May Day Claims Filed Against City of Los Angeles

On Thursday, lawyers filed the largest batch of claims so far arising from a violent incident between Los Angeles police officers and protestors at MacArthur Park in May. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Thirty-six-year-old Romualdo Pedro took his two children to the MacArthur Park protest on May 1st to call for immigration reform.

Romualdo Perez (in Spanish): Recibi como cinco balazos en la espalda.

Guzman-Lopez: Five rubber bullets hit him in the back, he says, and officers hit him in the leg twice with a baton. This was after the LAPD declared the protest an unlawful assembly.

Maria Camargo was also at MacArthur Park on May 1st to support immigration reform. She tried to leave after a scuffle broke out on the southeast corner of the park.

Maria Camargo (in Spanish): Uno de la policia no me pego, me pucho y me cai y me quebre un dedo.

Guzman-Lopez: Camargo says a police officer pushed her, and she fell to the ground and broke a finger. To this day, her two-year-old grandchild, she says, cries whenever he hears a siren.

Camargo and Pedro are in a group of 164 people who filed claims against the city of L.A. A claim usually precedes a lawsuit. The group includes an eight-month-old child and several teenagers. Lawyers for the group claim police officers used excessive force to clear the park.

Carol Sobel is one of 14 lawyers representing the claimants. She stood next to one of them.

Carol Sobel: You have to file these tort claims in order to protect your right to bring a lawsuit. We would welcome changes from the police commission as well, but that doesn't end the question about what happens to the people like Mr. Eng and others whose rights were violated that day.

Guzman-Lopez: Sobel says hundreds of people hurt by police that day haven't come forward. Lawyers are petitioning for class action status to allow those others to step forward and sue. Sobel wouldn't say how much money lawyers will seek for their clients. Other Southern California lawyers have filed a few dozen separate claims for others who allege the LAPD roughed them up.

The claims will likely lead to lawsuits, and the city is looking to pay out money, says Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson.

Laurie Levenson: I think the strategy for the city is simple, which is to keep the numbers down, try to make sure that the cases they pay on are the most egregious ones, and not just anyone who happened to be at the park.

Guzman-Lopez: The city of L.A. paid a record $15,000,000 in a police brutality case related to the Rampart scandal. This is no Rampart, says L.A. Councilman Jack Weiss. He co-chairs the city council's task force looking into MacArthur Park incident.

Councilman Jack Weiss: The lawyers who represent the plaintiffs are doing their work, I understand that. But I don't think people should jump to conclusions with this lawsuit, and excoriate or pillory the LAPD or say that the sky is falling.

Guzman-Lopez: Councilman Weiss praises the changes that LAPD Chief Bill Bratton made in officer training and police command after the May 1st incident. Lawyers for the claimants also praise Bratton's reforms, but they're going to court anyway.