FBI to investigate immigration rally

Updated: 2007-05-04 09:15
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LOS ANGELES - The FBI will open a civil rights inquiry into the Los Angeles Police Department's actions at an immigration rally where officers cleared a city park by wielding batons and firing rubber bullets, the bureau said Thursday.

The preliminary inquiry seeks to determine "whether the civil rights of protesters taking part in the May 1st immigration rally were violated," according to an FBI news release.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said earlier Thursday that he planned to meet next week with the head of the FBI's Los Angeles office, Assistant Director in Charge J. Stephen Tidwell, to see if Tuesday's clashes at MacArthur Park were "something the bureau would become involved with."

"We'll share information and make a decision at that time," Bratton said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I have no issues with the FBI coming in ... and taking a look at it."

The FBI probe is the fourth official investigation of the violence. The U.S. Department of Justice will review the bureau's results and decide whether to initiate a full-fledge investigation.

Police investigators plan to review extensive video of Tuesday's rally, where police clashed with a crowd in MacArthur Park, wielding batons and firing 240 rubber bullets.

Bratton said in an appearance on CBS's "Early Show" that he was "not happy" when he watched videotape of the events.

The chief said he hoped a federal review would show the department has nothing to hide while dispelling any claims that police had targeted immigrants or immigrant rights activists. Rally organizers decried the police behavior as brutal.

The clashes started around 6 p.m. Tuesday, when police tried to disperse demonstrators who moved into a street, according to rally organizers and reporters. Officers used batons to push the crowd back to the sidewalk after several people threw rocks and bottles at them, then cleared the park, authorities said.

News images showed police hitting a TV cameraman to the ground, shoving people who were walking away from officers and injuries from the rubber bullets. Bratton has said the use of force occurred while officers were trying to deal with 50 to 100 "agitators" who were trying to provoke police.

A police order to disperse probably wasn't effective because it was in English and given from a helicopter, Bratton said Wednesday. Many at the protest were Spanish speakers, he said.

Seven officers suffered minor injuries, and another was pushed off his motorcycle. About 10 other people were treated for minor injuries, though authorities expected the number to rise.

The Police Department has opened two investigations, one to create an "after-action report" that evaluates planning and operations, and another by internal affairs to probe complaints against officers.

An independent review also has been undertaken by the investigative arm of the city's civilian Police Commission, a five-member board of mayoral appointees that sets policy for the Police Department.

Police union leaders urged against a "rush to judgment."

"Our officers gave a legal dispersal order and were met with violence. In the coming days it will become clear what transpired," Los Angeles Police Protective League President Bob Baker said in a news release.

News organizations condemned the department for its use of batons and riot guns against members of the media.

"We are sorry for what happened to our employees and find it unacceptable that they would be abused in that way when they were doing their job," said Alfredo Richard, spokesman for the Spanish-language network Telemundo, whose anchor and reporter were hurt.