L.A. city, county prosecutors won’t charge protesters arrested on curfew violations, failure to disperse
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey confirmed Monday her office will not prosecute protesters arrested in connection with curfew violations or a failure to disperse during peaceful demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in police custody.
L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer also said Monday he won’t seek criminal or financial penalties against those arrested under those circumstances and would instead divert them into a program of dialog discussion. Most of the more than 2,000 arrests for those alleged offenses occurred in the city.
The announcements come as city leaders have faced criticism over the mass arrests of protesters last week while expressing political views.
“I believe wholeheartedly in free speech and support the right of protesters to demonstrate peacefully against historic racial injustice in our criminal justice system and throughout our nation,” Lacey said in a statement. “I want to encourage the exchange of ideas and work to establish dialogue between law enforcement and protesters so that we may implement enduring systemic change.”
Lacey, whose office would handle curfew violations in parts of the county without their own local prosecutor’s office, had told The Times on Sunday her office is “not going to pursue” curfew cases. The cities not covered by Lacey’s decision include Long Beach, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Torrance, Burbank, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, her office said in a statement.
Lacey’s opponent in the upcoming race for district attorney, George Gascon, has called for all such cases to be dismissed.
Feuer said he was developing a nonpunitive approach, outside of the court system, to handle all violations arising from the recent protests that do not involve “violence, looting or vandalism.”
Feuer said it will take five to six weeks for his office to receive the arrests from the Los Angeles Police Department.
He acknowledged his plan lacked specifics. “I am trying to figure out the most effective way to have the dialog we need. We are in the middle of that, but I wanted to announce the basic principles we will apply. I don’t have the specifics you are looking for right now,” he said.
Feuer said he knows the anxiety associated with arrests and wants to reassure protesters that this is about positive change from what happened.
“As we move forward, our restorative approach to these cases will bring protesters, law enforcement and other voices from our community together to foster the mutual empathy, understanding and respect that are essential to building a better version of our city,” he said.
Feuer said he has spoken to Carol Sobel, one of the attorneys for arrestees. “We both trying to find the most constructive way to move forward, with a resolution that beneficial for everyone.”
Sobel, a longtime civil rights attorney who is helping to sue the police department over its tactics in recent days, said she is encouraged Feuer isn’t pursuing criminal charges or fines, but still wants more information about what will be done.
She said Feuer should provide more information to those who were arrested soon, because “a lot of people are concerned, a lot of people were swept up.”
“I hope it will be a discussion with the community about how to address this, because it isn’t just about what happened over the last two weeks, it’s what are we going to do as a community moving forward,” she said. “Because there will be a next time.”
The decision by city law enforcement officials to not pursue criminal or financial penalties against the protesters follows complaints by many of those arrested that they spent hours in plastic handcuffs in crammed buses without justification, leaving them with injuries and potentially exposing them to the coronavirus. Many of those were taken into custody last week on suspicion of either violating curfew rules or failing to disperse after the LAPD had declared their protest unlawful.
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Black Lives Matter L.A. claims the curfews illegally suppressed constitutionally protected protests and violated people’s freedom of movement. The organizations have also decried videos that show police officers responding with violence against protesters, including swinging batons and firing foam and sponge projectiles.
Those advocates said the city’s new stance does not resolve all the concerns outlined in the lawsuit. They added that officials shouldn’t waffle on repercussions but rather dismiss the charges immediately.
An ACLU attorney said Feuer’s decision to seek an alternative to prosecution for curfew violators does not resolve all the concerns outlined in the lawsuit, saying all charges against them should simply be dropped.
“Given what we have seen this week with respect to how LAPD enforced the curfew — the many videos and news reports of excessive force and ambush tactics — any move by the city attorney to force people to defend themselves against curfew charges would be tantamount to sanctioning police repression,” said Adrienna Wong, senior staff attorney at the ACLU.
Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Public Defender Union said nothing short of not filing charges will satisfy them.
“While we welcome this first step, we demand that the Los Angeles city attorney decline to file any charges against anyone protesting police violence and standing in solidarity with the black community — without conditions,” according to a joint statement by the groups.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva said his department made 475 arrests related to protests with misdemeanor offenses far outnumbering felonies, and that all the arrests were referred to Lacey’s office to decide the individuals’ fate legally.
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