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LAPD arrests dozens, declaring election-night gathering near Staples Center unlawful

A protester confronts an LAPD officer in downtown Los Angeles on election night.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Fifty-one people were arrested on election night near Staples Center, many of them on suspicion of failure to disperse, and 30 others were cited after the LAPD declared the gatherings unlawful, authorities said Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Police Department earlier said there had been 54 people arrested but later adjusted the count. Dozens of officers were dispatched as protests emerged during the night.

They arrested several who had been tracked as they walked the streets together throughout the evening. Police in riot gear surrounded the group near Washington Boulevard and South Grand Avenue, cuffed their hands in zip ties and loaded them onto buses about 11 p.m.

“They were running around downtown causing trouble,” LAPD Deputy Chief Vito Palazzolo said. “We gave them every opportunity to disperse and they chose to remain, so we made the decision to make arrests.”

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Among those arrested were demonstrators as well as legal observers — and some who argued that they were innocent bystanders caught in the police roundup. All were loaded onto white-and-navy buses and driven away as a small group left behind screamed at the police and cried “We love you!” to those on the buses.

Richard Ybarra, interim executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, said five legal observers wearing the organization’s trademark green hats were among those arrested, and he expressed frustration with the LAPD’s actions toward the attorneys.

“It’s very unusual. The LAPD is well aware of our role there,” Ybarra said.

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Activist groups are already calling for more people to take to the streets Wednesday as the presidential election remains undecided and vote counting continues in a handful of battleground states.

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Fifty-four people are arrested and 30 others are cited on election night.

A few people who had been detained were released late Tuesday, including a 17-year-old who said he, his sister and his friend who uses a wheelchair had just gotten off a Metro train on Washington Boulevard when officers “started running in from both sides, yelling, ‘Move, move, move!’ ” he said.

“Everyone was like, ‘Move where? You’re boxing us in!’”

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The arrests followed the brief detention hours earlier of at least six people on suspicion of carrying items banned at protests by city law, the LAPD said. Those six were released not long after.

Repeatedly, police announced to crowds around the downtown entertainment complex and along streets nearby that they had formed unlawful assemblies and had to disperse or face arrest.

Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said all the arrests late Tuesday were related to dispersal orders.

Spell did not identify the banned items the detained individuals were suspected of carrying, but noted that the LAPD had issued warnings earlier in the day that a range of items, including large sticks, shields and laser pointers, are restricted at such gatherings.

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Protesters jump a fence to get away from LAPD officers after getting hemmed in at 18th and Figueroa streets
Protesters jump a fence to get away from LAPD officers after getting hemmed in at 18th and Figueroa streets in downtown Los Angeles on election night.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Chip Sneed, 24, an independent photographer from Orange County, said he was detained after he stepped behind a police line to listen to a briefing from a captain. The captain noticed him and told an officer to check his press credentials.

When Sneed said he didn’t have credentials, the captain ordered him detained, he said.

“Specifically, I heard him say, ‘He’s antifa surveillance,’ ” Sneed said. “That’s a direct quote.”

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Police clear protesters from 18th Street in downtown Los Angeles on election night.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Sneed said he walked forward with his hands on his head because he “wasn’t trying to get my nose broken.” He was then lined up with others against a wall of the L.A. Convention Center for about an hour, their hands zip-tied behind them as police searched their belongings, photographed them and took note of their tattoos, Sneed said.

Some of those who were detained were wearing helmets and protection for their chests, knees and elbows. Sneed, who has covered recent protests and unrest in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., was carrying a gas mask in his backpack.

Some in the crowd flung water bottles in the direction of officers.

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Earlier Tuesday, the L.A. City Council made it illegal to wield laser pointers at protests after LAPD officials complained officers had suffered eye injuries when the devices were pointed at them during protests this year.

Firearms and other weapons, bats, shields, flammable liquids, bricks and rocks, among other items, are also illegal.

In the lead-up to election night, LAPD officials warned that violence or destruction of property would not be tolerated. All officers were put on tactical alert Tuesday and police on city streets was ramped up considerably, officials said.

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LAPD officers arrest a protester along Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles on election night.
LAPD officers arrest a protester along Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles on election night.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The quick crackdown was part of a new approach ordered by Police Chief Michel Moore. Moore has instructed field commanders to act early and swiftly to declare gatherings unlawful if crowds grow disruptive and not to wait for violence to ratchet up, according to two sources familiar with the department’s decision making.

Police preparing for a charged election day already face record early voter turnout, allegations of vote fraud and suppression.

The change comes after large crowds that gathered after the Dodgers and Lakers victories last month and during major protests against police brutality this summer devolved into chaos and clashes with police on skirmish lines. Many protesters and police were injured in those incidents, and dozens of stores were damaged.

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Police said they would staff up and pre-deploy officers in large numbers to avoid anything similar from happening on election night.

At Staples Center on Tuesday evening, officers were wearing helmets and carrying batons. Some held rifles that fire hard-foam projectiles.

By 8:15, after a crowd of about 100 was ordered to disperse, the crowd had thinned considerably. Then, shortly after 9:30 p.m., LAPD declared another gathering unlawful — this one near South Figueroa and West 18th streets.

According to a department statement, about “30 individuals were cited for being in the intersection,” while “approximately 40 individuals were arrested for blocking the train tracks” in the area “and failing to disperse after an unlawful assembly was declared.”

Earlier in the evening, the mood had been light and there was an excitement as election results were flowing in from around the country while the last stragglers cast their votes at the Staples Center polling center.

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Bruce Harper, 52, traveled from San Bernardino with his fiancee, Mariana Franco, 47, to take “part in the excitement.”

“I’m really surprised with what happened at the end,” Harper said of the police dispersal of the crowd. “This was a peaceful gathering. We’ve been here for hours and nothing bad was happening.”

A rally and news conference were held Tuesday for 20-year-old activist Tianna Arata, who was arrested during an antiracism protest last month in San Luis Obispo.

Franco said she was unaware of what started the clash between the crowd and police but was sad to see the crowd leave.

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“It was great to be a part of this,” she said.

South Park resident Teresa Hillery, who lives about two blocks from Staples Center, came out to see the commotion. It’s been a frustrating couple of months for Hillery, as protests and celebrations have repeatedly occurred in her neighborhood.

“As a community, we deserve to be protected, too, not just AEG and the Staples Center,” said Hillery, referring to the Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owner of Staples Center. “Whenever something happens here, the police go out of their way to protect AEG property and push protesters into our community.”

Times staff writers James Queally and Luke Money contributed to this report.


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