Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images
Members of the Los Angeles Police Department patrol the park in front of City Hall in downtown in the early hours of November 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Protesters remained on the City Hall lawn despite a deadline, set by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to dismantle their campsite and leave the park which the city declared closed as of 12:01 am November 28th.
Sixteen complaints have been filed to date with the LAPD regarding their operation nearly a week ago to clear Occupy protesters from the area around City Hall, police said. Both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department are investigating allegations of mistreatment or misconduct by law enforcement officials during the pre-dawn operation last Wednesday.
Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a spokesman for the LAPD, said the 16 complaints would be investigated by internal affairs and ultimately the independent oversight office of the Inspector General.
The complaints included: Four “miscellaneous,” including restroom issues or the bus being too bumpy; four use of force, including a man who was bean bagged by police while in a tree; five about general control, such as people having the constitutional right to be in the park; and three complaints that have yet to be classified.
“We certainly take every complaint seriously and we’ll investigate all of those complaints that come to our attention,” Smith said. “We’ll learn from reviewing what happened here how we can do things better.”
About 1,400 LAPD officers moved into the park around City Hall very early last Wednesday and declared the gathering an unlawful assembly. Police arrested 292 people primarily for failing to disperse from the area around 1st and Broadway. The operation ended the roughly 60-day occupation of the park.
Over the last week, allegations of law enforcement misconduct and poor treatment of those arrested have spread across online sites and social media. Protesters have said police were trying to punish them by making their experiences more harrowing so they would not protest again.
Tyler Lyle, 26, a musician from Georgia, posted bail after 20 hours in custody and described his experience in a blog post. In his write up, he described a very uncomfortable bus trip to the Van Nuys jail that included multiple people urinating on themselves, people yelling for help and people struggling with numbness because of overly tight zip tie restraints.
Another women about an hour later asked to go to the bathroom, pleading for about twenty minutes with growing intensity. After a while she was quiet, and five minutes later, she urinated on the floor. I heard the female detainees yelling at her, and the urine (there was a lot more this time) ran all the way to the back and soaked in the socks of the man who was refused shoes by the police.
Smith said available jails were quickly overwhelmed Wednesday because of the sudden intake of nearly 300 arrestees and that it took time to book people, which is a multi-step process that includes checking for warrants and law enforcement wanted lists, confirming a person’s identity and fingerprinting and photographing them.
“People need to recognize that getting arrested is not like TV, where you go in, sit down and the door closes behind you,” Smith said. “There are a lot of steps. Every time we make arrests of a significant group of folks we get complaints [that booking took too long.]”
However, Smith said requests to use the bathroom were accommodated, “but I can’t say that every single person was able to use the bathroom when they wanted to — that’s a lot of people.”
The LAPD plans to conduct an operation overview in addition to investigating the complaints, which will identify lessons learned and areas to improve.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is conducting a “unit level inquiry” into complaints against its deputies who were helping transport people to the jails on behalf of the LAPD, said Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Whitmore said he received two complaints sent by a reporter via email regarding someone being zip tied for seven hours and another who was not allowed to go to the bathroom. Those were forwarded to the chief of the Custody Division and the Transportation Bureau will be conducting the inquiry, Whitmore said.
“The chief has certainly put his people on notice that he wants to find out more about this,” Whitmore said. “It could lead to an internal affairs investigation; it could lead to nothing.”
Whitmore said there was confusion about where to take the inmates and that may have caused some to remain on the buses longer than usual. He said he had received reports of up to four hours.
Whitmore said 10 deputies — two to a bus — helped transport inmates on a total of five buses. He said initially the LAPD had requested three buses, but then later increased their request to five to transport 276 inmates.
Mike Prysner, 28, spent 22 hours in a jail cell and got out after posting $5,000 bail. Prysner, an activist who works for Answer Coalition, is also an Iraq war veteran who served in the U.S. Army for about four years and was honorably discharged in 2005.
He said officials have been “patting themselves on the back” for the operation, but that “people who experienced it will tell a very different story.”
Prysner said he witnessed many people being beaten by police batons during the raid on their encampment. He said everyone was taken into custody and put in zip ties with their hands behind their backs and loaded into buses to go to the jail. It was about seven hours before his hands were freed, he said.
“This was the most well documented and thoroughly covered event that I can ever remember seeing,” said Commander Smith, who in his 23 years with the LAPD has worked the Lakers parade, Michael Jackson-related coverage and the O.J. Simpson trial. Smith said he saw no video of alleged abuse by officers.
“There was videotape of people taking videotape of people taking videotape,” said Smith describing the coverage. “…It was a major operation and it was done very peacefully. I think it was incredibly well documented by everybody, but there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
Smith said no chemical agents were deployed or rubber bullets fired by police.
“We shot three rounds of a bean bag shotgun at one individual in a tree, and that was it,” Smith said.
On his desk Tuesday, Smith said he had five CDs of the clearing of the Occupy LA encampment from TV stations: Channel 4, 7, 2, 9, and 11 and he said he expected to be reviewing more of the coverage from the operation.
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against 46 people arrested. Of the remaining 246 people arrested, they were bailed out, released on their own recognizance or have been arraigned, officials said.
The National Lawyers Guild has criticized the handling of the Occupy L.A. arrests.
“It’s the most chaotic, inefficient process we’ve ever seen in a situation like this because they want to punish Occupy,” said Carol Sobel, the NLG executive vice president and attorney who has been advising those arrested.
This story has been updated since it was originally published on Oct. 6.