Three Los Angeles-area reporters who said they were physically assaulted by LAPD officers at a 2007 rally have won their day in court.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury has awarded one of the journalists, Fox camerawoman Patricia Ballaz, $1.7 million for lost earnings and medical expenses. Another reporter, NPR journalist Patricia Nazario, won $39,000 for medical and other expenses. The jury deadlocked on the award for a third reporter, Fox reporter Christina Gonzalez.
During court testimony, Ballaz testified that police “threw [Gonzalez] around like a rag doll” as they pushed through a crowd of reporters and protesters during an immigration rally near L.A.’s MacArthur Park on May 1, 2007.
The city of Los Angeles has already settled a lawsuit on behalf of some 300 protesters who said they were mistreated by police during the protest, paying out some $13 million to the plaintiffs, reports NPR. Additionally, the city has paid a total of $450,000 to five other reporters caught up in the melee that day.
The LA Times notes that the LAPD “apologized and instituted sweeping changes in its crowd control policies” as a result of the incident.
Lawyers for the city and the LAPD argued that the reporters’ rights had not been infringed upon, because they ignored seven warnings to get out of the path of an advancing group of police officers, reports NPR.
But police expert Lou Reiter told the court that the LAPD’s charge through a group of reporters that day “was no legitimate use of force.” The jury ended up voting nine to three in the plaintiff’s favor.
“There was a war against media that day,” lawyer Browne Greene, representing the reporters, told jurors.
“This was a police riot, and we’ve got to condemn that [sort of] thing,” he told reporters Friday after the verdict. “Not in this society.”
In her testimony, Ballaz described the scene at the rally that day as having turned into a “war zone.”
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 surgeries 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.