Chief to explain police actions at rally
When Police Chief William J. Bratton presents his report Tuesday on the MacArthur Park melee, he is expected to fault lapses in training, communication and planning and lax field command for flawed tactics that resulted in 50 people being struck by police batons and foam-rubber bullets.
But, after four weeks of investigation, the LAPD is still having trouble identifying all of the officers involved in specific allegations and is struggling to pin down who made key command decisions before the riot squad used force to clear out May Day marchers.
The initial report on what went wrong at the immigrant rights rally May 1 will provide the Police Commission with a broad blueprint of mistakes that culminated when officers, who were pelted with rocks and bottles from agitators, used force on others in the park, including bystanders and journalists.
“There are significant concerns about the events of that day, and a lot of things we will be focusing on,” Bratton told The Times on Friday.
“The update will bring into much clearer perspective what we believe happened that day: what worked for us, what didn’t work for us and what changes that we’re making as a result.”
After the incident, Bratton promised to release the required “after-action” report in 30 days, but he and his command staff said that report would not be done by Tuesday, so an oral presentation with Power Point backup will have to do.
Part of the reason for the delay is that not all the police and civilians have been interviewed.
There is some question about whether the oral report will satisfy the demands of political leaders to get to the bottom of what happened.
The incident, which was widely videotaped by television reporters and activists, has sparked cries for Bratton to be fired, while reform groups are suing the department in federal court to force changes in department policies and culture.
Police Commission Vice President Alan Skobin said the panel expects a thorough explanation Tuesday, but he noted some of the mistakes are being fixed.
Within days of the melee, Bratton reassigned Deputy Chief Cayler “Lee” Carter and Cmdr. Louis Gray, the two highest-ranking command officers at the scene, and Carter decided to retire after he was demoted to commander.
Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel noted it was Gray who ordered use of less-than-lethal force to break up an Oct. 22, 2000, rally at Parker Center. The incident cost taxpayers more than $700,000 to settle lawsuits alleging excessive force.
Bratton said the report would not identify by name officers involved in the decisions and actions.
Bratton also has said a sergeant and two officers from Metropolitan Division have been taken off field duties pending an investigation into their videotaped actions.
Los Angeles Police Department investigators have received conflicting reports about who made the command decisions. For instance, the department is still investigating whether it was Gray who decided to use foam-rubber bullets and why. According to an LAPD source, Carter is seen on the videotapes behind officers shooting at rally attendees.
One hundred forty-six foam-rubber projectiles were fired, which Bratton said seems like too many for an incident in which there were few arrests.
The investigators have heard there may have been an overreaction to police radio reports that may have exaggerated the severity of the rock and bottle throwing, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
There were also communications breakdowns: Ambient noise garbled some radio transmissions between officers, and the order to disperse was not heard by many police officers or protesters, because it was given from a noisy helicopter. The order was given in English only; much of the crowd was Spanish-speaking.
“If you are going to declare an unlawful assembly and you want to disperse a crowd, there are certain things you have to do in terms of appropriate notification,” Bratton said. “I have already expressed concern those notifications given were only given in English.”
In addition, glitches caused interruptions in aerial video from the helicopters to the command post.
Once the officers began using batons and foam-rubber bullets, supervisors at the scene failed to stop attacks on the media and others who did not meet the “combative and aggressive” threshold required for such force, sources said.
The police did not comply with a court mandate to protect the media during police actions, sources added, noting that officers breached tents set up by television stations for their reporters.
The investigation is looking into whether police liaisons to the media failed to communicate adequately with Metropolitan Division supervisors about the location of journalists, sources said.
In addition, Bratton said, some of the officers did not have clearly visible identification.
As a result, investigators have been able to identify only a handful of officers in videotapes. The chief has taken steps to improve identification, including placement of numbers on riot-squad helmets, and he said last week he is considering putting identifying marks on body armor, which often covers the name and badge number of an officer.
Bratton has also ordered new training for officers in the elite Metropolitan Division, including its B Platoon, which provided crowd control in MacArthur Park.
“In the early stages of assessment, we have identified training and tactical issues that had to be addressed, and our goal is to quickly modify, enhance and develop new training,” Bratton said in a videotaped message to his officers last week.
Still, some current and former Metropolitan Division officers are concerned that the chief’s presentation Tuesday will give short shrift to more serious problems.
Traditionally, the division’s officers have been highly trained for crises, including crowd control, but that training has been cut at least in half for many officers as the department seeks to have them spend more time on the streets.
In addition, a decision was made to bring in supervisors from outside Metropolitan Division.
Many of the B Platoon officers in MacArthur Park that day have been with the unit for less than a year and without the weeks-long Metro Academy training that officers went through when they joined the unit.
The officers were led into the park by a lieutenant who had been transferred to Metropolitan Division on Feb. 4.
“You cannot slap a patch on the shoulder of a person and suddenly they are a Metro guy,” said one command staff officer. “Many of these guys never went to the Metro school.... You have a guy in charge who spent months on the desk, and it was his first big crowd incident.”
In the days after the incident, Bratton said Metro’s problems were a concern.
“I have put a lot of effort into crime suppression using Metro assets. Crime reduction has been the priority. Have we been shortchanging them in training?” Bratton asked.
“The reason May 1 happened is because the training and experience were not there,” said former Officer Bob Gallegos, who retired April 28 after 26 years in Metro.