LAPD Takes Blame for Clash at Immigration Rally

Los Angeles Police Dept. Chief William Bratton's first official report on the May 1 immigration rally that turned violent accuses members of an LAPD riot squad of injuring as many as 40 people. The officers under fire say their use of batons and rubber bullets was a response to being assaulted by a small, but aggressive group of rock-throwing demonstrators.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The May Day immigration rally here in Los Angeles has been major embarrassment for the police department. Yesterday, police Chief William Bratton gave his first official report on the rally that turned into a violent clash involving police, protesters and the media. The chief once again laid most of the blame on his own department.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: Bratton promised the Civilian Police Commission he would give them an update on his investigation into officers' conduct. Yesterday, he and his top staff did just that with a minute-by-minute presentation of what happened at the rally, which Bratton says was not business as usual for the LAPD.

Chief WILLIAM BRATTON (Los Angeles Police Department): That said, we cannot minimize that the deficient performance of the department, its leadership and some of its officers must be identified, clarified, addressed and corrected. That is our obligation and our responsibility. And as chief of the department, that is my commitment.

KAHN: More than 40 people were injured as riot police moved in to L.A.'s MacArthur Park to disperse the mostly peaceful pro-immigrant demonstration. TV news footage captured LAPD officers firing more than 100 rubber bullets at the crowd, and using batons to subdue protesters and members of the media.

But yesterday there was something new, fresh video and audio never before released showing what police were up against. What you're about to hear is a police radio transmission as an officer tracks a small group of agitators at the rally.

Unidentified Man: Be advised, we have a group of anywhere from five to 10 (unintelligible). One of them has a red (Unintelligible) flag. There will be two others with an American flag upside down, full of holes.

KAHN: According to police, the agitators don't let up even as officers sweep through the park. On the next transmission, officers and the commander are heard giving conflicting orders on how to proceed.

Unidentified Man #1: We're taking heavy rocks - guys are getting hit and they're getting hurt. And every time we stop, we're taking a beating over here. We need to keep the line moving to clear this out.

Unidentified Man #2: Terry(ph), I understand. I just want it to move a little slower. That's all I'm asking for.

Unidentified Man #3: All right. Let's get it going. We're getting killed over here. Forward! Move!

KAHN: This chaos was one of many failings by the police commanders at MacArthur Park, according to Chief Bratton.

Chief BRATTON: I shall not seek to minimize that at the command levels of this department that the citizens of the city have a right to expect more than was exhibited by the command staff at that event on that day.

KAHN: Bratton said it appears that most of the orders, including the one to use rubber bullets and batons to clear the park, was given by a commander stationed a block away from the rally. And he said the incident commander, who marched through the entire park with riot police, never gave a single order.

Mr. BRATTON: At this point in time we can't explain it - that I have a two-star chief that's engaged in the middle of the activity and makes no effort to control it all.

KAHN: That officer was demoted and announced plans to retire early. More than 30 legal actions have been taken against the city and the LAPD, and at least five investigations continue into the events of May 1st. L.A. Councilman Jack Weiss, who heads the city's Public Safety Commission, says everyone should wait for the investigations to conclude before making snap judgments. Weiss says he has full confidence in the chief, and supports Bratton's upcoming reappointment to a second term.

Mr. JACK WEISS (District 5, Los Angeles City Council): Bad things happen at big city police departments. The test of this chief is how he handles those bad things, and he has handled this aggressively, forthrightly and transparently.

KAHN: Bratton did not say when he expected his investigation to be done, but he did add he expects to announce significant personnel changes in the near future.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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