A journalist accused the LAPD of assault. Then police tried to have him prosecuted
When the Dodgers won the World Series last October, celebrations around the stadium and downtown devolved into vandalism, theft and tense standoffs between revelers and police.
Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department declared the chaotic scenes unlawful and ordered fans to disperse. In the end, at least 18 people were arrested for an array of alleged offenses.
Lexis-Olivier Ray, a freelance journalist who covered the upheaval for the news website L.A. Taco, was not among those arrested. But last month he received a letter from the Los Angeles city attorney’s office notifying him that he faced a criminal charge for failing to follow an LAPD officer’s order to disperse during the tumult.
The decision by the LAPD to bring a case against Ray to the city attorney’s office for prosecution has drawn scrutiny among free press advocates, who worry the journalist was singled out as retaliation for a viral video he recorded of heavy-handed tactics LAPD officers used against him and others as they tried to break up one of the crowds downtown.
That concern was amplified by a Times review of police and city attorney records that found the journalist was the only person among the hundreds in the streets after the Dodgers’ victory whom the LAPD sought to have charged with failing to disperse.
“It seems to us, based on what we know and the general tenor of these things, this can’t help but have a severe chilling effect on his future reporting,” said Joel Bellman, the advocacy committee chair for the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Shortly after midnight on Oct. 28, Ray published a video to Twitter showing a group of LAPD officers charging toward him, shoving him down and raising their batons as he screamed he was “press.” The video amassed more than 400,000 views on Twitter and prompted the LAPD to open an internal affairs investigation.
Ray has since described what happened in the video as an attack that left him “battered with lacerations” and also resulted in damage to his camera.
Ray said he was carrying an L.A. Taco badge that identified him as a journalist and that he showed it to officers. He did not possess the formal press credentials that the LAPD and L.A. County Sheriff’s Department issue.
Police did not arrest or cite Ray for committing any crime that night. It was not until a week later, on Nov. 3, that an officer wrote a report alleging Ray had refused an LAPD dispersal order, according to Capt. Stacy Spell, a department spokesman.
In all, 19 cases were presented to the city attorney’s office by the LAPD and California Highway Patrol for alleged offenses committed in downtown or Echo Park during the post-World Series fracas, according to The Times’ review of city attorney records. Prosecutors in the city attorney’s office declined to file charges against 16 of those people. Ray was the only person either agency sought charges against for failing to disperse.
After he received a letter in February informing him he might be charged with a crime, Ray said he was instructed to attend what the city attorney’s office called an “informal hearing.” At the meeting earlier this month, he said a prosecutor told him the office would hold off on its case against him as long as he stayed out of trouble, but warned that the failure to disperse charge could be filed if he ran afoul of law enforcement again before next October.
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, declined to comment on why the office pursued a case against a journalist.
Spell did not say why officers declined to arrest or cite Ray at the time but later chose to pursue charges against him. He said an officer who had encountered Ray in the street took time off from work following the raucous celebrations and submitted an investigative report on Nov. 3 alleging the journalist violated the dispersal order.
Spell also did not comment on the fact that the LAPD pursued a failure to disperse charge against no one but Ray.
During protests and large gatherings last year, the LAPD was quick to arrest people for failing to disperse and other minor offenses. During a week of mass protests last summer that followed the killings by police of George Floyd and other Black men and women, the department arrested more than 3,700 people for violating a curfew or dispersal order, or for failing to obey a police officer, records show.
Ray said he believes the LAPD’s decision to pursue charges against him was retaliation for his allegations of violence against the LAPD and for reporting that is often critical of the agency.
“I find it difficult to believe that there isn’t a connection between my recent investigative reporting and the notice that I received from the City Attorney’s office,” he wrote in an email to The Times. “It’s disheartening to learn that I was the only person charged with failure to disperse that night as I am just working in good faith to keep our communities informed and hold our local officials accountable.”
The LAPD’s handling of Ray’s case seemed to run counter to orders it gave its own officers following the Dodgers celebrations. Two days after Ray’s video went viral, LAPD Deputy Chief Dominic Choi issued a departmentwide memo instructing officers and field commanders to respect the rights of reporters during demonstrations whether or not they had formal press credentials.
“The inability to produce identification does not preclude an individual from acting as a member of the media,” the memo read.
Ray is the latest in a string of journalists to be swept up by police while covering protests or other tumultuous events.
In September, for example, L.A. County sheriff’s deputies violently tackled KPCC reporter Josie Huang and arrested her on claims she had interfered with the arrest of a man outside of a hospital where two deputies were being treated for gunshot wounds. L.A. County prosecutors quickly rejected the Sheriff’s Department’s allegations.
Law enforcement officials in Minneapolis and elsewhere came under heavy criticism after police fired on multiple reporters with foam rounds and pepper spray during protests following Floyd’s killing. In one instance, a CNN reporter was arrested on live television. Last week, prosecutors in Iowa put a Des Moines Register reporter on trial after she was arrested covering protests last year. The reporter was acquitted.
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