City OKs $12.85M to Settle May Day Lawsuits

LOS ANGELES -- Demonstrators who sued the city in the wake of a MacArthur Park May Day melee in which Los Angeles police fired about 12 dozen rubber bullets into the crowd will receive $12.85 million under a settlement approved Wednesday by the City Council.

The May 1, 2007, clash between police officers, demonstrators and journalists resulted in more than 300 claims and lawsuits. The settlement covers 297 individuals who were part of eight consolidated cases and a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court.

A federal judge must sign off on the terms of the settlement once it is approved by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has not yet commented on the council's vote. Preliminary approval by the court is scheduled for Feb. 13.

Journalists who were injured in the melee have separate cases pending in state court.

"This settles more than 90 percent of the cases filed in federal court by individuals protesting during the May Day demonstrations. In addition to covering the individuals, the settlement also covers the potential members of the class, namely the 5,000 individuals in the park, along with costs and legal fees," said Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office.

"Also included in the settlement were clarifications of LAPD policy as it pertains to demonstration activity. This will include training of LAPD employees as to these policy clarifications."

Attorney Carol Sobel with the National Lawyers Guild said the $12.85 million payout is the largest single settlement in a demonstration case anywhere in the country.

The settlement "means a tremendous amount," said Sobel, who represented some of the injured parties.

"It means that for everybody who was in MacArthur Park that day, they can now feel that their injuries were recognized by the city," Sobel said. "I think, too, that the settlement is really important for another reason, which is the city agreed that this case needed to be settled and that money didn't need to be spent on lawyers to litigate it."

After reviewing the incident for more than a year, Los Angeles Police Department brass recommended that four officers be fired for their actions that day.

The Board of Rights also recommended that three officers receive official reprimands; five officers receive three-day suspensions; two officers receive a five-day suspension; and one officer receive a 10-day suspension.

What had been a peaceful rally in support of rights for immigrants turned violent when 20 to 30 people threw rocks and bottles at police officers, who responded by firing rubber bullets into the crowd, injuring more than 200 people.

"The settlement reflects that there were inadequate command and control procedures in place that day," said Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

An extensive report released by the LAPD in October 2007 determined that a lack of planning, training and orderly supervision hampered officers on May Day and led to the violent end.

According to that report, 246 people reported injuries that ranged from bruises to broken bones to emotional distress.

When the findings were released, police Chief William Bratton stood before more than a dozen television cameras and reporters and said he was sorry for the department's reaction to the May 1 protest.

"This is an event that I deeply regret. I accept full responsibility for it because it occurred on my watch. My apologies to the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department and to the public," he said then.

The multimillion-dollar payout comes one week after the council approved a $20.5 million settlement for four police officers who were prosecuted during the corruption probe of the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division, and later had their convictions overturned.

The city will pay for both settlements through the issuance of bonds.

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