LAPD Threw Fox Reporter 'Like a Rag Doll'
LOS ANGELES (CN) - In the trial over the violent break-up of the immigration rally, a camerawoman testified that a policeman knocked her camera off her shoulder and shoved her to the ground, and then turned against Fox TV reporter Christina Gonzalez. "The police officer threw her around like a rag doll," the camerawoman said, "and Christina was yelling, 'You can't do this!'"
Camerawoman Patricia Ballaz resumed her testimony in the ongoing trial over the baton-swinging charge of the Los Angeles Police Department that sent demonstrators and journalists alike hurtling back and down to the ground.
Under direct examination from her lawyer, Browne Greene, Ballaz described May 1, 2007 at MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles as an ordinary scene and an ordinary news day. It was like any other work day, Ballaz said. People were picknicking and music was playing in the park.
But as reporters moved closer to the police, they saw people screaming and running in the other direction. Ballaz said she then saw a policeman hitting another news reporter. "He was just an average man doing nothing," Ballaz said. "I had no idea why this was happening. It was like a war zone."
She testified that after the beating she took from the LAPD, she had to have multiple sugeries on her hand, elbow and ankle and may still need more surgeries. Greene showed pictures of Ballaz's hands and elbows that were taken after the surgery. The pictures showed distinct stitch marks on her hand and her arms.
"How painful is it to have surgery on your hand all the time?" Greene asked.
"It's painful all the time ... and you can't do much except take pain pills," Ballaz said. "I can't, I can't do much of anything."
When Greene asked Ballaz what all these surgeries and physical obstacles mean to her, Ballaz answered, "It means the life I knew before is gone ... I feel like there's no light at the end of the tunnel for me."
Her mother sat in the audience and tried to hold back tears as one of Ballaz's friends comforted her.
The courtroom was unsually packed for Ballaz's testimony with about 40 people listening to her testimony.
In her cross-examination, Jessica Brown with the city attorney's office, asked if she rested to heal her injuries. Ballaz answered that she did. Brown asked Ballaz if she took a leave of absence from March 2006 to January 2007, and Ballaz said yes.
"After your thumb surgery, ultimately, your pain has gone away, right?" Brown asked.
"Yes, ultimately," Ballaz answered.
Ballaz insisted that the pain remains, but it's less painful in comparison. Brown challenged that testimony, pointing to Ballaz's deposition where she said the pain in the thumb "didn't bother as much."
Moving on to her mental health, Brown asked whether the depression she experienced after seeing the Los Angeles riot never went away. "They went away," Ballaz answered. But her deposition showed otherwise -- that Ballaz was still feeling depressed since the Los Angeles riot.
"It's a true statement, but not the whole story," Ballaz answered.
TV reporter Gonzalez then went into the witness box, questioned by her lawyer, Keith Griffin with Girardi & Keese.
Born in New York City, Gonzalez has been working for Fox since January 1990. Griffin asked Gonzalez what she most liked about her job as a reporter. Gonzalez answered, "It's not so much about telling my story, but it's about letting people tell their stories through me."
Married to a former police officer, Gonzalez said she had a good relationship with the LAPD.
Griffin asked Gonzalez to explain to him what happened during the May Day rally.
"The police officers pummeled the media tent," Gonzalez said.
"At some time, did you see an officer strike Patti Ballaz with a baton?" Griffin asked.
Gonzalez said she did.
"I felt a hit on the right side of my neck," she said.
She said she's seen a psychiatrist and doctors since the incident. The doctors gave her medications to ease her neck pain. Although Gonzalez admitted to having neck pain before May 1, 2007, due to a car accident, she said the policeman's baton blow limited her from enjoying activities such as horseback riding.
"Since May 1, I can't ride as much anymore," Gonzalez said.
Psychiatrist Todd Hutton also addressed the effects of the police action, saying he had seen Gonzalez at least 10 times and heard from her that she was "attacked and beaten by police officers."
"This attack was extremely unexpected and out of the blue," Hutton said.
After the incident, Hutton said Gonzalez was jumpy and had trouble calming down, even though she kept working. He attributed this to post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said caused constant anxiety and nervousness. Hutton recalled a time when Gonzalez was so emotionally unstable that she believed the police would not help her even if she called 911.
In her cross-examination, Brown suggested that TV reporters tend to crave attention.
"One of the test results stated that she had attention-seeking tendencies so she would do something to seek others' attention, correct?" Brown asked.
"Yes, that is correct," Hutton said.
Near the end of the day, the lawyer for a third journalist, Patricia Nazario with Pasadena-based KPCC, began to present her case.
Nazario's attorney, Edward Yates, presented the testimony of Robert Tomaszewski through a video recording. As a clinical neuropsychologist, Tomaszewski said that the blow Nazario received from the police officer gave her a concussion, making it difficult for her to concentrate and remember things.
"She would be crying nearly everyday and had anxiety arousal," Tomaszewski said. He added that she still has problems multi-tasking, sleeping and word-finding, and would be easily distraught.
Judge William Highberger, who is presding over the trial, has steadfastly told lawyers for both sides that the trial must end Friday July 2, before the Fourth of July weekend.
But Yates had barely begun providing expert witnesses, and the plaintiffs had only about five or six hours left to present their case.
Yates asked for an additional three hours, but Highberger told the plaintiff lawyers to work it out among themselves, noting that Greene had taken up the most time. Later, Highberger allowed about another hour and a half for the plaintiff side.
The courtroom had become more crowded with each day of the trial, mostly with family and friends of the reporters.
Near the end of her testimony, Ballaz said, "I'm still in shock ... what happened? Why did this happen?"