LOS ANGELES (CN) – Lawyers for three female reporters who were hit and knocked down by policemen during a rally told a jury in closing arguments Wednesday, “There was a war against media that day.” A lawyer for Los Angeles countered that TV reporters had placed themselves in harm’s way and thought they had “special privileges.”
During the two-week trial, former Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton and Deputy Chief Michael Hillman testified on behalf of the reporters, criticizing the police charge that sent people flying and down onto the ground during a May Day 2007 rally against immigration policy.
Browne Greene, a prominent Los Angeles trial lawyer, showed the jury a video clip that showed a policeman thrusting his baton into a man who was holding an American flag. “They’re looking for people to hit,” he said.
“This is the reason why Chief Hillman and Bratton were ashamed,” Greene said. “Who’s posing the threat to him?”
Greene showed another video from the 2007 May Day rally at MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles. It showed Officer Joseph Clay knocking the camera from plaintiff Patricia Ballaz’s shoulder and jabbing his baton into Fox TV reporter Christina Gonzalez.
“She was slammed, she was struck,” Greene said. “It could’ve been you or me — anyone — there was a war against media that day.”
Gonzalez’s lawyer, Keith Griffin, gave his closing argument “as the middle child” of the three lawyers representing the three female plaintiffs — a reference to a joke made by Judge William Highberger. “It’s the foot soldiers that denied the responsibility,” Griffin said. He pointed to Clay’s unsupported claim that Gonzalez went after his gun.
“Christina Gonzalez’s cervical conditions were aggravated,” Griffin argued. Because of the May Day incident, Gonzalez needed to have a surgery on her neck, he said. She can no longer turn her neck sideways.
For the third plaintiff, KPCC radio reporter Patricia Nazario, lawyer Gregory Yates told the jury, “She posed no threat of harm. There was no justification.”
Yates played a video tape of the events to challenge the statement by Officer Jesse Reyes that he felt threatened by the reporter’s microphone. Reyes had also claimed that Nazario was aggressive in an effort to justify a baton hit that sent the reporter into a full turn in the air before she fell to the ground, her cellphone flying over her head.
“What aggression do you see? What is it? Is she aggressively lying on the ground?” Yates asked. “With this,” he continued, holding her microphone for the juries to see, “lethal weapon in her hand?” he asked, bringing laughter from the jurors and the audience.
Representing the Los Angeles Police Department, Deputy City Attorney Jessica Brown argued that the plaintiffs lack suffiicient evidence to make their case.
“You’re not here to make a determination that a policy was violated or not,” Brown told the jurors. “You’re here to determine if the law was violated or not.” She acknowledged that “bad things” happened to the plaintiffs. However, she told the jury, “These three plaintiffs took a risk on their own.”
Showing the May Day rally video clip to the jurors, Brown said that on May Day the plaintiffs got in the police officers’ way and “injected themselves” into the action.
“Objective evidence: They’re walking into the skirmish line,” Brown said. She also counted the times that officers told Ballaz and Gonzalez to “move back,” “don’t get in the line,” “don’t follow us” — at least seven times. Because they refused to comply with police orders, she said, the policemen were forced to use necessary force to ask media reporters to comply.
“It’s a push,” Brown said, in describing the officers’ use of their batons.
When challenging the physical injury claims of Ballaz and Gonzalez, Brown asked, “Do you see in this video these two women injured for life?” She pointed out how Ballaz walked away from Clay without a limp.
“Where’s the limp? Where’s the limp? It’s not there,” Brown said.
Brown also talked about Nazario’s claim that she hurt her ankle. “She bounces right back up like an athlete,” Brown said. “She thought she had special rights, special privileges, that she can do and say whatever she wants.”
“They were going to get the story no matter what that day,” Brown said of the three reporters.
She handed off to Deputy City Attorney Todd Hayward, who countered the plaintiffs’ claims for emotional damages.
“I’m asking you to reject any PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) claims,” he said. “It means impaired life functions. It means that the computer crashed and the desktop won’t come up.”
Talking about Ballaz’s claims, Hayward asked the jurors to “reject Ms. Ballaz’s claim that her life was ruined. … The LAPD did not break her heart, body or spirit.”
Moving on to Gonzalez, Hayward attacked her claim that she felt threatened and nervous when she was around policemen after May Day. “But we have videos of her standing next to a SWAT truck,” he said. “We also have her videotaped in the police department building.”
Hayward also mentioned that Nazario’s claim of PTSD was not justified. “She received journalism awards every year, he said. “That’s an indication that she’s doing just fine.”
Both Hayward and Brown denied that the city was responsible for what happened to the three reporters.
“You cannot make an example of the city for what the employee did,” Hayward said. When talking about the monetary compensation to the plaintiffs, Hayward added that “the only amount you can take away from the city, if any, are the amounts you can prove.”
The courtroom was overflowing Wednesday, with several people sitting outside the courtroom to hear the closing argument. About three officers were listening to the arguments, with the rest of the crowd made up of the plaintiffs’ family, friends and co-workers. Gonzalez and her husband held hands tightly while Ballaz’s mother listened intently to Greene’s closing argument. Nazario took notes.
Over the course of the trial, Judge Highberger has told lawyers and jurors repeatedly that the trial needs to be concluded before the Fourth of July weekend when a number of jurors said they had holiday plans. A verdict is expected by Friday.