On Friday, the city of Los Angeles requested that a judge modify her order restricting the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of projectile launchers that are deemed “less lethal” ahead of anticipated May Day protests.
The order comes after Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles filed a request for a temporary restraining order against the LAPD in light of a March 25 protest in Echo Park and a March 13 demonstration in Hollywood in which police and protesters clashed and a member of the press was struck by a projectile and knocked out, suffering a concussion, according to court documents.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall granted BLM-LA’s request Monday to halt the LAPD’s use of the so-called “less lethal” weapons in public demonstrations “except when deployed by officers that are properly trained.” She also restricted police from “aiming the weapons at the upper bodies of demonstrators at close range within five feet.”
The judge further ordered that the LAPD must give a verbal warning to disperse, consistent with the department’s use of force directive, and allow protesters a reasonable opportunity to comply before deploying a 40mm or 37mm launcher, “except when an officer is attacked.”
Deputy City Attorney Gabriel Dermer told Marshall on Friday that the city believes that parts of the order are “overbroad and cause more harm than good” because it treats both the 40mm and 37mm as crowd control devices, while only the 37mm is used in that capacity while the 40mm is used against a specific person who “is violently resisting arrest or poses an immediate threat of violence.”
The city requests that the order be modified to allow the 37mm to be used in crowd control situations “when subjects in a crowd are violently resisting a lawful order to disperse or pose a threat of violence or physical harm,” in line with the department’s policies regarding that launcher. It also requests the 40mm be allowed against specific people “violently resisting arrest” or posing a threat of violence, Dermer said.
Dermer said the city is concerned that the LAPD will not be able to address specific people in protest crowds who are committing violence, and instead would have to declare an unlawful assembly to deal with one person.
“I actually don’t read it that way but I understand that you do,” Marshall said.
Dermer also said the city wants the order to be modified before May 1, when the department is anticipating May Day protests which typically happen around the world. He noted that if the department doesn’t have the 37mm launcher as a crowd control tool, officers may “have to go hand-to-hand or use batons or something (that) would potentially create more havoc.”
Marshall asked Dermer if the department was expecting violence during May Day protests. The plaintiff’s lawyer Carol Sobel noted that May Day protests haven’t caused issues in Los Angeles since 2007 in MacArthur Park.
Marshall requested that Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and city officials meet to come up with language that they both agree on for a modified order.
She also said she would review the city’s proposal and let the parties know if she issues a modified order. The next hearing, a preliminary injunction hearing, is scheduled for May 4.
Police Chief Michel Moore told the city’s Police Commission on Tuesday that he LAPD “is pending a further, much more detailed review of the court’s order, as well as a response to the court. But in that interim, we’re directing our personnel to follow the court’s order in its entirety.”
In court filings, BLM-LA cited the City Council-commissioned report, which was prepared by a team of former LAPD commanders headed by attorney Gerald Chaleff, and found a variety of failures in how the LAPD handled unrest last summer, including poor planning, scant training on the launchers wielded against protesters, and a broader “chaos of command.”
BLM-LA is suing the LAPD over its handling of the 2020 protests, alleging that police brutalized protesters with hard foam bullets and batons and trampled on their rights.
Subsequent to a telephonic status conference last Friday in the lawsuit, the LAPD submitted video evidence showing how to load and use the 40mm launcher and a video of officers simulating a “skirmish line” while using the 37mm weapon. The department also submitted LAPD’s Use of Force Tactics Directive, which includes the department’s policy and protocols for using the launchers.
Marshall wrote that prior to issuing her order, she considered the declaration of freelance photojournalist Christian Monterrosa, who attended the Echo Park demonstration. Monterrosa says he was shot in the chest at close range by a projectile while trying to move away from officers.
An exhibit attached to the declaration appears to show an LAPD officer aiming his weapon at the photographer from about three or four feet away. Another photo apparently shows the resulting injury to his chest.