After a violent brawl broke out at an Orange County park between KKK members and counter-protesters, Anaheim police released the Klan members Sunday, saying evidence supports they acted in self-defense.
Five of the 12 originally arrested were released Sunday afternoon after detectives said they pored over videos, photos and witness interviews. The Anaheim Police Department said the KKK members were released because "the images and statements corroborate witness statements that they were acting in self-defense."
About 10 to 20 people were involved in the incidents that resulted in three people getting stabbed. One KKK member was behind all three stabbings, according to Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt.
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"Regardless of an individual or groups’ beliefs or ideologies, they are entitled to live without the fear of physical violence and have the right, under the law, to defend themselves when attacked," Anaheim police said in a statement.
Klan members were booked for investigation of assault with a deadly weapon before being released. The seven people who remained in custody were booked for assault with a deadly weapon or elder abuse for stomping on a Klan member who's older than 65 years old, police said.
Police said 51-year-old Charles Edward Donner of San Francisco, 20-year-old Marquis DeShawn Turner of Anaheim, 25-year-old Randy Omarcc Felder of Lakewood and 19-year-old Guy Harris, a homeless man, were booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. They were being held on $25,000 bail.
Hugo Contreras, 38, of Hawthorne; Nicole Rae Schop, 24, and Mark Anthony Liddell, 26, both of Los Angeles, face charges of elder abuse and were being held on $50,000 bail, police said.
Though the Klan members were released, prosecutors will review the case and decide whether to file criminal charges, authorities said.
The brawl broke out about 11 a.m. near the site of an planned afternoon rally at Pearson Park located in the 400 block of North Harbor Boulevard, according to Wyatt. Police had said Friday that the department was aware of a KKK "walking protest" planned at the park for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and that the group had held similar rallies before in Orange County.
"(The counter-protesters) were so angry, they would have torn these folks limb from limb," said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. "I was afraid for their lives."
Levin, who went to Pearson Park expecting to record the rally for research, found himself protecting the Klansmen until police could intervene. On a video Levin shot and posted to Twitter, he later asked one of them, "How do you feel that a Jewish person helped save your life today?"
A Klansman stabbed a counter-protester in the chest with an eagle figure at the end of the flag, according to Wyatt. The protester was transported to a hospital in critical condition.
"As stated previously, I implore everyone to respond with peace and dignity, regardless of where your support lies," Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity to bond together as OUR Anaheim community."
Rosa Madrigal, a 25-year-old mother who was at the park Sunday with her husband and three children, told The Associated Press she was shocked to even hear about the KKK holding a rally in Anaheim, let alone the violence that ensued.
"I didn't even think it was true when I heard it," Madrigal said. "It's crazy, especially in a park where you take your kids."
Nationwide, the number of active KKK groups increased to 190 in 2015 after falling in 2013 and 2014, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. In January 2015, packets containing fliers from the "Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan" and condemning the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were left in the driveways of about 40 homes in Santa Ana, about 8 miles south of Anaheim.
California has 68 hate groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, second only to Texas' 84.
NBC4's Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.