LOS ANGELES (CN) – A policeman used a baton on the witness stand Wednesday to demonstrate how how he prodded reporters at a May Day rally that was violently broken up by Los Angeles police three years ago. He also testified that television reporters were difficult to spot in the crowd.
Plaintiffs Patricia Ballaz, a camerawoman, and Christina Gonzalez, a Fox TV reporter were hit by batons, according to videotape of what has been described by commentators as a police riot at a May Day rally on May 1, 2007.
Their lawyer, Robert Jarchi asked, policeman Joseph Clay if Ballaz did anything to provoke the police.
Clay answered no.
“Did you push or strike Patti Ballaz?” Jarchi asked.
“I pushed her, sir,” Clay answered.
Jarchi used the May Day video clip to show that Clay’s baton came in contact with Ballaz twice. Clay explained that he used his baton to get compliance from both Ballaz and Gonzalez, repeating and emphasizing that he “used a push.”
Jarchi asked Clay to demonstrate such a push.
He stood, pointed the baton in front of him and and move forcefully behind it to thrust forward.
Under questioning by Keith Griffin who represents Gonzalez, the policeman said he prodded her because “her hand neared out toward [his] gun side.”
“You thought there was a real possibility that Christina Gonzalez was going to shoot you, right?” Griffin asked.
“That would be a possibility with everyone, sir,” Clay answered.
On examination by Jessica Brownm the city attorney, Clay said people in the park were throwing debris such as “rocks, chunks of concrete, and bottles.” They injured his hands, legs and arms even though he was wearing heavy protective gear.
When Brown asked Clay if he was able to distinguish the media reporters from the demonstrators who were throwing debris at the police officers, Clay answered no, “They were blended in.”
Video clips of the day’s tumultuous events show reporters wearing press passes and holding cameras or microphones.
“Were Miss Gonzalez and Ballaz interfering with the line?” Brown asked. Clay said they were, forcing him to use his baton.
After Brown’s examination concluded, plaintiff lawyer Jarchi asked Clay if any debris was thrown at him when his baton came in contact with Ballaz. Clay answered that no debris was being thrown at the time.
A second witness examined by Jarchi, Frank Preciado who worked as public information officer for the LAPD, was asked how long he had been working with the LAPD as public information officer at the time of the rally. Preciado said it was his first day.
“New to the job,” said Jarchi.
Jarchi asked Preciado if the media are normally allowed to remain and continue doing their job after a police dispersal order. Preciado said, “That’s correct.”
“It would be inappropriate for media to have force used against them when they were lawfully assembled, correct?” Jarchi asked.
“That also was a violation of LAPD’s own media policy, correct?”
Under Jarchi’s examination, Preciado said that even though he was working as public information officer, he wore the exact same uniform and badge as any other officer.
For the city, Brown asked Preciado if the media is allowed to interfere with the LAPD police officers.
“No, they are not allowed to interfere with the LAPD police officers,” Preciado answered.
Moving to damages, the plaintiff lawyers called Carol Hyland, a rehabilitation counselor.
Ballaz’s job as a camerawoman is physically demanding job, said Hyland. After the violence of the rally, Hyland recommended that Ballaz should “change occupation to something significantly lighter … more of office or deskwork.”
Hyland recommended customer service as one of the alternative careers for Ballaz as a woman over the age of 50.
During the cross-examination, Assistant City Attorney Todd Hayward obtained testimony that Hyland’s assistant conducted the assessment interview with Ballaz. Further, Hyland did not actually see Ballaz in person to determine whether or not she is physically capable of using her hands as well as feet. A third witness, Ballaz’s co-worker and FOX video-photographer David Wehlage, recounted what he saw happened on that day.
Wehlage described Ballaz as “thoroughly professional and easy to get along with.” As her co-worker, he said that when handling the video camera that weighs around 30-40 pounds, the camera carriers need to be100% physically fit.
On the day of the rally, he said, “People began streaming out of the park — almost, almost a sense of panic.”
According to Wehlage, Gonzalez, Ballaz and he heard from their police scanner that the demonstrators were throwing rocks and bottles at the police officers in MacArthur Park. Gonzalez and Ballaz went to report about the situation in the park while Wehlage stayed in the media truck.
When they came back, Wehlage said. “They both appeared disheveled, upset, a combination of angry and scared.”