Bratton cites staff failures in melee
The Police Department’s preliminary investigation into the May Day MacArthur Park melee confirms that a “breakdown” in police command and control took place and offers explicit new detail on the roles of two top officers who were quickly reassigned by Chief William J. Bratton.
The report, presented to the city’s Police Commission on Tuesday, was immediately criticized as being incomplete. Some City Council members and community activists complained that it fell far short of the detailed accounting Bratton had promised after 42 people were injured in an incident that threatens to again sully the reputation of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Members of the civilian Police Commission responded by calling on the department to consider more training and possible term limits for officers assigned to the elite Metropolitan Division, which has been characterized as insular and aggressive.
The unit provided crowd control at the May 1 immigrant rights rally but ended up clashing with civilians after some in the park began throwing rocks and bottles at officers.
Those injured included seven officers and nine media workers, as police clad in riot gear used batons and hard foam bullets to clear the park. Ninety-four people have filed complaints alleging they were mistreated.
Council members, including Ed Reyes, who represents the MacArthur Park area, said Bratton’s report spent too much time discussing “agitators” throwing bottles but not enough on who was responsible for force by officers “that crossed the line.”
“I’m disconcerted,” Reyes said. “The issue of accountability needs to be addressed more. If we can’t show accountability, how can we regain the public’s confidence?”
Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said he was disturbed at how far short the report fell.
“We were promised an open and thorough investigation, but what was shown had critical facts omitted,” he said. “It made no mention why thousands of peaceful participants were ordered to leave the park and were made the subject of police use of force.”
Bratton, who will present the report to the full City Council today, told the Police Commission that what happened at MacArthur Park was an aberration for a department that has policed hundreds of rallies without incident, but that it would result in additional changes in policy, personnel and training to prevent a recurrence.
The chief and his command staff provided the commission with a detailed, minute-by-minute report on the rally, using a PowerPoint presentation that featured maps, radio transmissions among officers and videotape from surveillance, police and television cameras.
Bratton said the problems began before the day of the demonstration.
“Based on the preliminary findings, I believe that the main reason for the department’s controversial actions and large use of force in response to an environment of rock and bottle assaults on our officers by a small group of agitators ... was quite simply a command and control breakdown,” Bratton said. “It began at the planning stages and dominoed throughout the event itself.”
For instance, department documents drafted in planning a response to the rally did not identify a media staging area, he said.
The chief said faulty preparation by police for a rally attended by 6,000 people caused problems later, including confusion over who was in charge.
The report does not name any of the officers who are being investigated for possible use of excessive force. However, Bratton singled out two members of the command staff who were reassigned days after the incident -- Deputy Chief Cayler “Lee” Carter and Cmdr. Louis Gray -- for criticism as the highest ranking officers at the scene.
“There was a failure to convey to all the various entities what the chain of command was,” Bratton said. “There was great confusion as to who was the incident commander. It was not clear to us who was making decisions.”
Bratton said it appeared that Gray made most of the decisions on the police response “with the acquiescence of Chief Carter.”
The chief said it appeared that Gray made the decision to use foam bullets and beanbag rounds “but at no time was Cmdr. Gray at the scene where that action was initiated,” Alvarado and 7th streets.
“Chief Carter, on the other hand, was at the scene of that incident ... and as best we can tell never issued a single order during the time he was with the members of Metro. At this period of time we can’t explain it -- a two-star chief that’s engaged in the middle of the activity and makes no effort to control at all.”
The report shows that the police officers in riot gear were able to sweep the entire park of protesters and others from 6:17 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Some people had begun throwing rocks and bottles at officers around 5:15 p.m.
In calling for the LAPD to issue a dispersal order, one officer at 6:01 p.m. radioed: “They have been throwing things at us nonstop for the last few minutes. I think that qualifies.” A ground supervisor told a helicopter officer at 6:05 p.m. to make the announcement: “We need these people north,” said one supervisor. “We were taking rocks and bottles. We’re not going to stand here and continue to take them just because they’re not doing it now.”
Later there was confusion over whether the dispersal order was for the entire park or just a portion.
Several times, supervisors can be heard ordering officers to fire foam bullets and beanbag projectiles, saying, “Grenadiers up. Grenadiers up.”
Commission members said they were troubled by what they heard and saw. President John Mack said it “boggles the mind” that the dispersal order was given only in English to a crowd with many people whose first language is Spanish.
“Our entire commission is deeply, deeply concerned about this incident,” Mack said, “and wants to make sure that we not only have a very thorough objective and fair series of investigations, but indeed that we find some solutions to many of the problems and issues that have been raised, and in instances where individuals have been found to have crossed the line and operated outside policy, that they will be held accountable.”
Commissioner Anthony Pacheco said the department should consider setting limits on how long officers can serve in the Metropolitan Division. Pacheco voiced concern that the unit has become insular and might respond to crowds with harsh measures because it is repeatedly being sent to hotspots to deal with angry crowds.
Deputy Police Chief Michael Hillman said many officers and supervisors in Metropolitan Division had received extensive training in 2004 and 2005 on crowd control, but others who have joined the unit since then have received little special training.
Some officers have spent less time in training, as Metro units have been deployed more to help fight crime on the street, a shift that Bratton said was necessary to reduce overall city crime.
In response to questions raised by Commissioner Andrea Ordin, Bratton said many officers had been released from duty in MacArthur Park hours before the rally grew violent because there was no suggestion that trouble was brewing. In deciding how to deploy officers to special events, Bratton said he must weigh the financial cost of the forces he selects.
“If I authorize overtime, I will have the City Council on my back about ‘What are you spending all this money on overtime for?’ ” Bratton said.