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LAPD makes arrests in unrest after Lakers victory

At least 45 people have been arrested in the wake of unrest that followed the L.A. Lakers’ NBA championship victory last week — double the number picked up last year when rioting followed the team’s win.

But that could be just the beginning.

Los Angeles Police Department detectives are now carefully reviewing hundreds of images taken from police videos, business surveillance cameras, TV news footage, Twitter pictures, Facebook pages and other social media sites, looking for more evidence of criminal behavior.

The Los Angeles Fire Department’s arson unit on Friday released onto YouTube video of people smashing and setting fire to a taxicab. They are asking the public for help identifying those responsible for the damage.

As of Monday, that video had gotten almost 200,000 views, and officials said they’ve gotten several solid tips.

LAPD officials said they believe it’s worth the effort to track down the assailants — even if it takes weeks or months.

“In the age of phone cameras and digital video devices, it has in essence deputized the public,” said Lt. Paul Vernon. “It has added to the maxim that police are the public and the public are the police.”

In 2009, large crowds gathered downtown after the Lakers’ victory. Officers ordered the crowd to disperse, but groups of young men and women refused, stomping on car windshields, throwing rocks through windows and looting stores. Eventually, 20 people were booked for offenses including setting trash cans and trees on fire.

After that unrest, police decided to pursue several long-term investigations.

Several videos captured a mob swarming a Shell station at Grand Avenue and Olympic Boulevard, shouting, “Free soda, free soda” and grabbing merchandise that included water, chips, candy, soda and energy drinks.

Detectives spent months working to identify the alleged looters and make arrests.

And last Thursday, the day of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced the arrests of 31 members of a tagging crew accused of tagging MTA buses after the 2009 NBA championship.

In last week’s disturbances, some people roamed the streets of downtown Los Angeles, breaking windows, throwing objects at police, vandalizing public and private property and setting a taxi on fire. Although the crowd scattered when police arrived, detectives now have images of many of these incidents and believe they can make more arrests if they can identify those in the videos and photos.

“At this event, and other events, we are leveraging technology not only to see the incidents but to capture images of those responsible,” said LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, noting the public has proven very helpful in aiding police in identifying those responsible for criminal behavior. “We will see you and we will find you.”

At least 45 people were arrested on suspicion of crimes that included arson, assault on a peace officer, battery, public drunkenness, inciting a riot, disturbing the peace, throwing objects at a vehicle, resisting arrest and vandalism, as well as for outstanding warrants.

Of those, 10 people were charged Monday by the city attorney’s office. Among those were a man accused of setting fire to a Boston Celtics basketball jersey; another accused of throwing a rock at a police officer’s head, just missing the officer; and one who is alleged to have hit an officer with a bicycle after heaving it at him, said Senior Assistant City Atty. Chuck Goldenberg.

“These people took a very proud and happy moment for the people of the city of Los Angeles and attempted to turn it into a night of violence and mayhem,” Goldenberg said. “Fortunately, the police were on the scene to prevent it from getting too far out of hand.”

He stressed that they would be taking “a very hard stand,” seeking the maximum jail time of six months to a year or more in county jail “depending on the circumstances and the criminal record of any one defendant.”

The city attorney’s office said it would continue to review reports of cases referred for possible filings.

“It’s likely there will be additional filings,” Goldenberg said. “We have 10, and more may be coming.”

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com


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