Deal near in May Day melee
The city of Los Angeles would pay nearly $13 million to immigration protesters and bystanders injured by Los Angeles police officers during a melee at MacArthur Park last year, according to sources familiar with a tentative settlement reached by both sides.
If approved, it would mark one of the largest payouts ever made to resolve LAPD misconduct. Further payouts are likely to journalists who also sued, charging that they were roughed up by the LAPD while covering the event.
A settlement in the case would go a long way toward closing an embarrassing and damaging chapter in the LAPD’s recent history, department observers said. The proposed agreement still must be approved by the City Council, the mayor and the judge overseeing the claims against the city.
Longtime LAPD observer Merrick Bobb, executive director of the Police Assessment Resource Center, said a settlement, following the punishment of officers and changes in LAPD procedures, is a necessary last step for the department.
“It allows the LAPD . . . to move forward having learned its lessons and tied up the loose ends it opened,” Bobb said.
Sources familiar with the deal declined to provide details and spoke on condition that their names not be used because the terms of the agreement were confidential pending the council’s approval. Several of the sources, however, confirmed the size of the proposed deal at $12.85 million.
The council was scheduled to discuss the settlement in private Wednesday, but emerged without voting on whether to approve it. The council is expected to take up the matter again in the near future.
City Council members, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William J. Bratton all declined to comment. Representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a major Latino advocacy group that has been involved in the settlement talks, also declined to comment.
Last year, as a May Day pro-immigration march was concluding in the park west of downtown, lines of police in riot gear moved in to clear the area. Reacting to what authorities described as a pocket of agitators throwing bottles and other objects, officers from the LAPD’s elite Metro Division used batons and fired rubber bullets into the largely peaceful crowd. Hundreds of demonstrators and journalists and 18 officers suffered injuries. No one was killed.
Many protesters and bystanders -- ranging from children to senior citizens -- filed lawsuits, alleging that they had been injured by police. One woman said she subsequently suffered a miscarriage. Some alleged physical and emotional distress from the incident.
In the immediate aftermath, Bratton removed two command-level officers from their posts; one later resigned. And in September, after a long internal investigation, Bratton announced plans to suspend 11 lower-ranking officers and called for the termination of four others for excessive use of force, failing to rein in other officers or lying to investigators during the inquiry.
Investigators were unable to identify several other officers who probably would have been punished for their roles in the incident.
A scathing internal LAPD report blamed poor leadership and planning as well as the overly aggressive tactics by officers in the field.
With graphic images of the violent chaos recorded by photographers and television crews in the park, the clash gained immediate worldwide attention. It dealt a serious public relations blow to a Police Department that under Bratton has made a deliberate effort to shake a reputation for brutality that stemmed from the Rodney G. King beating, the Rampart scandal and other incidents.
The fallout also strained Bratton’s relationship with leaders of the union that represents rank-and-file officers, who criticized him harshly for his comments about the officers’ conduct.
Eager to avoid another such misstep, the LAPD retrained all its officers in basic crowd control tactics and overhauled the way it prepares for and manages protests and other major events.
This year’s May Day marches -- as well as other tense protests such as those following voters’ decision this month to ban same-sex marriage -- went smoothly.
The proposed settlement would resolve a class-action lawsuit and several individual lawsuits filed in federal court -- the majority of the more than 300 claims against the city.
It does not include, however, lawsuits filed in state courts by journalists, a source said.
Under the proposed terms, the amount paid to each person would vary dramatically from several hundred thousand dollars to a few thousand dollars based on the extent of their injuries and medical expenses, sources said.
Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.