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USC and the LAPD….Did the Cops Go Too Far?

January 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

usc-lapd-2.gif

Did the LAPD use excessive force at a USC block party this past Friday night?
Or were officers simply doing what needed to be done to control a bunch of drunken and rowdy college students who were getting out of control?

The answer may be somewhere in between. But information available thus far suggests the behavior of the police bears further scrutiny.

I first heard about the incident through two of my USC journalism students
, both smart kids, who each called me the next day, Saturday, to talk about what they’d seen and experienced. Here’s the picture I’ve been able to gather from them and from other sources:

This past Friday night, January 25, some USC students organized a party on 30th Street near Orchard,
an area where many have off campus housing. It was billed as an Around the World block party, and was reportedly open to anybody at the University Before the revelry started, students were warned by the event’s organizers to keep all alcohol inside the various host houses, and not to drink in the street.

But you know how that goes.

Student bloggers who have since written about the night say the booze ran out early, the DJs turned off the music just after midnight, but around a thousand kids were having too much fun to leave, so stayed and hung out. Around the time the music ended, USC’s school security (USC DPS), which had been monitoring the event, called the LAPD for help in breaking up the party.

Worried that they wouldn’t have enough officers to handle this size crowd, the department called a a tactical alert, meaning everyone going off shift had to stay on. Eventually somewhere upwards of 75 to 100 cops showed up at 30th and Orchard. They came predominantly from the Southwest division of the LAPD, with some from 77th and elsewhere in the department. Using bullhorns, the officers told partiers that the gathering was now an unlawful assembly and that the students had to disperse.

Many of the kids did indeed scatter for shelter, but several hundred,
at least, it seems did not. Instead they either stood or sat down in the middle of the street and refused to move. According to the police and some student witnesses, several of the drunker, stupider partiers threw beer bottles at the cops, and officers moved in to handle the offenders.

It is at his point that the accounts of what happened diverge. Students who were present say officers used force on not only the handful of bottle throwers, but also Tased and hit students who were in no way aggressive. And of the nine students arrested that night, not all were actual troublemakers.

Here’s a clip from what the Daily Trojan, USC’s school newspaper (which did a credibly professional job of reporting) had to say:

Many students said they were Tasered by officers or struck with nightsticks.

Daniel Bell, a junior majoring in communication,
said he was recording LAPD officers struggling with students on his cell phone when one of the officers pointed at him.

“Three officers jumped me and threw me onto a car. I didn’t struggle or anything. They made me put my head down and spread my legs.”

When Bell realized he had lost his phone and asked for it back,
“The officer picked it up, looked down at it, pressed the delete button, switched it off and put it in my pocket.”

Some students also said LAPD shot them with rubber bullets. [NOTE: A police spokesman assured me that this last was impossible, that those particular weapons were not present that night.]

One student also said that an officer covered up his badge when the student tried to read the number. Another student claimed an officer denied a mark on his ribs was caused by a Taser shock.

“When I was filling out my police report, I told one of the cops I got Tasered,
” said Dan, a USC student who asked that his last name not be used. “The cop looked at the big mark on my ribs and told me it wasn’t a Taser mark.”

Dan also said that while he filled out his police report, he attempted to read a police officer’s badge number, but the officer covered his chest.

“I got a baton to the face and I tried to scuffle backward, but they came at me too fast,” Dan said. “I got another baton to the knee, and the wall of police just continued to move at us.”

Mario Imbert, a student at the Art Institute of California,
said a police officer used a Taser to subdue him.

“Dan got hit, and I tried to help him up,” Imbert said. “Then [police] tased me a couple times. It felt like my entire body was out of control. They Tasered me in my ribs, and I could feel it in my jaws and in my feet.”


Now, no one would argue against an officer having the right
to use appropriate force on a large, drunk, bottle-throwing college guy. But, in multiple instances eyewitnesses insist that they saw an indiscriminate use of Tasers and batons on non-agressive students. According to an LAPD spokesman, if this happened, it is well outside department policy.

In one of its reports on the May Day/ McArthur Park debacle, the LAPD made it clear that officers do not have the right to whack people with batons simply because said people refuse to move when ordered to do so. According to LAPD policy, batons are only to be used when a suspect is “aggressive and combative.” The same principle is true of Tasers.


Sgt. Robert Rivers,
who was the night’s incident commander, told me that a Taser was only used once, and then only on an out-of-control boy who slugged a police officer. So why did so many kids who attended, my students among them, say that Tasers were used on partiers who were either trying to get out of the cops’ way, or were simply not moving?

(Naturally there are several videos on YouTube of the night’s events, none of them terribly conclusive.)


To his credit, Sgt. Rivers (who seemed like an intelligent, straight-shooter) said that if students
had witnessed or experienced additional Tasings or baton whackings, they should call him personally and report it. “I want to know,” he said.

Okay, USC students, what about it? If you believe the LAPD used excessive force, time to step forward. Make the call. 213-485-2582.

(photo from SketchyTown)

Posted in Education, LAPD | 21 Comments »

21 Responses

  1. WBC Says:

    Come on, you say that “several hundred, at least — at least — …either stood or sat down in the middle of the street and refused to move.” Then “some threw beer bottles at the cops,” who moved in and tasered or tried to remove even those who weren’t part of the “handful” throwing the bottles.

    HOW exactly were the cops able to distinguish which of them were throwing bottles, from those who weren’t? Doesn’t common sense and a minimum of prudence suggest, that it’s time to stop refusing orders to disperse, and just leave? All of them were refusing those orders, after the crowd had been declared “an unlawful assembly,” with bullhorns — so even the “drunker and stupider” should have heard — and so they were really all passively provoking the cops, who’d been called in by the campus security which felt the situation was out of hand.

    While we can all remember what it’s like to first get your drunk head on at 19 before learning to deal with it, USC is in the middle of a volatile area of a big city, and this situation had to be treated the same as any other. Otherwise, with the recent incidents of people getting shot and even killed at parties in S LA, it could be called discrimination.

    Clearly, the university established guidelines as to where and how booze should be consumed. Even small town colleges and universities suspend alcohol licenses to frats and dorms which violate the rules (which usually include no alcohol or public noise after midnight, no minors, etc.). While I can understand that certain students might feel “caught” in the situation, they should have gotten off the streets, followed orders to disperse and left as soon as bottles were thrown.
    (Yes, there do seem to be uncanny overtones of May 1st, except with relatively “spoiled” students this time.)

    With the trouble hiring and retaining good cops these days, and the drain on city coffers from excessive lawsuit payouts while the city is crying poverty and wanting us to agree to Prop S, I just don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for these students at this time. Maybe the lesson in civics they need to learn right now, is individual responsibility.

  2. Celeste Fremon Says:

    That was fast. Hey, WBC, you’re up way too late to be this coherent. (We both are.)

  3. Celeste Fremon Says:

    PS: It’s my understanding that some of those tased or whacked were doing there best to comply. But then again, I wasn’t there.

  4. Woody Says:

    The video shows that the students being attacked by the police were white. This is clearly a racial issue. At least, that’s what would have been written had the students been of another race rather than what they were doing.

  5. RCJP Says:

    Looks like a bunch of idiot kids who didn’t seem to understand that the law applies to them. The videos I saw were too shaky to specify anything that looked untoward. But, they were obviously fighting with each other and blocking traffic and generally being dolts.

    They should probably be happy, by and large, that more of them didn;t go to jail. What little force I saw used, looked reasonable to me.

    Idiots. Disgracing my alma mater. Go to freakin’ Westwood if you want to act like freeloading societal leeches.

  6. WBC Says:

    Hey, you obviously don’t know Westwood, RCJP, especially in this decade. When Westwood did have that rep in the 90′s it was largely from outsiders coming in — it’s a great place to walk safely and enjoy some nice places on weekend nights. (When UCLA students want to get random, they go to clubs near SC — there’s even a party bus going around to the clubs there some weekends, so students don’t have to drink drunk and come back to Westwood safe and sound.) I would say “Freeloading societal leeches” better describes your alma mater, but let’s just hope SC cleans up its act like UCLA largely has.

  7. WBC Says:

    I meant, so “students don’t have to drive drunk.” I think not drinking drunk is a good idea too, though.

  8. KLC Says:

    I would be interested in finding out how much that night cost the city. As USC is a private institution, it seems especially unfair that the fun of the students would have to come at the cost of the city.

    Questions of police brutality, while perhaps relevant, also seem to trivialize the recent outcry against the use of tazers by police. I went to UCLA and was horrified as I watched video of a student repeatedly tazered by police in the UCLA library for not having his student ID on him. That was a serious injustice and I feel like USC students are almost crying wolf on this.

    I also think they did an injustice to those who use sit-ins or civil disobedience to garner attention for a specific cause. Was the most ragin’ party of the year worth the causes, practices and reputations that they tarnished? Based on the comments left on youtube video of the night, students seem to feel street cred and bragging rights were worth the ramifications of their spectacle. All I can say to that is: Go Bruins!

  9. Celeste Fremon Says:

    KLC, All very worthy questions. A tactical alert is assuredly expensive as it involves overtime.

    Also, I agree with your point that fighting for your right to party hardly falls within the great American tradition of civil disobedience.

    On the other hand, after May Day and McArthur Park, I think officers would do well not to shave the dice on the use of batons and Tasers. That particular slippery slope leads nowhere good.

  10. L.A. Resident Says:

    I will answer your first question, NO the LAPD did not use excessive force. You had a bunch of drunk college students trying to piss-off the cops. If any of them got smacked or tasered they asked for it. The cops should have used tear gas and a few rubber bullets if you act stupid, you should expect to get smacked.

    This USC incident in no way compares to the McArthur Park incident, at McArthur Park the police were hitting and knocking down some women who were not moving fast enough. At McArthur Park they fired rubber bullets into a crowd of women and children which were already moving away from the police and dispersing. The two scenarios are not even close in comparison.

  11. richard locicero Says:

    Woody that area is the home of USC’s Greek life – and I don’t mean the students from Salonika and Athens!

    Unless things have chanmged drastically from my days there you would find a huge police presense in the neighborhood – keep the crime rate VERY low. People from other parts of the country come to ‘SC because its “Southern California” then arrive and discover – to their shock (I know cause I heard it) that they’re now in the “inner City” – gateway to Watts in fact! So the Admin leaned on the LAPD to make everyone feel safe.

    I had a lot of Greek types in my classes (hey I was an easy grader – required course in Speech and why make them squerm more than necessary?) and got invites to functions on the “Row”. Lots of alcohol – lots of people under 21. Bet there was a class dimension to this. You see a lot of BMWs and the like on 28th St.

  12. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Actually, this was not a Sorority/Fraternity thing at all, per se. Talked to one USC’s security police captains and found that 30th street is a big area for off campus (non-Greek) housing, with many of the buildings owned by the University. In other words, these are the kids who don’t live on 28th street (which is not to say that Greek kids didn’t show up).

  13. Janet Says:

    What do you think is going to happen when you get hundreds of spoiled, drunk, immature brats partying? You get disrespectful, arrogant, defiant losers who think just because mommy and daddy give them everything they can disobey the law. Now they’re crying to mommy and daddy that the big bad LAPD hurt them. USC students need to grow up and live in the real world. Let me live in Watts or South LA deep where the gangs are and let’s see if they cry for LAPD to come help them. This was a waste of city resources for a bunch of clowns who need mental therapy. Mommy and daddy can’t always solve their problems.

  14. PoPlOcK Says:

    This sounds more like a typical day at UC Santa Barbara. What is the big deal?

  15. Rob Says:

    My understanding, as a USC student who was stopping by the party just in time to get there and see the cops (and leave, like an intelligent person), is that the party was just too large. The rules around the USC area are pretty clear- You’ve got to cover up, stay inside with alcohol, keep it out of the street, and turn down the music around midnight.

    Mostly this was just a bunch of idiot kids didn’t know what they were getting themselves into.

    Also, this area is NOT the Greek Row. The Greek Row can be penalized. These are private residences, rented to mostly USC students in a heavily student-populated area. There is no way for the University to “come down” on these partiers, as it was not a USC event, nor organized by any recognized USC organization.

  16. Woody Says:

    rlc immediately assumes that it’s the Greeks doing this just from the actions of those students. I wish other people were as open minded, forgiving, and tolerant as me.

  17. Randy Paul Says:

    If they were, they would have noticed this comment by Celeste which you missed or ignored: “(which is not to say that Greek kids didn’t show up).”

  18. Woody Says:

    …which she wrote after rlc wrote his comment.

  19. richard locicero Says:

    I said I was commenting on my time there in the 70′s and THERE WAS No Student housing at 30th st then. Only some apartments adjacent to the mall across Jefferson.

  20. richard locicero Says:

    And if ‘SC runs some of that housing they have control.

  21. tip Says:

    I dont even remember how i reached your site but it doesnt matter, cause i’m so happy i found it, it really made me think, keep up the good work

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