Trial starts for journalists' May Day melee lawsuit against LA

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AP Photo/Chad K. Uyeno, File

In this May 1, 2007 file photo, Los Angeles Police Metro Division officers advance on a crowd during an immigration rally in MacArthur Park.

A lawsuit brought in civil court by three veteran journalists struck by Los Angeles police officers during the 2007 MacArthur Park melee got under way Friday.

KPCC's Patricia Nazario is one of the journalists. Fox 11 TV reporter Christina Gonzalez and Fox camerawoman Patti Ballaz are the other two.

During opening statements, a jury saw dramatic video of riot police using their batons to knock down the three women as they covered an immigration march. Attorneys for the journalists said the women were doing their jobs covering the news as officers cleared MacArthur Park after a handful of people threw rocks and bottles.

The lawyers said Gonzalez and Ballaz suffered neck and back injuries requiring surgeries. Ballaz, who was 48 years old at the time of the incident, never returned to work. Gonzalez still suffers flashbacks and nightmares, attorneys said. An attorney said Nazario suffered post traumatic stress disorder and has trouble focusing and sleeping.

The journalists are seeking unspecified damages in a case that’ll hinge on whether LAPD officers used reasonable force.

An attorney for the city said she’ll prove the two TV and one radio journalist disobeyed a dispersal order and interfered with police "because they were going to get the story no matter what."

She also said the three women were “pushed” by officers, and suggested most of their health problems were pre-existing.

The city’s already paid settlements of $13 million to nearly 300 protesters and five other journalists who were in the park that day.

The city was unable to agree on a settlement with Nazario, Gonzalez and Ballaz — the last remaining plaintiffs from the MacArthur Park incident. The clash prompted the LAPD to retrain all of its officers and contributed to a judge's decision to extend federal oversight of the department.

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