LAPD Chief Bill Bratton today released a report on the MacArthur Park incident on May 1st, when his officers were seen firing rubber bullets and hitting people at immigrant rights marchers and journalists. The highly critical document report says commanders and officers alike failed to properly do their jobs, leading to more than 40 injuries and nearly 150 lawsuits. KPCC's Frank Stoltze was at City Hall.
Gerry Chalef: This is a map of the park ...
Frank Stoltze:The man who oversees reform at the LAPD delivered the report to the five member police commission, the civilian panel that oversees the department. Gerry Chaleff, a former police commissioner himself, listed mistake after mistake:
Commanders failed to isolate the few troublemakers who threw things at police, then failed to issue a lawful dispersal order to the crowd of 7,000 mostly Latino and Spanish speaking marchers.
Chaleff: We didn't do that. At best, a partial dispersal order was given, in English only. And it was given after Metropolitan Division moved into the park and started dispersing the crowd.
Stoltze: Chaleff spoke of a "radio silence" as multiple commanders seemingly dallied.
Chaleff: During critical time periods, you don't hear any person above the rank of lieutenant over the radio.
Stoltze: Perhaps most disturbing: The report said some of the LAPD's elite crowd control officers – men and women with at least a decade on the force – thought it was okay to hit non-combative people with their batons as they cleared MacArthur Park.
Chalef: There was some misunderstanding of the policy by some of the officers, as they professed after the event.
Stoltze: Police Commissioner John Mack praised the report.
Commissioner John Mack: Upon initial review of this report, and the actions taken to date, it's a major step in the right direction.
Stoltze: But Mack tempered his praise with a call for penalties for those officers who are found to have used excessive force. Twenty-six officers remain under investigation.
Mack: It's very important that they be disciplined appropriately.
Sanchez Ramirez: Buenos Dias. Soy nombre es Sanchez Ramirez ...
Stoltze: Several dozen people who were in MacArthur Park on May 1st spoke at the police commission meeting. Many denounced the "injustice" of the LAPD's actions.
Afterwards, ten-year-old Karla Vargas said her memories of being in the park that day remain strong.
Karla Vargas: I have nightmares about May 1st, almost every day. I dream I am in a march and the police kill everyone. And I started running and then the police shoot me.
Stoltze: Carol Sobel is a civil rights attorney. She praised the LAPD's report on MacArthur Park. But she also said one account of people pushing over a motorcycle officer was reminiscent of an old LAPD.
Carol Sobel: We think that that officer struck people. We have clients that he struck. We have pictures of him striking people and that they have essentially fabricated this story about people knocking him over in order to cover that up.
Stoltze: Police Chief Bill Bratton assured critics the investigation into MacArthur Park is not over.
Chief Bill Bratton: Internal affairs still has an active investigation, a very large active investigation open. We are still attempting to interview witnesses who are still forthcoming.
Stoltze: Any discipline or criminal prosecution of individual officers won't come for several months. The report makes 28 recommendations for reform, including beefing up officer training and re-jigging the command structure during crowd control incidents. The chief promised to follow them.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called this report an important first step.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: This is the first time this department has looked within as transparently and openly and honestly as we have.
Stoltze: The May 1st MacArthur Park melee may loom large for some time. The L.A. City Attorney has already asked for $3 million to fight the more than 100 lawsuits that have been filed so far against the city. But the legal bill for this latest LAPD mishap could end up being a lot higher than that.