L.A. City Council votes to pay almost $13 million in LAPD/MacArthur Park settlement

The Los Angeles City Council has voted to pay almost $13 million to immigrant rights demonstrators police beat up or otherwise run out of MacArthur Park two years ago. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports it's one of the biggest settlements ever involving LAPD misconduct.

Frank Stoltze: Videotape of the May Day 2007 incident showed LAPD riot police firing rubber bullets at a peaceful crowd and striking passive protesters with their batons, after a few people on the fringes threw rocks and bottles. Several demonstrators suffered broken arms, torn knee cartilage, and emotional distress. Children witnessed police hitting their parents.

Carol Sobel represents many of the 300 people who filed legal claims against the city.

Carol Sobel: We're really pleased. It's a fair settlement. It's got a significant monetary settlement. But equally important, it's got a significant policy component.

Stoltze: One example: the LAPD's agreed to issue dispersal orders in the language protesters speak. On May Day, officers declared an unlawful assembly only in English to the mostly Spanish-speaking crowd.

City Councilman Ed Reyes says the May Day melee, as it became known, damaged relations between police and the city's Latinos.

Councilman Ed Reyes: We're dealing with a community that was traumatized even before they got to this country. A lot of them come from war-torn countries where people of authority were to be feared. And to have that happen here was just devastating.

Stoltze: Reyes says relations have warmed, as the LAPD has improved its training and outreach.

Reyes: There's been a stark difference in approach. Our men and women in blue at the street level have been very much supported by the community because of these types of changes. So I believe the healing process is well on the way.

Stoltze: Attorney Carol Sobel agreed that the LAPD handles crowds better these days, but not always. She says she saw some cops get overly aggressive during recent Proposition 8 protests.

Sobel: That's always the problem. You know you can reach an agreement with this department, but getting that agreement to affect people down the line is another task altogether.

Stoltze: The City Council's $12.85 million settlement with demonstrators is subject to approval from the mayor and a federal judge overseeing the case. Both are expected. It does not resolve a lawsuit by journalists whom police also hit that day.