crowd.

Resources: A sound truck to help disperse the crowd never arrived. A dispersal order from a helicopter was only given in English. Not enough officers were inside the park to control the crowd.

Command: Top commanders bickered and gave confusing and contradictory orders. Officers said their radio requests for orders were ignored. It was unclear who was in charge.

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