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In court, BLM says LAPD ‘failed completely’ to punish officers in protest abuses

LAPD Chief Michel Moore at protest
LAPD Chief Michel Moore speaks with protesters in the Fairfax District on May 30, 2020.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Activists with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and other protesters claimed in federal court Friday that the Los Angeles Police Department has “failed completely” to hold officers accountable for excessive force and other abuses during last year’s mass demonstrations.

Attorneys for the protesters made the claim in an amended complaint filed in their sweeping class-action lawsuit against the city, alleging the LAPD has failed to investigate serious cases of excessive force that have been documented by others, and unjustly ruled in favor of officers in cases it has reviewed.

Though the LAPD “announced the intention to ‘hold every officer accountable for their actions,’” the protesters’ attorneys wrote, “a year later, the LAPD has failed completely.”

The LAPD arrested thousands of people and cleared crowds with batons and hard-foam projectiles in late May and early June, as protesters gathered in the tens of thousands to decry the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police force in L.A. and around the country.

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Of the 73 allegations of less serious force, 33 have been resolved by the department with zero resulting in a finding that officers were in the wrong.

The unrest at times spiraled out of control, with stores being burglarized and set on fire. Police said they were restoring order; protesters said they instigated trouble.

The demonstrators’ lawsuit alleges that the city and LAPD command staff, including Police Chief Michel Moore, were complicit in and should be liable for abuses committed by officers that left protesters badly wounded and subject to inhumane detentions.

With their amended complaint, they argue a lack of punishment for the responsible officers further proves such complicity.

The case is far from settled, but a finding of liability on the city’s part could result in taxpayers having to pay out millions of dollars to injured demonstrators and others who had their rights violated. Past lawsuits over protest abuses have resulted in such payouts.

Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said the department could not comment on the pending litigation or the claims therein but urged the litigants to bring any allegations of excessive force that they feel haven’t been addressed by the LAPD directly to the department’s attention.

“We cannot assess it if it hasn’t been identified,” Spell said.

The department has previously defended its efforts to thoroughly investigate claims of officer misconduct, saying it devoted an entire team of internal affairs detectives to investigate hundreds of complaints and find answers.

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It also has acknowledged that few officers have been disciplined as a result.

Cited in the protesters’ amended complaint is a report the LAPD submitted to the civilian Police Commission in April acknowledging that internal affairs investigators had ruled on the side of officers in most protest cases.

The report noted the department received more than 600 allegations against officers, some of which were duplicate complaints about the same incident, and from those launched 210 investigations into 223 officers — including 73 related to the alleged use of non-deadly force and five involving the alleged use of deadly force.

A lawsuit alleging violent abuses of power by L.A. police during recent protests now includes more details on injuries suffered by demonstrators.

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The report found that of the 73 claims of less serious force, 33 had been resolved by the department — with none resulting in a finding that officers had misbehaved. The findings were in part based on a lack of information about which officers were involved or even where the alleged incidents had occurred, the department said. The other 40 cases remained under investigation at the time.

Officers have been found out of policy in several of the cases involving more serious force, including incidents in which protesters were hospitalized after being shot with projectile rounds.

Updated information on adjudicated and pending cases was not immediately available Friday.

In their complaint Friday, attorneys for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles argued that the department’s finding of zero officers in the wrong out of 33 adjudicated complaints about less serious force, and its identification of just five cases of more serious force, did not reflect reality.

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Carol Sobel, an attorney for the demonstrators, said instances of potentially deadly force — including some documented by The Times — number far greater than five.

“I don’t understand how they missed so much,” she said.

The amended complaint, which still has to be accepted by the court, is to be discussed during a scheduled hearing July 26. The Police Commission is to be briefed on the litigation Tuesday.


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