Bratton said the tape, shot in 2005 on the Venice boardwalk and made public Monday, concerned him enough when he saw it last year that he immediately removed the officers involved from active duty pending an internal investigation. The officer who used the pepper spray has left the department, but an investigation is continuing, Bratton said.
Still, Bratton said his own administrative decision on whether they complied with department policy is still days away.
The chief said he was uneasy that the officer shut the door of the patrol car, leaving the handcuffed suspect alone inside, after administering the pepper spray.
The closing of the door "was one of the reasons I had concern," Bratton said.
"My interest there is: Was that pepper spray used to control the behavior of that individual or was it used punitively?" he said.
"If in my judgment the individual ceased to be a threat to the officer and other tactics could have been used, then I could conceivably find the officer out of policy. That whole case really comes down to that issue. And also the closing of the door."
Bratton's comments come as some police watchdog groups and the American Civil Liberties Union called Tuesday on the LAPD to reexamine when officers can use pepper spray, particularly if suspects are handcuffed. Current rules allow the spray to be used whenever a suspect is "combative," but some say that definition is far too broad.
"It's appalling," Catherine Lhamon, an attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said of the Venice incident. "There is no question that spitting on an officer does not merit pepper-spraying someone when they are handcuffed in the back of a patrol car."
Bratton said he is considering an examination of when officers should use the spray.
"This would not be too onerous a burden for the department to engage in that review," he said.
Members of the Los Angeles Police Commission, meanwhile, ordered the inspector general to launch an assessment of how the LAPD handled the Venice incident.
"It is a disturbing tape," Police Commissioner Andrea Sheridan Ordin said. "I ask that these matters be given the highest priority so we can assure ourselves and the public about what has occurred."
Ordin said the evaluation by Inspector General Andre Birotte Jr. might raise questions about the policy allowing officers wide discretion in the use of pepper spray on handcuffed suspects if they are judged to be combative. But she and others said it was premature to consider policy changes yet.
The videotape was played for The Times on Monday by an attorney who represented the defendant, identified in police reports as Benjamin Barker.
Barker, a transient, was arrested after getting into a scuffle with a merchant on the boardwalk.
He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery on the shopkeeper.
The videotape shows Barker in handcuffs as he is bent over a patrol car. As the officer pushes him into the car, Barker can be heard saying, "Why am I going to jail?"