LOS ANGELES (CN) – A public radio reporter took the witness chair in the ongoing trial over a violent police break-up of media coverage during an immigration rally, testifying that a Los Angeles policeman first hit her in the back with his baton. When she turned and asked him why, he said, “Shut up,” and whacked her just above the knee with such force that she spun 360 degrees and fell to the ground, with her cellphone flying over her head. She crawled 15 feet to escape.
A videotape of former LAPD Chief William Bratton was also played for the jury, with Bratton testifying that the police action on May Day three years ago, where police officers charged through reporters and demonstrators while swinging batons, was the most embarrassing moment of his 37-year career as a policeman.
In her live testimony, Patricia Nazario, a reporter with Pasadena-based public radio station KPCC, described a May Day demonstration over immigration policy as an urban war zone.
“I saw a group of people panicked,” Nazario said. “There was this scattering happening.”
Nazario then saw a helicopter hovering near Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado street and dropping smoke bombs. She heard police officers telling people to get out of the park.
“I saw this one kid,” she said. ” He was about four to six feet away from me and threw a water bottle at the police officers.” She said the water bottle hit no one but a policeman then shot the boy with a rubber bullet in the chest.
“That’s when I got scared … the bullets were flying my way,” Nazario said.
Nazario hid behind a tree while explaining the situation to her editor on the phone. As she was about to walk away from the tree, a policeman, later identified as Jesse Reyes, stabbed his baton to the right side of her back.
Nazario turned to ask Reyes why he had hit her, and Reyes said, “Shut up, move!” He then hit her again on the leg just above the knee, and sent her spinning in a full circle and down onto the ground. She said the cellphone she was using to talk to her boss went flying over her head.
Her lawyer, Gregory Yates played a videotape of Reyes deposition where the officer claims the reporter was uncooperative and yelling vulgarities at him. “The whole time she’s being aggressive,” said the policeman on tape.
Asked if any part of that statement was true, Nazario said, “No.”
As with two other journalists who were knocked around in the same police action, the lawyer moved from the events themselves to the resulting damages.
Nazario said that she took two months off, before returning to work.
“I wasn’t sleeping. I had difficulty falling asleep … my mind was falling apart,” Nazario testified.
City attorney Jessica Brown asked Nazario if she missed work because of medical restrictions.
Nazario answered that it was more because she couldn’t sleep.
Asked by the city’s lawyer about the boy who threw the water bottle, the reporter said, “I saw some aggressive body movement … I saw it being aggressive,” Nazario said.
In a deposition video shown toward the end of the day, former LAPD Chief William Bratton said the police officers violated the LAPD media policy and used unreasonable force toward the reporters. The lawyer for camerawoman Patricia Ballaz, Robert Jarchi with the firm of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, asked Bratton if he were embarrassed about what happened on May 1, 2007.
“I was,” Bratton answered. “Some of the strikes made by the police officers were in violation to the policy and their training.”
Asked if the incident was the most embarrassing event in his 37 years as a policeman, Bratton answered, “That’s correct.”
In her complaint, Nazario also claims about $15,000 in loss of earnings and $23,000 in total medical expenses she had incurred so far.
Her clinical neuropsychologist Robert Tomaszewski said in the video testimony that the headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder she suffered “were directly related to the May 1st incident.”
But he conceded, under cross-examination by Jessica Brown with the City Attorney’s office, that Nazario has consistently scored superior on her brain function tests. The May 2007 test reports show that the results are highly variable and frequently extended into to the superior range.
Nazario stifled tears as she gave her testimony, saying that since the beating she has been — and still is — emotionally unstable and cries often.
When Nazario cut Brown off in the middle of her question, Brown brought laughter in the courtroom by saying, “Try to let me finish my question, like at the deposition. I know I’m easy to predict sometimes.”
With the jury present, Brown also noted that Nazario was wearing high heels for her testimony, as well as during her deposition, thereby challenging Nazario’s claim of continuing ankle pain.
As the trial neared its conclusion, Judge William Highberger said that he wanted Nazario’s testimony to be presented in a fair light. He would not allow the use of animations or a video clip to amplify Nazario’s testimony.
“It’s highly suggestive and leading,” said Highberger.
No major newspapers are covering the trial, including the hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times. Nor has FOX TV, whose reporter was at the heart of the May Day roust of the media. Occasionally, wire service and radio reporters have dropped in to hear testimony.
Attendance in the gallery has grown as the trial proceeds but is comprised almost entirely of family members and friends of the plaintiffs, a few policemen and a couple law students.
The judge has made it clear to all in the courtroom that the trial will conclude before the Fourth of July holiday.
Lawyer Browne Greene, who represents a camerawoman in the case, said in a brief interview that the outcome depended in part on whether the City Attorney’s office could persuade the jury to discount testimony from former police officials who have sharply criticized the police actions at the demonstration.
“The trial depends on whether the City attorney is able to spin the truth in such a way as to deny … and condemn what police officers like Chief Hillman and Bratton said.”
Greene also referred to testimony during the trial where a policeman suggested that he hit TV reporter Christina Gonzalez while she had a microphone in her hand because she was a threat to his gun.
“It’s also about whether they can make the people believe that the woman went for the gun,” said Greene. “I don’t think the jury is going to believe that.”