By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Before May 1, 2007, life was rolling along somewhat smoothly for Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bill Bratton. He owned a solid-gold reputation as arguably America’s Top Cop, and a day earlier, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had glowingly endorsed his reappointment for five years. Then, officers of Metropolitan Division shot 146 rounds of less-lethal munitions into a mostly peaceful crowd at MacArthur Park.
Bratton’s world had changed. And so the chief went into personal-survival mode. He raised eyebrows by saying police officers “go out of control faster than any human being in the world.” He demoted respected Deputy Chief Cayler “Lee” Carter — commanding officer of the MacArthur Park Fuckup — essentially ending his 30-year career (Carter took an early retirement). Then Bratton started jabbering about “anarchists” and “agitators,” as if Los Angeles had been sucked into a 1950s time warp, with the Red Menace looming off the horizon.
Bratton spouted all sorts of things and, like any media-savvy public figure, was sure to throw around apologies. But throughout the denunciations and remorsefulness, Bratton always held himself at a distance from what went down on May 1.
It was as if some other chief — Daryl Gates or Bernard Parks — was responsible for creating the mindset of the cops who overzealously swung batons and shot rubber bullets. Bratton even thought up a fancy reason for his department’s problematic ways: “the culture of isolation.”
“The culture I think everybody is trying to change is one of isolation,” Bratton said during the May 29 Police Commission hearing, where he presented the MacArthur Park Investigation Preliminary Report. “Isolation from the community, isolation within the department, of Metro from other units, isolation within Metro. They [Metro officers] have five different Christmas parties.”
Bratton added, “So we are actively engaged in moving forward on [the culture of isolation]. As you know, that’s been one of the reasons I have given for my desire to have a second term, to basically continue” that work.
Yet with critics of his abrupt and very public sacrifice of Cayler Carter pointing out major flaws in Bratton’s own behavior and decision making, the Police Commission and City Council may want to re-evaluate the chief’s first term, as well as Bratton’s current handling of the MacArthur Park Fuckup.
By many accounts, Deputy Chief Carter, the commanding officer Bratton holds most responsible for the May Day fiasco, is a decent man. Ted Hayes, downtown’s homeless-rights activist, says of Carter, “He had been fair to me. I wish he had stayed and fought. It’s definitely going to hurt what I do down here — and the whole city.”
City Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents the San Fernando Valley and is a retired LAPD officer, says Carter’s reputation was solid. Indeed, Bratton “must have thought he was qualified,” since it was Bratton — not former chiefs Gates, Parks or Willie Williams — who handpicked him for deputy chief.
Zine, who admits to disliking Bratton’s “brash” personality, declares, “It was unusual to demote him with all of the facts still coming in. You would think that a department that wants to be ‘transparent and accountable’ wouldn’t make that move and embarrass someone without first having a full investigation.”
Bratton has been unusually brutal in describing Carter’s leadership at MacArthur Park. Before the City Council on May 30, Bratton blamed a “command-and-control breakdown.” Without any prompting, and with mounting indignation, he lashed out, saying, “Chief Carter for 19 minutes marched with that [Metropolitan Division] platoon, actually the three Metro platoons, across the field on 11 different occasions. He could’ve stopped it. To the best of our ability, and based on our understanding, he did nothing.”
“He did not what?” City Councilman Bill Rosendahl asked.
“He did nothing,” Bratton answered. “He went along for the ride.
“So that’s a command-and-control breakdown,” the chief continued, “from my perspective, when I have a two-star chief of police, who’s the senior person on the scene in charge of 600 police officers, who marches behind 100 officers using less-lethal weaponry and ammunition, moving a group of agitators into a larger crowd of 4,000 people.”
It was the most devastating attack by a Los Angeles police chief on one of his trusted brass in recent memory.
A few moments later, Bratton added, “When I talk about command-and-control failure, the two senior ranking members, who between them have over 70 years of experience in this department — and they did nothing! Well, basically, the action I took against them within 24 hours I think speaks to my state of mind relative to my lack of confidence in their ability to continue commanding in this department.”
It sounds all good and true, but there are important ramifications of Bratton’s moving so hurriedly to push Carter out. Zine wanted Carter and Commander Louis Gray, who ordered the use of less-lethal munitions against people throwing rocks and bottles, to appear before the City Council so Zine could “get information from firsthand sources, not fourth- and fifth-hand sources” like Bratton.
Surveilled: Bratton’s PowerPoint report to city pols used aerial shots to track Carter’s movements.
Carter doesn’t have to show up, now that he’s retired. “He’s a free man,” says Zine. “He can do whatever he wants to do.”