L.A. Mayor Condemns Immigration Rally Violence

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa condemned the Police Department's use of force against demonstrators and reporters at an immigration rally, saying he was "deeply, personally troubled" by the clash.

The mayor returned home Friday after cutting short a trade mission to El Salvador and Mexico amid criticism for being out of town since Tuesday's melee at MacArthur Park.

"Like every Angeleno I was deeply, personally troubled by the events of May 1st," the mayor said at City Hall. "Those images hit me in the gut.

"... We don't need a long and lengthy investigation to stand up and speak to the truth. What happened on May 1st was wrong, was wrong," he said.

Police struck reporters and demonstrators with batons and fired more than 240 rubber bullets into a crowd that included children at the end of an immigration rights rally. Officers say they responded after being pelted by rocks and bottles.

Though no one was seriously hurt, images of baton-wielding officers knocking people to the ground have played repeatedly on cable TV newscasts, ramping up the pressure on Villaraigosa to return from the trade mission.

At least four investigations, including an FBI civil rights inquiry, have been opened into the police response. And Three protesters have filed a federal lawsuit, alleging police violated their constitutional rights.

State legislators, immigration activists and others returned to MacArthur Park on Friday to denounce the department's conduct.

"To say we are outraged is an understatement," said state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles. "We want those responsible in the highest levels of the LAPD to pay consequences."

The police union criticized Nunez for what it called "police bashing.

"... Setting up the population to believe that law enforcement is the enemy is a dangerous game," union President Robert Baker wrote in a letter Friday. "It provokes a lethal us-against-them, anti-law enforcement mentality that encourages violence against police officers."

Nunez's spokesman Steve Maviglio said late Friday that the speaker's outrage "should not be misconstrued as attack on the entire LAPD but rather at the command staff and the few officers who were using excessive force ... The police union should be outraged as well since the few who did this tarnishes the reputation of the brave officers who protect and defend us."

Police Chief William J. Bratton has expressed "grave concern" about what happened and promised a full investigation. He has said the use of force began while officers were dealing with 50 to 100 "agitators" who threw objects. At the press conference, he said he was "embarrassed for this department and embarrassed for the city we serve."

Meanwhile, KTTV television news camerawoman Patti Ballaz filed a claim for unspecified damages against the city and Police Department alleging civil rights violations. The full nature of Ballaz's actual injuries was not yet clear. She suffered a fractured wrist and injuries to her ankle and was hit in the breast with a police baton, said Kathy Pinckert, a spokeswoman for Ballaz's attorneys.

There was no official tally of how many reporters were struck by police. Local media groups said they would meet this weekend to determine how to proceed.

Victor Narro, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who helped organize Tuesday's demonstration, said his group is reviewing videotape and considering whether to sue the department. He noted that in one tape he saw police fire a rubber round at a boy who appeared to be 10 and "toss him aside like a piece of meat."

John Mack, president of the Police Commission, the civilian overseers of the Police Department, told reporters the clash was "a terrible breakdown" and the panel wants to get to the bottom of who was in charge at the time.

"We have a responsibility to protect individuals while they're expressing themselves," Mack said.