LAPD videos show violent clashes with protesters in Fairfax district in May
This footage has been edited by the Los Angeles Police Department. It contains explicit language.
Newly released videos from protests near the Grove in May show intense clashes between activists and Los Angeles police officers and shine new light on two of the most controversial moments of the unrest.
The LAPD body-camera footage makes clear that a brutal moment involving multiple officers swinging their batons into a crowd — which had previously gone viral after being captured on video by a protester — occurred after another officer was yanked into the crowd by the neck.
The new footage also shows multiple exchanges between Bradley Steyn, a famed anti-Apartheid activist and former spy for Nelson Mandela’s party who now lives outside L.A., and officers on the skirmish line.
One of the officers appears to get kicked by Steyn before another fires a tactical round into Steyn’s groin. The video was released Wednesday as part of an investigation into Steyn’s injuries — which sent him to the hospital with a ripped scrotum and ruptured testicle.
Steyn — a South African-born mass-shooting survivor and co-author of a book about his days spying for the African National Congress — has repeatedly spoken out about his injuries in the days and weeks since. He also filed a formal complaint with the LAPD and filed notice with the city of his intention to sue over his injuries.
In addition to the groin injury, he said he was struck across the chest with a baton, leaving him badly bruised.
“I could see his eyes,” Steyn, 49, said in a recent interview, of the officer who shot him. “He was not aiming for my center body mass or my belt buckle. He was trying to put the hurt on.”
Police, citing the newly released body-camera footage, tell a very different story.
In the video, Steyn can be seen at the front of a crowd of protesters as officers repeatedly tell them to leave the area.
“Back up, leave the area,” an officer says at one point.
“Shut the ... up,” Steyn responds, before repeatedly accusing officers on the line of using excessive force.
When another man passes in front of the skirmish line and says, “I’m going that way,” and the officer in front of Steyn shoves the man with his baton, Steyn and others in the crowd react angrily. Steyn can then be seen lunging forward with his foot in the air.
Footage from the camera of the officer who then shoots Steyn records the officer noting that he had targeted Steyn in response.
“Fired another round. Male, white, kicked Officer Rivera,” the officer says.
Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said detectives reviewed the footage and other evidence in the case and determined that Steyn had assaulted the officer whom he allegedly kicked. They referred the incident to prosecutors, who sent it on to City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office, Rubenstein said.
Feuer’s office said Wednesday that it was reviewing the case.
A separate internal LAPD review to determine whether the officer who shot Steyn was justified in doing so remains open, Rubenstein said.
Steyn said in an interview prior to the release of the video that he had been defending another person at the protest when the officer shot him.
He said that he had moved toward the skirmish line after seeing young people fleeing from officers firing tactical rounds. He said the scene had reminded him of the Strijdom Square massacre by a racist white gunman that he witnessed in Pretoria, South Africa as a 17-year-old boy, and triggered the post-traumatic stress that he has carried with him since and writes about in his book — which was a bestseller in South Africa and is soon to be released in the U.S.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is happening again. I’m seeing brutality against Black people, and I have to try and help,’” he said.
After he was shot, Steyn said he passed out from the shock and pain, regained consciousness, limped away and then passed out again. Losing blood fast, he managed to get a ride-share driver to take him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he underwent surgery, he said.
Steyn did not immediately respond to a request for comment following the release of the footage. His attorney, Lisa Bloom, said in a statement that, while there is no dispute that an officer ruptured Steyn’s testicle, there are serious questions raised by the department’s decision to release “a slickly produced and highly edited video showing only a portion of the incident, at odd angles, with the camera suspiciously blocked during key moments.”
She said police threats to criminally prosecute Steyn were “obvious retaliation” for his internal affairs complaint and pending lawsuit.
“We demand to see the full, unedited videos of the incident, and we demand justice,” Bloom said.
Asked specifically about Steyn appearing to kick the officer, Bloom said, “It’s obvious even from the edited video that the police officer struck a peaceful unarmed Black man walking by, simply talking on the phone, just before this incident. Many protesters, in addition to Mr. Steyn, reacted to that act of police brutality.”
The video marks the second release of body-camera footage from the protests in the Fairfax district on May 30.
The prior release showed a protester with his hands raised in the air get shot in the head with a projectile. That man, CJ Montano, filed his own lawsuit against the city on Wednesday, alleging his civil rights were violated.
The footage in Steyn’s case is from one of the most intense moments during L.A.'s summer protests over police brutality against Black people, including George Floyd, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
Protester footage from the same scene near the Grove had captured officers swinging their batons at protesters’ knees as the crowd pulsed backwards. Police have long said the incident was under review, and that the viral protester video did not capture all of the relevant circumstances.
The new footage suggests the officers had been reacting to one of their fellow cops being pulled from around the neck into the crowd.
The appropriateness of that response remains under review, Rubenstein said.
The footage makes clear the intensity of the moment in new ways.
Protesters can be seen lobbing objects at officers. Officers can be seen pushing protesters and yelling at them to leave. In multiple videos, all edited and compiled together into one YouTube video by the LAPD, officers can be heard giving the protesters warnings that the gathering had been declared unlawful and they would be subject to arrest if they remained.
The events are the subject of a massive class-action lawsuit against the city and the LAPD for excessive force against protesters.
A review by The Times has found that officers likely breached department policies in their use of projectile weapons and batons. Many people were injured in the clashes, some of them hospitalized.
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