LOS ANGELES (CN) – A trial over the violent break-up of a May Day demonstration started Friday with testimony and videotape showing policemen pushing and knocking down reporters for a local Fox station and public radio station. The lawyer for the reporters said in his opening statement that it was the right of the journalists to do their job without being beaten, under the First Amendment. The lawyer for Los Angeles answered by saying the police took rational and necessary measures to prevent the crowd from getting out of hand.
Browne Greene represents camerawoman Patti Ballaz and Keith Griffin with Girardi & Keese represents FOX TV reporter Christina Gonzalez.
Greene said in his opening statement that the reporters were issued a permit to cover the rally on May 1, 2007 which was a lawful assembly. Therefore, said Greene, they were legally at MacArthur Park to cover the rally centering on immigration policy.
The batons and other weapons that caused severe injuries to the reporters were excessive, said the noted Los Angeles trial lawyer.
He demonstrated his point by showing videos of Los Angeles Police Department officers using batons to beat and push around reporters and those at the rally. In addition, the jury saw a video statement by then-LAPD Chief William Bratton saying the force was excessive and inappropriate.
Moving to the issue of damages, Greene said the beatings Ballaz received that day worsened problems she with her back, hands and ankle. Ballaz lost her video journalism career of 20 years and carries trauma from the beating to this day.
For Los Angeles, Jessica Brown said the LAPD was forced to take harsh measures because the crowd was getting out of control, throwing rocks at police officers. Moreover, the group who were causing the trouble hid behind the reporters for cover, she said, forcing the police to push the reporters out of the park.
She said TV reporter Ballaz, camerwoman Gonzalez, and radio reporter Patricia Nazario with Pasadena-based public radio station KPCC were in the way and “injected themselves into the story.”
Brown added that their medical conditions were pre-existing and therefore the injuries claimed by the reporters did not in fact happen on the day of the demonstration.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Highberger set a trial schedule that gives each side about a week to finish their presentations. He said the trial must be concluded by July 2, the Friday before the Fourth of July, or the lawyers would have to start over with a new trial.