Some Laker fans mar victory with vandalism and violence

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Collin Robinson/KPCC

Fans cheer in the middle of the intersection at Figueroa Blvd and 11th St. in Downtown Los Angeles after a Laker victory in the NBA Finals on June 17, 2010

Downtown Los Angeles was getting back to normal today after Lakers fans and troublemakers filled streets outside Staples Center in the wake of the team's victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA finals.

A few people jumped on cars, set fires, broke windows, tagged buildings and damaging property in the area around Staples Center, while most of the crowd was well behaved.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said an officer suffered a broken nose when he was hit in the face by something thrown at him.

Officers staged outside Staples Center started dispersing crowds during the first half of the game, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The game ended just before 9 p.m. Thursday and, by midnight, the Los Angeles Fire Department had responded to three vehicle fires, one vegetation fire and 15 rubbish fires within a half-mile radius of Staples Center, LAFD spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

In that same area, the fire department handled 18 medical aid requests, and eight people were taken to hospitals, Humphrey said.

Humphrey declined to describe the post-game trouble as a riot.

Beck summed up the scene at a news conference at Figueroa and 11th streets shortly after 11 p.m.

"I give the game a 10, I give the celebration about a five," he said. "We still have incidents with people coming in from the outside, vandalizing, taking over intersections, throwing rocks and bottles at police officers.

"As a matter of fact, we have a police officer injured with a broken nose from an object thrown," Beck said. "We've made multiple arrests, we used overwhelming force, we had a maximum number of police officers deployed here to clear out the crowds around Staples Center, and we're still in the process of doing that."

At least one police car was damaged, Beck said.

No major problems were reported in other parts of Los Angeles, he said.

"So far, things are going well," Beck said. "L.A. Live completely safe, Staples Center completely safe, the immediate area around Staples Center also completely safe. So please, people ... do not come out to Staples Center, you know you're risking your chances of a victory celebration by coming out here. Those true fans that behaved, thank you very much. The vast majority of the crowd behaved."

But troublemakers tossed rocks and bottles, set at least one car on fire, got into fights and in some cases harassed motorists trying to leave the area. Some people set off fireworks, and at least one vehicle was set on fire on Flower Street between Seventh and Eighth streets.

At least 20 people were arrested for misdemeanors.

LAPD spokeswoman Mary Grady said people were arrested for public drunkenness, vandalism and inciting a riot.

"As the crowds left the area, we had some groups that decided to celebrate irresponsibly," she said. "It's unfortunate, because you had a great game, and you had a great victory by the Lakers, and unfortunately some people decide that this is how they're going to celebrate."

Shortly after the game ended, police declared an "unlawful assembly" and started breaking up the crowd, forming a skirmish line at Figueroa and 11th streets.

The crowd was pushed away from the intersection, but some revelers continued to spar with police.

In East Los Angeles, a crowd gathered on Whittier Boulevard, but no major problems were reported there, said Capt. Mike Parker of the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau.

Hundreds of sheriff's deputies were in the area, which was closed to vehicle traffic between Eastern and Garfield avenues, he said. It's unclear how many arrests were made by deputies assigned to the sheriff's East Los Angeles station.

The Times reported that police fired non-lethal rounds into a crowd after a parking enforcement vehicle was overturned and some orange traffic cones were set on fire at Figueroa Street and Venice Boulevard. According to the L.A. Now blog, police asked for permission to fire on men throwing concrete chunks at them.

Los Angeles police had five times the presence compared to last year, when the Lakers won in Florida and some vandalism occurred during the post-game celebration near Staples Center.

Humphrey of the fire department did not know many fires were reported.

"I'm not aware of any loss of life," Humphrey said. "There were a number of smaller rubbish fires in other parts of the city, but the bulk of activity has been in the Staples Center area south of downtown."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had urged people to stay home unless they had tickets to the game, but thousands of ticket-less fans showed up anyway.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich minced no words.

"Rioters should be prosecuted vigorously, allowed no plea bargains, required to serve full sentences and make restitution for damages," he said.

On June 14, 2009, the Lakers sealed an NBA championship with a victory in Florida against the Orlando Magic. That night in Los Angeles, there was a melee outside Staples Center that included a bonfire.

A shoe store was broken into and looted; a gas station was looted; a Metro Blue Line train was damaged; about a dozen LAPD vehicles and a sheriff's vehicle were damaged; and six Metro buses were damaged. Several LAPD officers were hurt, and more than a dozen people were arrested.

On Wednesday, following a yearlong probe, law enforcement officers in Los Angeles and Riverside counties raided 31 addresses and arrested at least as many members of the OCP tagging crew that allegedly vandalized a Metro bus after the Lakers' 2009 win.

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