At least 76 arrested in downtown L.A. following Lakers’ championship win

LAPD officers on horses clear the area near L.A. Live, declaring an unlawful assembly.
LAPD officers on horses clear the area near L.A. Live, declaring an unlawful assembly, after the Lakers’ win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

At least 76 people were arrested in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday night following the Lakers’ NBA championship win, marking the latest confrontation between LAPD officers and a large street crowd in a year already shaped by mass protests.

The Los Angeles Police Department said the alleged activities included vandalism, unlawful assembly and failure to disperse after a crowd of more than 2,000 converged near Staples Center following the team’s 106-93 win against the Miami Heat in Orlando, Fla., its 17th NBA championship title.

Chants of “Kobe, Kobe” were heard as fans paid tribute to Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January. But the celebratory mood quickly soured as the scene devolved into another roving standoff between police in riot gear and throngs of people on the street — some without masks despite the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Again, social media lit up with videos of police on skirmish lines driving crowds of people along L.A. streets, at times by firing hard foam projectiles at them. Footage captured flash-bang firecrackers and bottles being lobbed through the air in the direction of police. There was an MTA bus taken over and people doing burnouts in the street, sending rubber flying.

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Fans gather near Staples Center to celebrate the Lakers' NBA Finals win Sunday.
Fans gather near Staples Center on Sunday to celebrate the Lakers’ 106-93 victory over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Instead of protesters demanding justice and denouncing police brutality, as was seen during huge demonstrations this summer, it was sports fans in happy — and in some instances drunken and destructive — revelry, sour at police for halting their fun and angry at the force being used to do it.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore took to Twitter to urge fans to “celebrate responsibly,” but reports of vandalism and firecrackers began pouring in as the night wore on, including about the Metro bus that was briefly set ablaze and a Starbucks that was ransacked near 9th and Flower streets.

By Monday morning, the Starbucks was partially boarded up, and cleaning crews were out power-washing sidewalks and scrubbing graffiti off walls. Among more obscure scrawling on windows, parking signs and the streets themselves were anti-police messages and more remembrances of Bryant. Much of the damage was around Olympic Boulevard and Hope Street, a short distance from Staples Center.

Mayor Eric Garcetti weighed in Monday afternoon, writing on Twitter that L.A. is “thrilled” with the win and “grateful” to those who celebrated at home.

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“Remember that gathering in big groups is still unsafe,” Garcetti wrote. “Vandalism of businesses and public places, and causing harm to our officers will not be tolerated.”

Steve Soboroff, a member of the civilian Police Commission that oversees the LAPD, also tweeted, writing that "#realLakerfans” don’t vandalize stores or attack police officers. “Disrespectful to @Lakers past and present,” Soboroff wrote.

Neither official acknowledged the members of the crowd who were wounded by police.

Fans said the celebration turned violent when police responded by firing hard foam and plastic projectiles at throngs of people after bottles and other items were thrown by the crowd.

The LAPD confirmed that at least three people were injured by “less lethal munitions” and were taken to area hospitals. Eight officers were also injured and received medical treatment, and more than 30 buildings and establishments were damaged, the department said.

Multiple social media reports appeared to show police firing projectiles. In one video, a man screamed at police to help a woman who he said had been shot by one of their rounds. In another, a reporter captured an officer firing a projectile right at him, knocking the camera phone from his hands.

The California Highway Patrol closed the Pico Boulevard and 9th Street offramps from the 110 Freeway, as well as the Pico Boulevard offramp from the 10 Freeway, until shortly after 1 a.m.

LAPD Deputy Chief Vito Palazzolo, who oversees the Central Bureau, which includes downtown L.A., said “it was disappointing to see” so many revelers descend on downtown.

“With COVID, we were hoping people would stay home.”

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Palazzolo said stores were vandalized and scooters were strewn across streets when he left downtown around 4 a.m.

“The place was a mess,” he said.

A man holds up a Kobe Bryant Boulevard sign as fans celebrate after the Lakers' win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

He noted police have already gathered some images of crimes being committed, including the MTA bus being set on fire, and will be putting out photographs and asking the public for help identifying suspects.

It’s not the first time a Lakers victory has resulted in unrest: Rowdy fans, violence and property damage occurred after the team’s wins in 2000, 2009 and 2010, and the department made dozens of arrests in the aftermath.

Palazzolo said that the department tried to act swiftly Sunday to avoid a repeat of the past, and that more than 300 police officers were deployed after the final buzzer declared the Lakers champions.

Fans said the celebration did not warrant what they viewed as a violent response from the LAPD, regardless of champagne bottles being thrown, fireworks, cars doing doughnuts and a procession of high-octane cars and trucks moving through downtown.

A multimedia journalist for L.A. TACO captured at least one instance in which a young man who confronted officers near a street corner was pushed by an officer to the ground. The man seemingly lost consciousness as his head and body fell back onto the sidewalk. He lay there motionless, while other people attempted to revive him and eventually dragged him away.

During a news briefing last week, L.A. County‘s health officer, Dr. Muntu Davis, reminded Lakers fans that a championship victory should not supersede COVID-19 health guidelines.

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“There always is that concern that people will gather, and I want to remind people we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. We’re still seeing a high number of cases,” Davis said.

The team returned to Los Angeles Monday after more than three months of living in an isolated “bubble” near Orlando to prevent the spread of the virus, but the victory parade that typically commemorates major sports wins probably will not happen this year due to COVID-19 concerns.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday some of the images coming out of Los Angeles after the game were of “obvious concern as it relates to the transmission of the virus” and urged fans to celebrate responsibly.

“We ask people to be cautious, to be mindful, as they celebrate this historic victory, and celebrate one of the greatest basketball players that has ever lived, LeBron James,” Newsom said.

The majority of people in the crowd did appear to wear face masks in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, but the LAPD’s attempts to make people follow other rules fell flat. At least one person was hospitalized after a firework exploded in his hand.

“We were hoping for better,” Palazzolo said, “but based on the previous championship, we were ready.”

The events, however, revived questions about LAPD crowd control tactics after a summer of clashes between police and protesters.

Fans gather near Staples Center to celebrate the Lakers' NBA Finals win over the Miami Heat on Sunday.
Fans gather near Staples Center to celebrate the Lakers’ NBA Finals win over the Miami Heat on Sunday.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

The LAPD was already facing a major lawsuit from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other activists and protesters over its use of projectiles during the summer protests. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to block any future use of the weapons on crowds, and their use Sunday night could bolster their claims that such force is an ongoing threat to those who choose to gather in crowds in L.A.

Sunday’s events also raised new fiscal questions for the department given the $150-million cut to the LAPD budget this year — which was predicated largely on the idea that the savings would be secured through overtime reductions.

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It wasn’t immediately clear what the financial cost to the department was on Monday. Given the reduction to its multibillion-dollar budget, the LAPD has slashed overtime spending dramatically this year — but emergencies that draw officers out in force undercut that approach.

On Sunday night, the LAPD was on tactical alert — drawing officers from around the city to the area around Staples Center — for five hours.

Fans gather near Staples Center to celebrate after the Lakers' win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said Monday morning that it was “much too early to tell” how much overtime was spent Sunday night, in part because the tactical alert would have redirected officers already on duty away from low-priority calls elsewhere in the city to the downtown area, while others who responded would have been working overtime — and it will take time to discern between the two.

On Monday morning, Joanna Cotton and her family arrived in downtown L.A. after a road trip from San Diego, wanting to take in the team’s victory after a difficult year. Cotton had cried the night before, thinking of Bryant. The Lakers’ win was what she needed amid the worst of 2020.

“It gives you a reason to exhale,” she said. “You got a glimpse of some normalcy.”

“It gave you a chance to put your guard down for a minute,” said her daughter Brittany Cotton, 30.

A man walks by broken windows at a Jersey Mike's near Staples Center after Sunday night's Lakers celebration.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

They drove up Monday even though they knew there wouldn’t be the traditional victory parade, given the pandemic. About 10 a.m., they walked to Staples Center and glanced at the bronze statues of former Lakers stars Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.

Joanna Cotton said the aftermath of the night before — still apparent in damaged storefronts — was a “shame.”

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Still, the victory was sweet.

“The way the boys played, that was Lakers basketball,” she said. “We’re back.”