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Black Lives Matter seeks restraining order to prevent LAPD use of batons, ‘rubber’ bullets on marchers

A police officer holds a projectile launcher as others arrest a protester seated on the ground
An LAPD officer holds a so-called less-lethal projectile launcher as fellow officers arrest a protester during a recent demonstration in the Fairfax district.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other protest groups are asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction to forbid the Los Angeles Police Department from using baton strikes and “rubber” bullets to control crowds during future protests, arguing that such use violates demonstrators’ constitutional rights and has caused a plethora of injuries.

With protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police bringing calls to end police brutality, lawyers for the protesters on Wednesday asked a federal judge to end LAPD practices that they say have fallen short of their constitutional duties.

“The LAPD has used so-called rubber bullets and batons indiscriminately to disrupt and disperse protesters with many serious injuries resulting,” attorney Paul Hoffman wrote on behalf of BLM-L.A. and more than a dozen protesters injured by police officers. “The images of baton-wielding LAPD officers and protesters’ injuries unacceptably increase the cost of public participation in these important exercises of First Amendment rights.”

The injunction effort comes as part of a class-action lawsuit filed earlier this month by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Black Lives Matter and Los Angeles Community Action Network, which accuses the LAPD of repeatedly misapplying the law to clear the streets. The lawsuit says demonstrators’ constitutional rights were violated and many were left bloodied and bruised.

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The filing by veteran civil rights attorneys on behalf of protesters echoes many of the findings of a Times review of dozens of instances of police force during the recent protests. That investigation found that demonstrators suffered a range of injuries at the hands of the LAPD, from minor bruising from baton strikes and falls as police skirmish lines advanced, to serious injuries to their genitals and heads from foam and sponge bullets and beanbags being fired into crowds, sometimes from close range.

In court documents filed Wednesday, recent UCLA graduate Tina Crnko described how shortly after LAPD Chief Michel Moore, clad in riot gear, used a weak bullhorn to address protesters at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue on May 30, advancing officers fired foam projectiles.

She said she was “struck in the left bicep and rib cage.” And without warning, she said, she was struck by a “rubber bullet on the forehead above my right eye,” causing temporary deafness, profuse bleeding from her forehead and likely sustained permanent nerve damage on the top of her skull.

Lawyers for BLM-L.A. and protesters also argue that the LAPD manipulated “ever-changing curfews and improper declarations of unlawful assemblies in order to suppress marchers’ constitutional rights.”

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That resulted in thousands of arrests with arrestees packed into unventilated buses for as long as 12 hours with over-tight handcuffs. The lawyers are requesting that those cited at protests be released within 15 minutes and those booked for a misdemeanor spend no more than an hour in custody, given the availability of mobile booking technology.

They are also asking that protesters held on buses be in conditions that meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with masks and adequate social distancing.

A man stands in a street with his head wrapped in a cloth that appears to be stained with blood
Deon Jones said he suffered two broken bones in his face after being hit by a projectile fired by an LAPD officer during a protest this month.
(Handout)

The lawyers argue “that anyone subject to such a warlike display of police weaponry would think twice about coming to engage in First Amendment activity.”

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The LAPD has limited how police use force during the nearly 20 years since the infamous Rodney King beating. But the lawsuit argues that the department is ignoring its own rules and acting in an “unreasonable manner” by indiscriminately firing so-called less-lethal projectiles at protesters, causing many serious injuries.

The suit cites as an example a “peaceful protester” being shot in the face with an LAPD “rubber bullet” as she attempted to return to her car, fracturing her jaw. The suit notes that even bystanders were hit, including a man in a wheelchair who was struck in the back of the shoulder blade.

The lawyers cite a prior decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on non-lethal force during protests in Davis, where the court found the use of projectiles “excessive.”

“I have never seen so many shots fired to the head,” said Carol Sobel, one of the attorneys, of the less-lethal projectile rounds. “We need action by the court because our clients are under real threat by batons and projectiles as well as hours in handcuffs.”

Lawyers for the city asked for a day to reply to the extensive allegations, and were given until Friday to do so.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Moore said the actions of police officers who clashed with protesters in recent weeks are under review. Ten officers have now been taken off the street and assigned to desk duties pending internal investigations into their actions during recent protests. Those investigations are among more than 50 that have been launched by the LAPD.


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