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L.A. says it will not charge peaceful protesters after mass arrests



Faced with mounting criticism over arrests of hundreds of peaceful protesters, Los Angeles senior officials said Sunday they will not pursue criminal or financial sanctions against the protesters.

The decision follows complaints from many of those arrested for spending hours in plastic handcuffs in jammed buses without justification, leaving them with injuries and potentially exposing them to coronavirus. Many of them were taken into custody last week for either violating curfew rules or failing to spread after the LAPD declared their protest illegal.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California and Black Lives Matter L.A. claims that curfew illegally suppressed constitutionally protected protests and violated people̵

7;s freedom of movement. The organizations also have decried videos showing police officers responding with violence to protesters, including swinging batons and firing of foam and sponge projectiles.

These advocates said the city’s new position does not resolve all of the concerns outlined in the lawsuit. They added that officials should not waffle over consequences, but rather dismiss the charges immediately.

“Given what we’ve seen this week in terms of how the LAPD enforced the curfew – the many videos and news reports of excessive force and ambush tactics – any city attorney’s office to force people to defend against curfew would mean sanctioning police repression, ”said Adrienna Wong, senior staff attorney at the ACLU.

Although city officials said these protesters will not face criminal charges, it is still unclear how authorities plan to resolve their cases.

By Atty. Mike Feuer said the process will be “non-punitive” and “out of court,” and Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said officials are inclined to accommodate anyone not suspected of vandalism.

Moore said the process will focus on educating those arrested on the legal grounds for curfews and diversion orders, “so people are more equipped to understand their responsibilities if they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.”

Moore and Feuer declined to elaborate, but said more information would be available Monday.

Police and prosecutors are still pursuing cases against people charged with more serious crimes. Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for Feuer, said the city attorney’s office had received at least 30 plea cases from police. The Los Angeles Police Department has formed a task force with other agencies, including the FBI and Santa Monica Police Department, to also gather evidence and pursue further charges.

“Ultimately, people who have committed major crimes such as looting, burglary, robbery, vandalism, arson and assault with great bodily harm will be held responsible for their actions in the last days,” the LAPD said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered a curfew for the night for five consecutive nights after protests in downtown and Fairfax district were damaged by incidents of looting and arson a week ago. Sometimes the curfews were issued and changed quickly, creating confusion.

Police used the curfews as well as orders declaring large assemblies illegal, as a justification for sweeping people off the streets in huge numbers – possibly in the thousands – amid an all-hands-on-deck mobilization effort. Some welcomed the crash to restore order, but others lauded it as a powerful response to legitimate protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and other police killings of black people in cities across the U.S.

Curfew was also used by Los Angeles County and surrounding municipalities as well as other major cities that experienced similar unrest and protests throughout the country. Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties were also targeted by the ACLU and Black Lives Matter L.A. lawsuits.

L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, whose office would handle curfew violations in parts of the county without their own local prosecutor’s office, said her office “won’t pursue” curfew cases.

She said she supports the First Amendment and that her office has more important cases to pursue.

Lacey’s opponent in the upcoming race for district attorney, George Gascón, has called for dismissal of all such cases.

L.A. county sheriff Alex Villanueva said his agency made 475 arrests and would forward its cases to local prosecutors, leaving it to them to determine the proper course of action.

The lawsuit gave voice to many in the streets who rejected the exit association’s legitimacy and ended up in so-called flex cuffs in spite of them. Moore said he personally spoke with those arrested, who dismissed even the notion that police were justified in arresting them for peacefully protesting.

Many credited the ACLU and Black Lives Matter L.A. lawsuits with ending the curfew. Lawsuits surrounding mass arrests have moved the needle before and forced the city to pay out expensive settlements. Such settlements cost the city nearly $ 13 million following a May Day protest in 2007 and $ 2.45 million following arrests at Occupy L.A. demonstrations in 2011.

Moore said the elevation of the curfew this time had more to do with the increasingly peaceful nature of protests in the city, which continued this weekend without major incidents.

“As soon as we had a quiet night, [and] we saw commercial burglaries fall and return to more reasonable levels, there was no need for the control agent anymore, ”Moore said.

Early on, each protester detained for a spending violation was cuffed and transported to a treatment center, sometimes miles from where the person was arrested. Some spent hours aboard buses.

Moore said the process served a purpose in removing people from situations that the police department believed had grown unsafe, both for officers and protesters, and allows the department to restore order to the streets.

He said the department kept those arrested outside correctional facilities after hearing concerns from local community leaders about curfew providers being exposed to coronavirus. The last two nights of curfew orders, Moore said, police released some offenders at the scene after only a brief detention.

How the LAPD handled curfew providers will be part of a much larger, ongoing review of the department’s actions that marks a turn out of readiness and into a more expanded phase of reflection, officials said – including assessing whether police response in this the historical moment was too much or too little.

“I understand the criticism from both sides. I appreciate it. And I’ve committed to researching and determining and bringing to these critics on all sides a review of what happened, “Moore said. “We have already begun the process of collecting the information.”

Critics say enforcement of the curfew unfairly affected homeless people and individuals who came and went to work, despite both groups being exempt from the order.

Amanda Young, 27, of San Pedro said she and a friend were arrested for curfew violations while peacefully protesting after police surrounded them near L.A. town hall Tuesday night.

“It was really kind of weird because they were all screaming” Go home! “But no one would let you leave,” she said. “How can you give me an order and then not let me fulfill that order?”

Young, who works at the front desk of an animal hospital, said she worries about a hefty fine, and officials who say such sanctions will not be pursued did not immediately make her feel better.

“I think I will believe it when I see it, as far as I know, I still have to appear in court on November 4,” she said.

The LAPD is also conducting other contingencies and has changed its strategy for dealing with protests, Moore said.

For example, police tracked 35 different marches and protests in the city on Saturday, he said. In the vast majority, police left protesters alone and staged officers a few blocks away in case they were needed, the chief said.

Police were criticized for staging large numbers of previous protests and escalating tensions with protesters. They have also been accused of excessive force, including in many incidents captured on camera. Several of these incidents are now under review.

Four officers involved in pulling a driver out of a vehicle in Van Nuys after smashing the driver’s side window have been assigned administrative duties pending an investigation, Moore said. He said he was unaware other officers had changed their status due to incidents involving protesters.

City Councilman Mike Bonin sent a letter to Moore over the weekend demanding a broad investigation into “not just individual cases, but of underlying policies and strategic decisions” by police.

Moore said the National Guard is leaving the city on Sunday, but about 250 employees would remain on standby at a nearby military facility.

The police chief said the LAPD is also starting to demobilize itself. About half the officers in the force would have their first days off in a week Monday and Tuesday, and the other half Wednesday and Thursday, he said.




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