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LAPD officers won't be charged in MacArthur Park melee

Prosecutors say there is insufficient evidence to prove that any of the 30 officers who were investigated violated the law when using force during the 2007 May Day immigration rally.

October 31, 2009|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office will not file criminal charges against any of the LAPD officers who discharged rubberized bullets and wielded batons during the 2007 May Day melee at MacArthur Park, officials announced Friday.

After a lengthy review, prosecutors said there is insufficient evidence to prove that any of the 30 officers who were investigated violated the law when using force, although some might have used "questionable tactics."

The melee, which occurred at the conclusion of a pro-immigration rally and received national attention, resulted from poor police training, leadership and communication, prosecutors said. Their finding echoed the Los Angeles Police Department's own scathing report on the officers' actions.

Officers were videotaped wielding batons and shooting less-than-lethal rubberized bullets in an attempt to disperse the mostly peaceful crowd after a small group of agitators confronted police. Dozens of protesters and journalists were injured as officers cleared the park.

The department's "planning, tactical and command failures" were the backdrop for the officers' actions against "both violent protesters and nonviolent protesters and media personnel," prosecutors said in their report. "The media had innocently and unwittingly positioned themselves in an area directly in the path of officers attempting to clear the park."

In the immediate aftermath, Police Chief William J. Bratton removed a deputy chief and commander from their posts. Deputy Chief Caylor "Lee" Carter retired shortly thereafter.

Bratton also said he planned to discipline several officers and called for the termination of others for their roles in the melee.

But internal disciplinary panels gave no officer more than a 20-day suspension. Some officers, however, were demoted, according to their attorney.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay nearly $13 million to people injured or mistreated in the May Day melee.

Carol Sobel, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs, said that although the LAPD admitted errors in the incident that the "the whole approach toward disciplining officers . . . has been a total whitewash. They could have filed charges against the officers that were seen repeatedly beating people."

But in their report, prosecutors concluded that "not every push or shove amounts to excessive force. We cannot establish that any particular officer's actions were unreasonable or without lawful necessity in light of the tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving circumstances."

They said that tactical gear worn by police made it difficult or impossible to identify specific officers, which is key to any prosecution.

Prosecutors noted that 20 officers and supervisors were subject to department punishment.

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber praised the district attorney's review, saying that it "sought only truth and justice, and was not influenced by any political agenda."

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richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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