The Los Angeles Police Department was unprepared for the large Armenian protest against the Red Army Chorus that temporarily shut down the Shrine Auditorium--even though preliminary police intelligence reports had accurately predicted a turnout of about 1,000 demonstrators, a police official said Friday.
Relying instead on later reports that forecast substantially fewer protesters, the police arrived at the concert ill-equipped to handle the large throng that chained entrances to the building and forced a three-hour delay of a scheduled 8 p.m. performance by the chorus, said Cmdr. Ernest Curtsinger of the department's South Bureau.
"You can't just move (the protesters) when you don't have a plan," Curtsinger said.
The commander said he believed that there would be no more than 200 protesters at the event, if a demonstration took place at all.
"We had a plan to deal with a much smaller demonstration," he said.
News reports in at least two local Armenian newspapers had also predicted a large demonstration, which was organized by the Armenian National Committee, but Curtsinger said he was unaware of the articles.
Arriving in 10 rented school buses, the raucous throng of demonstrators converged on the building about 6:30 p.m., blocking auditorium entrances to protest slayings of Armenians by the Red Army.
"The box office was bottle-necked," auditorium manager Douglas Worthington said. "The Armenians were blocking it. You couldn't walk up to the box office to purchase tickets or pick up will-call. They were eight to 10 deep in front of the door."
Although several officers from various police divisions were patroling the area, Curtsinger said, there was nothing the officers could do to prevent the demonstrators from locking up the building.
"Even if we had arrested them, we had no place to put them," he said. "You can't just move them when you don't have a plan."
Although police said they were at the auditorium before the protest started, some patrons said they did not see many officers when they arrived.
"I kept wondering, 'Where are the police?"' said Harry Hickox of Hollywood, who arrived at the auditorium shortly before the protest began. "I wasn't angry with how they handled it. I was just puzzled. It took them a long time to respond."
Hickox said the demonstrators tried to force him away from the building.
"I was pushed around when I started to go to the box office," said Hickox, who accompanied a friend to the concert. "I'm not very easily frightened by that type of thing, but I was very apprehensive."
Demonstrators said they too were surprised that the Police Department did not try to remove them--especially after they had chained the doors.
"We were ready to be arrested peacefully," said Apo Boghigian, editor of Asbarez, a local Armenian daily. "We expected that they would try to force their way to the doors. They didn't. The police behaved well."
The demonstrators, who chanted and carried signs decrying the killing of Soviet Armenians, said they were not trying to harm or intimidate the concert-goers.
"We're not targeting the American public," said Harut Sassounian, editor of California Courier, an Armenian weekly newspaper. "We're not even targeting the Red Army performers.
"We're trying to send a message to Moscow. . . . But to be fair, our brothers are being shot in the homeland. We have to have proper perspective of musical inconvenience and the lives of people," he said.
After protesters had packed up and left, the Red Army Chorus gave an abbreviated performance for the roughly ticket-holders who remained. The auditorium management agreed to refund money to those ticket-holders who missed the performance because of the protest.
Armenian activists said they will not demonstrate at any of the three remaining performances, which will run through the weekend.
"We'll be there anyway," Curtsinger said. "They may change their mind."
Times staff writers Nieson Himmel, Edward J. Boyer, and Hector Tobar also contributed to this story.
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