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Los Angeles Police Response to Immigration Rally Probed

May 3, 2007 at 6:15 PM EDT

JEFFREY KAYE, Reporter, KCET: Images of Los Angeles police officers clubbing demonstrators and journalists during an immigrants’ rights rally on Tuesday have been widely seen on television and the Internet.

This morning, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton called the incident “an aberration.” He says he’s asked the FBI to launch its own investigation, an investigation he says will demonstrate the department’s commitment to professionalism.

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, Los Angeles Police Department: We have nothing to hide, in the sense of our investigation of it, but particularly to push back on anybody who would seek for their own purposes to capitalize on an unfortunate incident, that this is part of some larger scheme to push back on immigrants or immigrants’ rights marches.

JEFFREY KAYE: The clashes in L.A.’s MacArthur Park were preceded by a day of largely peaceful demonstrations. Police said problems erupted when some protestors they described as “agitators” started pelting them with bottles and rocks.

Officers said demonstrators did not heed, or maybe couldn’t understand, instructions issued in English to disperse. The police then began clearing the crowd with batons. They fired 240 rounds of rubber bullets. Among those struck were men, women, and children participating in the rally, and journalists who were gathered to cover it.

Injuries at the confrontation

JEFFREY KAYE: A man carrying an American flag was hit.

PROTESTOR: With a police baton, they hit me four times.

JEFFREY KAYE: As many as 20 people were injured in the confrontation.

ANGELICA SALAS, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights: I saw women with their children on strollers trying to quickly get out of there. We believe that what the police has done is unacceptable.

JEFFREY KAYE: One Spanish-language network, Telemundo, was reporting live from the scene, when riot police nearly knocked over the anchor. After being pushed, a local FOX television reporter confronted police.

The video, a snippet of hundreds of hours shot at the scene, will be part of three official investigations into whether the officers' response was justified.

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON: Investigators are still collecting physical evidence, which includes video coverage on the local media, the LAPD video unit, and video from surveillance cameras that are scattered throughout the park. Investigators will be interviewing injured members of the media later this afternoon. They will also work to identify the officers involved in the uses of force.

Previous lawsuit

JEFFREY KAYE: The altercation has galvanized the immigrant community and their leaders, who called the police action "brutal."

PROTEST LEADER: I was there when the police opened fire on the crowd. No dispersal order was given; no warning was given. The violence was unprovoked and, you know, there are reports that a few bottles were thrown.

But police response needs to be justified. It needs to be proportional. And the people in the park had no idea this was coming. And many people were injured by completely out-of-control police department.

CYNTHIA ANDERSON-BARKER, National Lawyers Guild: In 2000, the police, LAPD, attacked a crowd of demonstrators with these so called "less than lethal weapons," rubber bullets. And hundreds of people were injured. We sued them successfully. They had to pay out to the victims $1.2 million, the LAPD.

This year, the LAPD did it again at the demonstration in MacArthur Park, and they did not reform their policies. They did not reform their tactics. They attacked the crowd indiscriminately.

Concerns about use of force

JEFFREY KAYE: The park where the melee took place is quiet today, but the incident has reignited long-time concerns about the Los Angeles Police Department's use of force and its relationship with the immigrant community.

The LAPD has been under federal supervision since 2001 to monitor its use of force, treatment of minorities, and tracking of officers' behavior in the field.

Angelica Salas, the director of L.A.'s Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights, helped organize Tuesday's protest and was in the park during the clash. She says department officials need to better discipline rank-and-file officers who are hostile to immigrants.

ANGELICA SALAS: May 1st, from our perspective, and the manner in which the LAPD acted, was a horrible demonstration of some of the sentiments of some of the officers within the Los Angeles Police Department, who feel that they do not have the duty to protect the immigrant community in this city, and that there is a disconnect between the chief's support, the mayor's support, and the belief that everybody in the city should be protected, and very vocal members of the rank and file, who feel that their duty is to arrest and to punish the undocumented who are living in the city of Los Angeles.

Police chief promises review

JEFFREY KAYE: But Chief Bratton today told reporters he's proud of his department's relationship with L.A.'s immigrant communities.

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON: We are a city of immigrants. And this department, with myself as chief, we are committed to working with those communities. And we have made it quite clear that the Los Angeles Police Department is very desirous of working to secure the rights of the community and not abuse them.

JEFFREY KAYE: Chief Bratton says the police department's treatment of demonstrators and journalists did not follow policy, and today he promised top-to-bottom reviews and retraining.