Black Lives Matter activists sue L.A. over protest crackdown outside mayor's home

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07: Demonstrators prepare for a closing prayer in front of Getty House, the residence of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, to protest any attempt by the Biden administration to appoint him to a cabinet post Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Black Lives Matter demonstrators gather outside Getty House, the residence of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Dec. 7, 2020, the day after LAPD officers cracked down on protesters there. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Activists with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles have sued the city over the LAPD's response to a protest outside Mayor Eric Garcetti's home in December 2020, alleging they were brutalized by baton-wielding officers in violation of their constitutional rights.

The activists said their demonstration, held in opposition to Garcetti getting a job in President Biden's administration, was entirely peaceful. Still, they said, Los Angeles Police Department officers violently stormed into the crowd and began assaulting people — offering no justification other than that one individual with a bullhorn was violating a noise ordinance.

"There were children there at the time, there were elderly people there at the time, and [the police] overreacted," said Greg Akili, 73, a BLM L.A. leader and lead plaintiff in the case. "Too often we have seen LAPD want to demonstrate their capacity to control a situation, and when they do that and it's Black people involved, then they overdo it, they go too far, and we get hurt."

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status to represent the involved protesters as a collective, alleges about 50 people were "struck by batons or knocked down by LAPD officers" despite posing no threat to the officers or anyone else in the area.

"Shoving and swinging batons, LAPD officers rushed at and knocked down peaceful protesters assembled in front of the Mayor’s mansion and then brutally beat them with batons, including head strikes, causing serious injuries," the lawsuit claims.

Capt. Stacy Spell, a LAPD spokesman, said Wednesday that the department could not comment on the pending litigation.

At the time of the incident, however, Spell had defended the officers' actions, saying they had converged on the protesters only after four officers attempting to arrest the individual with the bullhorn — for allegedly violating a municipal code against producing sounds that carry more than 200 feet — began getting punched, pushed and kicked by other protesters trying to prevent the arrest.

A protester holds a megaphone
BLM-Los Angeles organizer Joseph William, left, with megaphone, as protesters gather in front of Getty House on Dec. 7, 2020. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

"Officers used their baton to prevent the crowd from forcefully attempting to remove the suspect from police custody," Spell said. "However, the suspect ultimately got away."

Department policy holds that officers can only swing batons at people if they are a physical threat.

The incident drew condemnation from some elected leaders, who accused the officers of excessive force, and the department said it would review video of the incident. Video taken and posted online by demonstrators and journalists showed officers swinging their batons at protesters and knocking them to the ground.

Garcetti's office declined Wednesday to comment on the litigation.

The Times has previously reported that Garcetti's wife, Amy Wakeland, routinely contacted police that year about protesters making noise outside her home, which she said had been difficult for her daughter and other children in the neighborhood.

Leaders with BLM L.A. had organized daily protests outside the home in December 2020 based on political chatter that Biden could be offering Garcetti, one of his early backers, a political appointment, possibly even in his Cabinet. Protesters opposed such an appointment, slamming Garcetti's record on transportation, homelessness and policing.

The protesters had been outside Garcetti's home on a daily basis for more than a week prior to the incident, and returned again afterward, never with any major problems — more proof, in Akili's mind, that the Police Department's decision to rush in on the day of the crackdown was unwarranted.

Demonstrators gather in front of Getty House
Demonstrators gather in front of Getty House on Dec. 7, 2020. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

"It had always been peaceful," he said. "It may have been loud, but it was always peaceful."

Garcetti was not given a Cabinet position, but he was offered the job of ambassador to India. The appointment was confirmed Wednesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but still must go before the Senate.

The BLM lawsuit calls into question some of the same tactics that were used by the LAPD during the mass protests over George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police months prior, when officers also were accused of excessive force and brutality against demonstrators.

BLM L.A. is still in litigation in a separate class-action case over the LAPD's treatment of protesters during those demonstrations, which occurred in May and June 2020 and involved tens of thousands of people taking to the streets.

The new lawsuit alleges assault and battery on the part of officers, and that protesters' rights were violated as a result of threats, intimidation and unreasonable force. It also calls on the court to provide damages to individual protesters, to cover their legal costs, and to provide them and future protesters with relief from LAPD abuses moving forward — including by issuing a court order barring the city from "unlawfully and unconstitutionally policing protected expressive activity, assemblies and demonstrations."

Akili, who said he was shoved to the ground by officers, said such court restrictions are necessary because the LAPD keeps violating protesters' 1st Amendment rights despite being publicly called out for it.

"That is why there is a Black Lives Matter, because they haven't learned anything," he said. "This is too often the pattern and practice of the LAPD, this idea of control and suppress. And that's how we wind up getting hurt and killed."

The lawsuit alleges Akili was "pushed from behind, landing on his hands, causing an injury to his right hand which took months to completely heal."

In addition to the city, the lawsuit names as defendants four individual LAPD officers — Capt. Warner Castillo, Lt. Carlos Figueroa and officers Daniel Orlik and Brittany Primo — who it says were involved in the fray or in overseeing the officers who were.

The officers could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.