LAPD arrests violated protesters' rights, coalition says

'The LAPD used constitutionally dubious crowd-control tactics,' a coalition of lawyers and activists says

A coalition of activists and attorneys are accusing the LAPD of violating the constitutional rights of dozens of demonstrators who were arrested in downtown Los Angeles this week while protesting a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the slaying of an unarmed black teenager.

The coalition gathered Friday after dozens of the jailed protesters were released in time for Thanksgiving and after some alleged that they were never given a warning before they were arrested.

More than 300 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began Monday night, according to the LAPD. An unknown number were arrested Friday evening after protesters disrupted traffic in the Westlake district.

Standing across from department headquarters Friday afternoon, the coalition criticized the LAPD's crowd-control strategy and said police failed to properly notify demonstrators and make sure they heard the order to disperse before arresting them Wednesday night.

"The LAPD used constitutionally dubious crowd-control tactics, in particular using a 'failure to disperse' in one time, in one place and with one group of protesters at another group, at another time and another place," said Erin Darling, co-president of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles. "It's troubling to see that just a blanket statement at Seventh and Figueroa was then used as a pretext to round up and arrest 130 peaceful protesters at another time and place."

Coalition leaders said they're calling on the City Council and the Police Commission to look into the issue and to encourage the department to change its crowd-control tactics.

LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said the department stands by its handling of the demonstrations.

"We're going to let the courts determine if our pre-dispersal orders and arrests were legal," Smith said, adding that the department also has video evidence.

During the demonstrations, the department has made an effort not to confront the protesters, allowing them to block streets and hold impromptu sit-ins at major intersections. Top LAPD brass have said they didn't want to provoke troublemakers in the crowds to needlessly increase hostilities.

But the department has also been aggressive about making arrests when police believe that protesters have gone too far.

Los Angeles saw more arrests late Tuesday night — 189 — than in Ferguson, St. Louis or Oakland, where protests have been far more destructive. On Wednesday night, the department arrested 178 people.

But the coalition said the department's aggressiveness has led to the apprehension of innocent bystanders and protesters who contended they didn't hear any dispersal orders.

Leigh Wiley, 37, a registered nurse, said she was standing on the sidewalk near Seventh and Figueroa late Tuesday, watching protesters before she decided to go home to her loft at Seventh and Spring streets. She said she was met by officers in riot gear who prevented her from leaving and ignored her when she tried to explain she wasn't part of the protests. Wiley said she didn't hear any police orders to leave the area.

"I was in complete shock," Wiley said. "I've never been arrested before, I was not part of the protest, and I had no idea I could be arrested for being on the sidewalk in my own neighborhood.

"Prior to this, I've always felt safe in my neighborhood and never felt threatened by the police, but all of that has changed." .

On Friday, protesters said the point of all their actions was to be noticed, and that was exactly what was happening.

"These killings have been happening at a nauseating rate," protester Daniel Lee said of officer-involved shootings around the country. "There are no federal policies to stop them."

ruben.vives@latimes.com

Twitter: @latvives

Times staff writers Gale Holland and Ryan Parker contributed to this report.

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