As we learned from unjustly imprisoned L.A. high-schooler Jeremy Marks in December, a cell phone can be our most effective weapon against out-of-line law enforcement.
Like Marks, an L.A. cyclist named Manuel Gallegos was carrying his cell phone during a Critical Mass night ride on May 28. It's no secret that the Critical Mass mission is to disrupt the peace and make life difficult for people who choose gas-guzzlers as transportation of choice -- but Gallegos claims that officers were the ones who really disrupted the peace that night.
He immediately posted his "evidence of unlawful conduct" to YouTube, after his phone apparently survived an officer smashing it into the sidewalk, as the lawsuit alleges.
Gallegos says he began recording when officers pulled a boy riding with Critical Mass off his bicycle at the famous Hollywood and Highland intersection.
On the Midnight Ridazz forum, one commenter told Gallegos, "I would say that you should file a formal complaint against the LAPD but I don't think you would get a warm welcome at the local station." Apparently, the plaintiff took that advice to heart. His lawsuit was filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The LA Weekly piece directly following the incident gathered more details from the forum:
According to a poster at the Midnight Ridazz forum, the clash happened when the mass of bicyclists hit a red light at Hollywood and Highland and about 20 riders went through it, sparking the officers to crack down. The poster states that cops posted up on the intersection and started grabbing riders as they went by, prompting some to call the cops names and others, according to other accounts, to yell "f--- the police."
Altogether, about 400 riders took part in the event -- a protest of oil giant British Petroleum (and cars sucking up its fuels) after the Gulf of Mexico spill heard 'round the world.
The LAPD is calling "no comment" on the lawsuit today, but back when the flareup occurred, LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said, "The department's Professional Standards Bureau has taken the lead in the inquiry and the police commission's inspector general has also been made fully aware of the matter."
The Los Angeles Police Protective League commented as well, mostly in defense of the officers:
Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing L.A. police, urged the public to reserve judgment until all the facts of the case surface.
"We only ask that the community refrain from a rush to judgment," he said. "It is always important to remember that home video, shot from a distance, from one angle and in the dark, and not at the beginning of the incident seldom tells the whole story."
Gallegos' lawsuit claims, we quote, he was "chased down by LAPD officers, who tackled him, dragged him off his bicycle and proceeded to beat and kick him," then stomped on his phone "in what is believed to be an attempt to destroy evidence of the unlawful conduct of the LAPD officers."
From the video, it does seem like there was some sort of contact, but officers can't explicitly be seen "beating and kicking" -- or stomping, for that matter. Nonetheless, something shady was definitely going down. Guess that's all up to the judge now.
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Charges against the LAPD include civil rights violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery and negligence. Sounds like an expensive bill for a hurting city department; still, Gallegos hasn't yet named his asking price.
Most of all, this resurrection of the notorious Critical Mass vs. LAPD brawl makes us wonder how that bikers-rights training program is going -- the one Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger originally told us he was working on.
While we're waiting for a call back from the station, let us know: Do you think Gallegos has/deserves a chance?
With reporting from City News Service.