ACLU of Southern California Asks Court to Address L.A. Police Action at MacArthur Park

May 17, 2007 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – Today the ACLU of Southern California asked a judge to evaluate the May 1 actions by the L.A. Police Department’s Metropolitan Division in light of the federal consent decree adopted in the wake of the Rampart brutality scandal.

“While the police department has addressed some of the endemic problems exposed by the Rampart investigation, the similarities between Rampart and the actions of police on May 1 are striking,” said ACLU Southern California Executive Director Ramona Ripston. “In both cases, an elite unit seemed to act under its own orders, driven by a warrior culture that tolerates use of excessive force against civilians.”

The ACLU of Southern California requests a hearing with U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess to probe training, reporting and supervision of the Metropolitan Division and explore whether assignment rules that kept senior officers in the elite unit for years fed a warrior culture and code of silence that led to the melee.

On May 1, officers in Metropolitan Division Platoon B wielded batons and fired 150 projectiles into crowds gathered for a peaceful rally. Like the CRASH gang units that committed the Rampart abuses, the elite unit’s actions may be the result of “an insular subculture and strong code of loyalty that makes reporting of misconduct unlikely,” the filing states.

Police have announced several investigations into the incident, but none will “specifically confront the questions of the relationship of the Decree to what occurred, examining why the letter and spirit of the Decree were not followed,” the filing states. The court-appointed monitor of the consent decree, Michael Cherkasky, called for a full examination of the Metropolitan Division in his May 15 quarterly report. The ACLU of Southern California’s filing asks the court to give the monitor’s inquiry more specific direction.

“There are two federal court orders now in effect, and they didn’t stop police on May 1. How did that happen?” asked ACLU of Southern California Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum, referring to the consent decree and the settlement of the ACLU of Southern California’s lawsuit over police abuse of media during the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

The ACLU of Southern California successfully argued for a three-year extension of the consent decree in May 2006, citing evidence of racial bias in traffic stops and the department’s failure to implement the TEAMS II computer system that tracks officer disciplinary records. The city signed the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000 to head off a federal lawsuit, and the ACLU of Southern California intervened in 2001 to ensure citizens’ civil rights are protected.

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