Deputies in riot gear surround peaceful news conference related to Kizzee shooting
Julianna Lacoste had just shown television cameras a spot on the back of her neck where she said a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy had placed his knee during a protest in South Los Angeles this week. Speaking at a news conference Friday in a public parking lot nearby, her voice trembled as she recalled feeling as if she was going to die from the pressure.
Suddenly, the attention of media and speakers turned elsewhere.
A group of deputies in riot gear who had been watching closely behind a line of yellow tape quickly advanced closer.
Moments before, prominent local activist Najee Ali had briefly crossed the tape, loudly asking the officers why two of their colleagues had stopped 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee on Aug. 31 for an alleged vehicle violation while he was riding his bicycle in a South L.A. neighborhood before pursuing and ultimately killing him.
Dozens of the news conference’s attendees swarmed to meet the deputies who had approached. They kept to their side of the tape and filmed the officials.
“It seemed to be a clear intimidation tactic,” said Matthew Sanders, a 30-year-old North Hollywood resident who was arrested and injured during a protest this week. “They were making a move to get in our heads.”
The actions of the Sheriff’s Department also sparked alarm from county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and a member of the sheriff’s oversight agency.
The incident comes amid a series of confrontations between law enforcement and protesters outside the Sheriff’s South L.A. station on Imperial Highway over the last week that led to use of force by deputies and dozens of arrests.
Lt. John Satterfield, a spokesman for the department, said the sheriff’s response team secured the parking lot of a business at the request of a manager. He did not say which business made the request.
He said a minor altercation occurred while moving a wire barrier, and an investigation is underway. Video of the event shows a sheriff’s official grabbing a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild who had been filming him. Satterfield said he was “unable to comment” further, including on who ordered the display of force.
The actions of the deputies, he said, were “absolutely not” meant to intimidate or silence criticism of the department.
Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes South L.A., said he expected a briefing as soon as Tuesday from the county’s Office of Inspector General about what transpired Friday, and said he had no information about why riot gear was employed.
“We can’t have the constitutional rights of those who raise their voices being denied and certainly will not stand idly by if they’re being trampled,” Ridley-Thomas said in an interview.
Priscilla Ocen, a member of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said that based on photos and video shared by a reporter, the Sheriff’s Department’s response to the event was “completely inappropriate.”
“People were simply trying to express themselves and to hold the sheriff accountable,” she said. “They shouldn’t be harassed or intimidated by law enforcement as they’re trying to do that, especially by the very law enforcement agency they’re trying to hold accountable.”
The news conference had been organized by the National Lawyers Guild in a lot by the South Los Angeles sheriff’s station to condemn the department’s use of force against protesters who have gathered nightly to demonstrate against Kizzee’s shooting. Dozens have been arrested as protesters and deputies clashed over Labor Day weekend and into this week.
The Sheriff’s Department has said protesters initiated confrontations by throwing rocks and bottles at deputies. But activists have said in interviews that the displays of force were unprovoked.
On Friday, yellow tape blocked off multiple sides of the news conference, which was held in a parking lot behind an El Pollo Loco. Several dozen people attended, including some who described being hit by projectiles or arrested by deputies without provocation. Meanwhile, on the other side of the tape, deputies looked on.
“I think it’s a problem when we’re holding a press conference and media is present that police feel a need to be in full body armor and surround us on three sides,” said Cynthia Anderson-Barker, a member of the executive board of the National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles. “We were almost kettled in, we were almost surrounded the way these demonstrators typically are at these demonstrations.”
As speakers shared experiences of being injured by deputies at the protests, deputies slowly worked on arranging a wire barrier around the group.
When the event ended, they began pushing the barrier forward more assertively and corralled members of the media, representatives of the National Lawyers Guild and others toward an exit.
Multiple people said they did not hear an order to disperse, and several deputies moving the wire would not answer when asked why people were being moved from a public place.
“Following orders,” one of them said.
Anderson-Barker said that the actions violated the right to free speech.
By about 1 p.m., the deputies had nearly sealed off the section of the parking lot where the news conference had taken place with the wire barrier. Alicia Brower, a 33-year-old photographer from Hollywood who had attended a protest this week, looked on as they advanced.
“They continue to do this, to paint their picture that we are animals and we are to be criminals and we are to be surrounded,” she said.
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