LAPD chief expresses concern over videos of police violence during protests as calls mount for investigation
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore expressed concern Friday about a rash of videos that appear to show officers using batons and other force against unarmed protesters in the last week, as a congressman called for an investigation into how the LAPD handled a demonstration that erupted into violence and looting in the Fairfax district.
Though he contended that violent individuals have “intermixed” with peaceful protesters at some scenes, Moore conceded that footage of officers swinging at people with batons and firing foam rounds has given him pause.
“We’re investigating each of those instances … each of those video reports as an independent investigation,” the chief said during a Friday appearance on KPCC. “I don’t have all the facts and circumstances behind each of those depictions, and watching those videos does give me concern in instances of understanding why baton strikes or violence, in the sense of the use of … less-lethal munition was used.”
Moore’s comments came as criticism of the LAPD’s response to a week of citywide unrest continued to mount. While the department has had to contend with looting in downtown, Fairfax and Van Nuys, troubling videos of officers using force against seemingly unarmed, peaceful protesters at other times have drawn strong rebukes from a growing chorus of voices.
Two members of the City Council and Police Commission President Eileen Decker have called for the Los Angeles Police Department to conduct a review of the way officers used force during the protests. Moore said he will commission an “extensive after-action report” to evaluate the agency’s performance over the last week.
Mayor Eric Garcetti also said this week that he would look to cut as much as $150 million from the department’s budget in response to long-standing criticisms from activists that the city spends entirely too much on law enforcement. That figure represents only a fraction of the department’s full $1.8-billion operating budget.
The police use of carotid holds has a troubled history, killing and seriously injuring some people.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) wrote a letter to Decker calling for the civilian commission to investigate how the department responded to demonstrations in the Fairfax district Saturday.
While the area saw significant looting and police cars being set on fire, footage has also emerged showing officers striking unarmed protesters with batons. A reporter for L.A. Taco also said he was attacked with a baton without provocation, despite declaring himself a member of the press.
“Folks who loot or commit arson or assault police officers are committing crimes and that cannot be condoned or tolerated. At the same time, you can’t attribute what some folks did on one day, and then deal with peaceful protesters on a different day and hit them with batons,” Lieu said Friday. “They are a different set of people, so it’s not a justification to say just because some people did some looting, therefore we’re going to treat all protesters the same.”
Asked about the use of batons or foam rounds to break up demonstrations, Moore said officers could be justified in using such force if an unlawful assembly is declared because of violence, attacks on officers or destruction of property. But he said the key was the “proportionality” of force used and acknowledged at least one incident from last weekend required his involvement to stop officers from being violent.
“Officers were taking rocks, bottles, other projectiles [and] sustaining injuries from members within a very large crowd. And that crowd, it was the determination of on-scene commanders that it was an unlawful assembly, and that that crowd needed to disperse,” he said. “And what I witnessed was officers resorting to force, including baton strikes to achieve that, and I went personally to the scene and took actions to stop that action.”
Still, consequences from the department’s actions last weekend continued to surface. Brooke Fortson, a 29-year-old woman who said she was peacefully protesting when an LAPD cruiser slammed into her in Pershing Square on Sunday, has filed notice that she plans to sue the city over the incident.
The union for L.A. police officers criticized Mayor Eric Garcetti on Friday for comments he made about cutting the LAPD budget.
Television footage showed an LAPD vehicle driving toward a crowd of protesters near 5th and Hill streets Sunday afternoon. After briefly stopping as protesters tried to get around the car, the car speeds forward, striking at least one person.
Fortson told The Times she suffered bruises across her body after the car struck her in the side. The LAPD has said protesters were attacking the vehicle, which was responding to a report of a robbery, but television footage does not appear to show that. Fortson also denied that claim.
“My experience of what happened was, after I was hit, I jumped away and I remember hands pulling me toward the curb and asking me if I was OK. I remember hearing someone yell this is a peaceful protest, everybody kneel, and everybody on the steps kneeled down,” she said. “Largely, the vast majority of people stayed and remained peaceful and de-escalated the situation that the cop caused.”
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