Participants in the Sept. 25 Breonna Taylor protest march on Sunset Boulevard called into tonight’s City Council meeting to demand that the City of West Hollywood end its contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and ask the LASD to return the property it had seized from the demonstrators and drop charges filed against them.
The protestors criticized the Sheriff’s Department for its deputies’ use of riot gear, which included guns that fired pepper balls, which contain a powdered chemical that irritates the eyes and nose in a manner similar to pepper spray, and for their violent behavior. One deputy assaulted a man lying on the street multiple times with his riot shield, an incident that was videotaped and covered by news media across the nation. One of the callers said that that man is now walking on crutches because of the assault.
Liza York, a school teacher who called into the meeting, told the Council members that deputies lifted her out of the car in which she was sitting in a parking space on Sunset and then threw her to the ground before zip-tying her hands. York said she was locked up until 3 p.m. the next day without being told why and without being given access to a lawyer. She said she was interviewed in the jail cell by two detectives who were not wearing face coverings. Another caller, Jessica Rogers, said the deputies had not read those arrested their rights, as required by law, or given them access to a telephone so they could call a lawyer.
Kenneth Gray, a Black man who was the driver of one of two pickup trucks that were part of the protest march and were seized by deputies, complained that today, 26 days after the trucks and cellphones and other items in them were seized, they still are being held by the Sheriff’s Department. Gray said he was charged with failing to disperse, a misdemeanor. That and the seizure of his truck is a violation of his First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights he said.
The callers said they questioned West Hollywood’s professed commitment to civil liberties because the Mayor and City Council members haven’t yet spoken out about the Sunset Boulevard demonstration. One caller, Jessica Rogers, actually demanded that Mayor Lindsey Horvath resign. Rogers said she reached out to Mayor Horvath on Sept. 26 to help get the protestors released from jail. Rogers said she got no response. “You chose not to fight for the people you say you support,” Rogers said. “Resign Lindsey Horvath. You are unqualified and unprepared.”
Gray also was critical of the city’s elected officials for refusing to speak about the Sept. 25 incident. “Martin Luther King says there comes a point when your silence becomes betrayal,” he said.
While the Mayor and Council members hadn’t spoken out about the Sunset incident, the City of West Hollywood did issue an official statement about the incident on Oct. 5 prepared by the City Manager and his staff. The city’s statement said there is a “use of force” investigation of the deputy seen slamming his riot shield into a protestor on the ground, and it said that “use of force of any kind is rare in the City of West Hollywood.” That statement, however, is contradicted by a report from the Sheriff’s Station that show that use of force by deputies has tripled over 10 years.
The statement from the city attempted to rationalize the arrests of demonstrators and the seizure of pickup trucks in which protestors were riding. It noted that a flyer promoting the protest depicted a man throwing a Molotov cocktail and that the demonstrators carried homemade shields, wore helmets and body armor and carried umbrellas.
While that apparently was deemed by city officials as an indicator that the protestors were going to be violent, as WEHOville has reported demonstrators have been advised to wear protective gear such as helmets because of violent attacks by law enforcement officers across the country during protests of police brutality this year, a number of which have occurred in Los Angeles. Also, demonstrators sometimes carry umbrellas to protect themselves because law enforcement officers have begun to use rubber bullet and pepper sprays and other gases. In some people, such sprays have been found to cause pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, vomiting and allergic reactions as well as permanent damage to the tissues of the eye, persistent symptoms of asthma and traumatic brain injury from the projectiles used to deploy the chemicals. Research shows that using these weapons does not de-escalate tensions during protests, but can actually lead to more violence.
The city’s statement also said that one protestor pulled out of a truck had shoved a deputy to the ground and that people were arrested on charges included reckless driving, unsecured passengers in a truck bed, taking over the streets, battery on a peace officer, attempt to free a suspect from police custody, resisting/obstructing deputies, and failure to disperse.
Capt. Edward Ramirez, who heads the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, told the City Council tonight that he had made the decision to seize the two pickup trucks because they had been involved in a demonstration the day before in Hollywood. In that demonstration, someone driving a white Prius had attempted to drive into the demonstrators. The driver of one of the two pickup trucks pursued the Prius and blocked it, at which point demonstrators pummeled the car. It was when one of those in the truck during the Sept. 25 shoved a deputy to the ground that Ramirez decided to order deputies to break up the protest.
Ramirez said that he strongly supported the right of people to protest peacefully and that he personally believes that is a positive way to effect change. But he said he had been concerned about the Sept. 25 protest because the flyer promoting it appeared to promote violence. He said he also was concerned that demonstrators carried homemade shields and wore helmets and body armor. And while umbrellas have become a common protective tool for demonstrators around the world, Ramirez said he saw them as tools they were handy for those who wanted to conceal themselves while committing graffiti.
At tonight’s meeting, Councilmember Lauren Meister questioned the use of deputies not employed at the West Hollywood Station during the demonstration. “I don’t think they have the same sensitivities to our city that our station has,” she said. She added that “It seems to me in that situation de-escalation could have happened, and it didn’t happen.”
Councilmember John Heilman questioned why the Sheriff’s Department was still holding items seized from protestors 26 days ago. Any necessary evidence needed to prosecute someone could already have been obtained, he said, adding that the owners of the pickup trucks might be needing them to get to work.
Capt. Ramirez said that he couldn’t disclose why the trucks and other items were still being held but that he would reach out to check on their status. He also said that Mayor Horvath had arranged for him to meet with lawyers for the demonstrators who had been arrested, a meeting which he said had been productive for both sides.
Mayor Horvath didn’t directly respond to the demand that she ask the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to drop charges against the demonstrators. She said instead that the City of West Hollywood doesn’t initiate such charges. But Horvath said that some of the videos she saw of law enforcement response to the Sunset Boulevard demonstration were disturbing.
Councilmember John Duran responded defensively to the demands from the protestors by saying that a local city council doesn’t have the authority to get involved in arrests and prosecutions. However Mayor Horvath was successful in getting the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office to agree to grant immunity from charges of prostitution or drug use for young men willing to testify about their interactions with Ed Buck, who was arrested after two Black men, one a sex worker, were found dead in his apartment.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that “protestors” had called into Monday night’s City Council meeting to demand the resignation of Mayor Lindsey Horvath. In fact, only one of the four protestors who called in demanded Horvath’s resignation. The story headline has been corrected.