Friday, May 18, 2007
The Latino Bodies in Question: The LAPD and the May Day Police Riot
While most of the rallies held around the country in defense of immigrant rights were peaceful, the march in Los Angeles ended with police firing rubber bullets and using their batons against marchers. See previous post here.
LAPD Chief Reassigns Two Officials Over May Day Violence
By Duke Helfand and Andrew Blankstein
Los Angeles Times
Tuesday 08 May 2007
The pair directed the violent police response in MacArthur Park. An inquiry suggests tactical errors created problems.
Two high-ranking Los Angeles Police Department commanders were reassigned Monday for their role in overseeing the violent police response to last week's MacArthur Park immigration rally.
Deputy Chief Cayler "Lee" Carter Jr., commanding officer of Operations Central Bureau, and Cmdr. Louis Gray, the No. 2 official in the bureau, were shifted from their command posts.
At the same time, a preliminary inquiry suggested that police had made a series of tactical errors in the incident, which injured at least 10 protesters and journalists, as well as seven police officers. Carter and Gray were the senior commanders in charge of policing the protest.
"We're not going to shift responsibility down the chain of command," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a City Hall news conference that included LAPD Chief William J. Bratton and Police Commission President John Mack. "Accountability begins at the top. What happened on May 1st was wrong. We're taking immediate action to address it."
The action comes as officials attempt to quell outrage over videotaped images of LAPD officers swinging batons and firing nearly 150 "less-than-lethal" rounds at reporters and largely peaceful protesters last Tuesday.
The staffing shift was announced as LAPD officials were preparing a preliminary investigation into what went wrong at MacArthur Park. Sources close to the probe, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because it was an ongoing case, said investigators had broken down the incident into three distinct phases that occurred between 5:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Investigators now believe that LAPD commanders made significant errors at all stages of the MacArthur Park action that served to inflame tensions rather than ease them.
About 5:15 p.m., LAPD officers came under attack from a relatively small group of protesters just outside the park who threw plastic bottles and other objects in their direction.
LAPD policies call on officers to isolate troublemakers and get them away from the larger crowd.
But for reasons investigators still don't understand, officers actually pushed the 30 to 40 agitators into the park, allowing them to mix with hundreds of marchers who were behaving peacefully, the sources said.
By about 6 p.m., commanders had decided to clear the park and surrounding area. The job was given to about 60 Metro Division officers, many of whom wore riot gear and were armed with shotguns that fired "less-than-lethal" rounds. Commanders directed an LAPD helicopter to issue a command in English - but not Spanish - for people to leave the area.
But investigators found major flaws in how the order was carried out. For one thing, the helicopter appeared to be hovering above the intersection of 7th and Alvarado streets at a relatively high altitude, the sources said. It was two blocks from the park, making it difficult for some in the crowd to hear the order, they said.
LAPD officials say commanders are told that crowd clearance orders should be given from the ground whenever possible - because helicopters can drown out the sounds and can confuse people on the ground. The LAPD had at least one sound truck that could have been used for such an order next to the park, the sources said. But for some reason, they said, the truck was not used.
The Metro officers then moved in a "V" formation from the southeast corner of the park. There too, errors reportedly occurred. LAPD sources said the preliminary investigation found that supervisors were too far away from the officers' "skirmish line" and lost control of the operation, with some officers wandering off on their own.
Bratton downgraded Carter to the rank of commander and placed him on home assignment. The chief said he would announce Carter's replacement at today's Police Commission meeting.
Bratton also targeted Gray, who was the second in command at MacArthur Park and, according to a source, responsible for tactical decisions made at the scene. The 39-year department veteran was reassigned to the Office of Operations, but his new job had not been determined.
Bratton described the changes as "personnel actions" rather than disciplinary in nature. His actions drew praise from Mack and at least one march organizer.
Carter did not return phone calls seeking comment. Gray declined to comment when reached at his office.
Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles called the swift reassignment of the two ranking command officers a good start but added that further reforms were needed to change the department's culture.
"These quick, concrete steps are appreciated," Salas said. "But the department also needs to look at its internal structure, its training, and how officers view and treat immigrants."
But reassigning Carter and Gray rankled some of the LAPD's 9,500 rank-and-file officers and the unions that represent them. Union officials have said that they believe that there has been a rush to judge officers before the facts are in. L.A. Police Protective League President Bob Baker questioned whether the officers involved had adequate training in the last year.
Both Villaraigosa and Mack sought to soften the blow by underscoring their support for officers on the street.
"This is not an indictment of the entire Police Department," Mack said. "The overwhelming majority of the men and women within the department are dedicated, decent public servants who are out there every day. However, sometimes some of them don't get it."
The sources said that many questions remain unanswered as the preliminary investigation moves forward. For example, investigators are still trying to determine exactly how the decision to authorize officers to fire the "less-than-lethal" rounds was made. Moreover, they are trying to figure out why the LAPD seemed to ignore many of the rules for crowd control established after the 2000 Democratic National Convention, particularly regarding creating a "safe area" where the media could operate.
As LAPD investigators work to answer those questions, civil rights groups and political leaders are stepping up pressure to rein in the LAPD.
City Council President Eric Garcetti announced Monday that he was forming a special task force to monitor the progress of the investigation and provide an extra layer of oversight.
The task force will hear reports on the investigations pursued concurrently by the Police Department and the Office of the Inspector General.
It also will provide a forum at which members of the public can express their views and concerns on the confrontation and the investigations, and it will provide policy recommendations for future encounters involving the police, protesters and news media.