LAPD officer accused of using baton to hit man who was on his knees

A new report questions the effectiveness of an early warning system to flag problem officers that the LAPD implemented to reform itself after the Rampart scandal. Shown, Los Angeles Police Department Administration building.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles police officer allegedly caught on video as he used a baton to repeatedly strike a man who was on his knees has been charged with two felony assault counts, authorities said Wednesday afternoon.

Officer Jonathan Lai, a six-year Los Angeles Police Department veteran, pleaded not guilty during an arraignment Wednesday to one count each of assault by a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon.

Lai is accused of striking the man April 15, 2012, outside a restaurant near Staples Center, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said.

“The restaurant’s security video allegedly shows Lai repeatedly using his police baton to strike the man who was on his knees with his hands on his head,” prosecutors said in a statement.


Police Department officials said Wednesday that the video was discovered by LAPD detectives who were conducting a use-of-force investigation.

Lai and his partner, who were working in the LAPD’s Central Division, were removed from field duties pending the outcome of the investigation, police officials said. The department referred the case to the district attorney’s office.

“The LAPD carefully reviews incidents involving the use of force and we conduct thorough investigations to ensure that officers are held accountable for violating policies and going beyond the law,” Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “I am always concerned when an officer is accused of violating the public’s trust.”

The chief vowed to work closely with the LAPD’s internal watchdog and prosecutors to “prevent these types of incidents in the future.”

Lai surrendered to authorities Wednesday morning. Bail was set at $35,000. Lai is scheduled to return to the downtown criminal courthouse Aug. 21 to set a date for a preliminary hearing. If convicted, he faces up to four years in state prison.

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