EDITOR’S NOTE: Top Cop Bill Bratton was a public relations whiz, wrapping LA’s second-rate politicians and media around his nimble fingers — only the May Day 2007 police riot and his handling afterwards ever stained his reputation. The fallout from that incident continues with a court ruling last week that focused on his illegal demotion of Officer Mark Blizzard for excessive use of force against the media that day. Charlie Beck is no Bill Bratton and his special treatment of unlicensed and lawbreaking illegal immigrants will inevitably stain his reputation far worse over time.
It was the worst day in Bill Bratton’s friendly, new LAPD — May Day 2007, the day when crack Metro Division cops rioted breaking up an immigrant rights protests of thousands in MacArthur Park.
Provoked by agitators throwing rocks and plastic bottles, an overwhelming force of 600 out-of-control cops in riot gear waded into the crowd swinging their batons, firing 146 rubber bullets, violently pushing protesters and news media out of their way as they cleared the street.
Bratton, the master politician, took charge of managing the crisis with every elected official from the mayor on down following his lead with promises of investigations to “determine if the use of force was appropriate.”
By the end of May with the uproar still growing, the chief announced there had been “a command and control breakdown,” demoted the deputy chief involved and created a new training bureau. Four months later, he completed his investigation but it took nearly a year longer before he decided 17 Metro officers and two sergeants should be disciplined and another six months for the city to settle claims for $13 million.
The goal all along was to get closure on a major political problem but last week, the May Day police riot had yet another fallout: Officer Mark Blizzard who was reprimanded, demoted and reassigned for his actions won a unanimous verdict from a three-judge state Court of Appeals panel that Bratton abused his authority in the case. (Blizzard-Appeal)
In Bratton’s haste to find fall guys for what went wrong, laws and procedures were trampled on at least in the case of Blizzard – a Patrol Officer III who the court noted had an “exemplary” record with extremely positive evaluations, which probably says more about the quality of LAPD’s review process as it does about Blizzard.
Blizzard was charged with seven acts of misconduct regarding the unnecessary use of force arising out of a crowd control incident, two of them involving TV cameramen.
In mid-2008, some 15 months after the incident, police brass took the extraordinary step of demoting and reassigning Blizzard and three other officers even before they got hearings on the charges.
Bratton overruled his staff and imposed the punishment immediately which became a problem since at his Board of Rights, Blizzard beat the rap on the five civilian assaults but not the two involving the media. Here’s what the appeals court said:
As to the issue of penalty, the Board of Rights recommended that Officer Blizzard be officially reprimanded. The Board of Rights concluded that Officer Blizzard was an outstanding officer, who was remorseful and contrite. The Board found that Officer Blizzard’s actions were not malicious and neither of the cameramen was seriously injured.
Bratton didn’t care what the Board or anyone except the media as his quotes cited by the court makes clear and so he trampled on the law, due process and LAPD procedures and imposed the penalties anyway — actions that were repudiated by the court in reinstating Blizzard’s rank and position, and awarding him back pay for four years plus the costs incurred by the Police Protective League in defending him.
“I agree that Officer Blizzard’s lack of judgment in the unauthorized use of force, particularly given that the unauthorized force was against media members who were no threat to Blizzard, is further reason to keep Officer Blizzard out of Metropolitan Division and reject the request to transfer him back to Metropolitan Division.
Officer Blizzard’s misconduct, along with that of others in Metropolitan Division on May 1, 2007, brought public disgrace to the Los Angeles Police Department. The misconduct was filmed by news media and broadcast for days afterwards. The effects of Officer Blizzard’s misconduct was not trivial to either the persons he struck, to the community, or to the Department.”