Crime & Justice

Updated: Police clear Occupy LA camp; 292 arrested in massive raid

Police officers entered the plaza in riot gear and carrying billy clubs.
Police officers entered the plaza in riot gear and carrying billy clubs.
Grant Slater/KPCC

Los Angeles police moved in on the nearly two-month old Occupy L.A. encampment early Wednesday morning, arresting the protesters who'd remained in City Hall Park despite a deadline by the mayor for protesters to vacate the area by Monday.

LAPD arrested 292 mostly peaceful protests, the L.A. Times reports. Police plucked the last remaining holdouts from the trees where they'd taken cover in the early morning hours Wednesday. The police finished sweeping through the camp around 5:10 a.m.

"I said here in Los Angeles we'd chart a different path and we did," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told assembled members of the press. Villaraigosa was referring to earlier attempts at clearing Occupy encampments in Oakland, New York and elsewhere that were marred by violence and charges of excessive force. Villaraigosa has not laid out any specifics about plans to address Occupy L.A. grievances.

Nearly 1,400 police officers took part in the raid, which included SWAT and arson teams, along with 30 busloads of officers. At around 10 p.m., police shut down four off-ramps off of the 101 Freeway, as hundreds of police officers descended on the encampment. Roads were sealed for several blocks around City Hall.

At 12:34 a.m., police gave protesters notice to vacate the premises immediately or risk arrest. Many of them took the opportunity to leave. Others, repeating a central person speaking, began chanting "The people of California do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them." They then began reading the First Amendment to police.

Around 12:55 a.m. officers in tactical gear moved in from all sides, emerging from City Hall to divide the encampment into parcels. Police began arresting the remaining protesters.

Chief Beck told the L.A. Times the approach was much different than the LAPD has taken in past raids, when officers would attempt to sweep through the park and force protesters out. "The world was watching last night and why the world saw was a plan brilliantly executed," Beck said at a morning news conference.

The chief and the mayor made it clear to commanding officers who filtered the message down to cops on the front lines that they wanted to use as little force as possible to remove protesters, KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports. Protesters also worked to avoid a confrontation; when one would try to provoke police, they were often shouted down by others.

LAPD Commander Andy Smith told KPCC that the raid went pretty much the way the LAPD wanted it to go, despite Occupy L.A. sending out an alert on Twitter asking people to come down and support them shortly before the operation, leading to the crowd swelling before the LAPD moved in. "For it to go off as well as it did, we're all very happy," Smith said.

Those arrested were put on buses bound for the Metropolitan Detention Center at Los Angeles and Temple streets, according to LAPD spokesman Kevin Mailberger. Bail for protesters arrested for refusing to leave the encampment has been set at $5,000, LAist reports. At a morning news conference, Occupy protesters said the amount is "punitive."

"I think it's gone real smooth," said Occupy L.A. protester Clark Davis on the police sweep. "We achieved something great here today," he added, referring to the lack of violence.

LAPD Commander Smith said that there were three uses of force, two that Smith described as "minor" involving protesters who wouldn't cooperate with police. The other was a protester in a structure he'd constructed in a tree who refused to leave. Police used a cherry picker device to remove him, according to Smith, and used a 12-gauge beanbag shotgun. They shot him in the arm with beanbags a couple of times and he gave up. Smith said that no tear gas or batons were used, but some have disputed that.

More than 100 gathered at La Placita Olvera church on Main Street after the church opened its doors to Occupy L.A. protestors; some spent the night there after being sent away from the camp.

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul Weber praised LAPD's handling of the raid.

"Amid ever-changing political winds," Weber said, "LAPD officers have adhered to the highest standards of law enforcement in dealing with the Occupy L.A. protesters over the past two months."

L.A. councilman Jose Huizar said that Tuesday night’s clearing of the Occupy L.A. encampment by police balanced enforcement of laws and respect for freedom of speech.

"It had to come to an end at some point," Huizar said. "What was there was unsustainable for health reasons, for safety reasons, and although the majority of the council supports the message the Occupy L.A. people brought, their approach to this was unsustainable." He added that the Occupiers couldn't remain at their City Hall encampment.

Shortly after the encampment began at City Hall, Councilman Huizar voted with other L.A. Council members to support the movement’s criticism of financial inequality.

In the beginning of the Occupy L.A. camp, most of those staying at the site were mostly just political activists, according to KPCC's Frank Stoltze. Later, many homeless began to move in, as well as some mentally ill and some drug abusers. There were concerns in mid-November that the activists began to be outnumbered, but in the last few days, most of the crowd that remained were those interested in Occupy's political message.

Los Angeles has never had an encampment like this at City Hall, with protesters camping out for two months, according to KPCC's Frank Stoltze, with hundreds of tents as demonstrators protested the state of the economy and the role of corporations in politics.

The LAPD has rarely used the number of officers they had in last night's raid, though they had large turnouts for events like the Michael Jackson funeral and Lakers playoff games. The controversial 2007 May Day immigration protests had far fewer officers, but greater use of force. The large number of officers allowed the LAPD to surround individual protesters and overwhelm them with numbers rather than using force.

Occupy L.A. protestors maintain they are moving forward. Activist Mario Brito told KPCC that just because Occupiers have moved from City Hall doesn’t mean their protests against big banks are over.

“We felt, feeling the pain directly of being evicted from what we can only describe as our home for the last two months, but it pales in comparison to the pain that millions of Americans are feeling who are being evicted from their home," Brito said," "and what we’re declaring, what we’re requesting and what we’re demanding — to be quite frank — of city and county officials, and specifically bank executives, to declare a moratorium on all foreclosures.”

Occupy protesters have called for a 4 p.m. rally at L.A.'s Pershing Square Wednesday. They've also planned to participate in a shutdown of west coast ports on Dec. 12. Occupy L.A. protesters are also talking about holding community meetings throughout the city to seek support for their movement, as well as getting involved in traditional politics and registering people to vote.

Audio: LAPD Commander Andy Smith and KPCC's Frank Stoltze on last night's Occupy L.A. raid.

This story has been updated.