LOS ANGELES – A man videotaped torching a taxi after the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship two years ago was charged with arson and police will crack down on any fan violence this year if the Lakers, Clippers or Kings triumph, officials said Wednesday.
"We have to celebrate responsibly" if the Lakers, the NBA rival Clippers or the NHL's Kings advance in the ongoing playoffs to win their championships in coming weeks, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said outside Staples Center, home of the three teams.
The Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics to win the NBA championship there on June 17, 2010. After the game, knots of rowdy celebrants set fires, rocked cars, smashed windows and threw objects at fans and police officers, leading eventually to some 45 arrests.
"I think we all remember the images. The city was overwhelmed," Villaraigosa said. "What should have been a day of celebration, a day of festivities, turned out to be a day where a small group of people ...thought they'd engage in criminal activity and arson, assaults, and that it would just be OK."
Some fans surrounded a taxi near the arena, stomped on the hood, smashed the windows, slashed the tires and set the car on fire, fire investigators said. The driver escaped but lost his livelihood.
A video taken by a bystander showed people chanting "Light it up! Light it up!" before throwing a lighter and paper into the taxi. Some of the attackers posed for photographs as the vehicle burned.
Darren Cooper, 22, of San Bernardino was identified through a recent tip after the video was posted on YouTube and he cooperated with arson investigators who arrested him, fire officials said.
"He said he got caught up in the celebration," said Battalion Chief Michael Greenup, head of the Fire Department's Arson/Counter-Terrorism Section.
Cooper was arrested and charged on April 30 with a felony count of arson to property. At the time, he was jailed in San Bernardino County on suspicion of committing domestic violence.
He was later freed on $100,000 bail pending a June 1 arraignment and could face up to four years in state prison if convicted, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
It was not immediately known whether he had a lawyer.
Arson investigators were seeking five other men who also were videotaped torching the taxi. Their faces were revealed after the six-minute video was broken down into individual frames and enhanced. The shots were detailed enough to show faces, clothing and tattoos, and Cooper had stars on his arm that matched those seen in one frame, said Harry Garvin, the Fire Department's forensic photographer.
The 2010 violence wasn't repeated when the Lakers won another championship in 2011 and uniformed police, plainclothes and horseback-mounted officers will be in the streets to crack down on drunkenness and violence if the Lakers win this year, LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez said.
After viewing the taxi attack video, Perez said he told Villaraigosa: "Hey boss, that's not gonna happen this year."