FREE PRESS -- "In the trial over the violent break-up of a demonstration, a former deputy police chief testified that the club-wielding police who knocked reporters down were acting outside of the rules set out by the Los Angeles Police Department for dealing with reporters," reports Kie Akiba for Courthouse News Service.
On behalf of a camerawoman who was knocked to the ground, Robert Jarchi from the firm of Greene Broillet & Wheeler, asked former deputy chief Michael Hillman whether the police officers used reasonable force toward his client, FOX TV camerawoman Patricia Ballaz.
Hillman wrote a crowd control manual for LAPD in the 1992 and he also wrote an 80-page report on the events of May 1, 2007 in MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles. He said the actions by the policemen that day in surging through the park, swinging batons at those in their path specifically including members of the press, violated police department rules on crowd control.
Jarchi said as part of his questioning that the police guideline states that all people have freedom of speech and not only does the policeman recognize the freedom of speech but has the responsibility to actively protect it. The guideline says further that "a well-informed public is essential for the existence of a democratic nation."
After showing a video clip of a police officer beating Ballaz with a baton and shoving her and FOX TV reporter Christina Gonzalez on the ground, Jarchi asked whether "knocking her camera off her shoulder interfered with her rights" to which Hillman agreed that it did interfere with her right as a reporter.
Moreover, when Jarchi asked Hillman if he saw any reporters use any force toward the police officers in the video clip, Hillman answered, "I did not see from the media any level of force."
He added, "They had no justification to use batons against the media."
For the LAPD, lawyer Jessica Brown asked a well-loaded question, inquiring of Hillman whether the media "have any special rights to be at the riot."
To which Hillman answered that although under the law they do, under LAPD policy they do not.
"Is the position of advantage important for officers?" Brown asked.
"Yes," Hillman answered.
He further said that the police officers are told to maintain themselves at a distance so they have the space and time to act if they need to. Also, he agreed that the policemen can use reasonable force to gain cooperation and that a push is reasonable to gain compliance if the reporters were told to move many times.
Moving to damages, the lawyers for camerawoman Ballaz put clinical psychologist Nora Baladerian on the witness stand.
Baladerian received her Ph.D. in psychology from Sierra University in Santa Monica, California and has been working as a psychologist for about 31 years.She specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has been treating Ballaz for the past 3 years.
"She first came in May 8, 2007," Baladerian said."She explained that all the sudden she was attacked from her blind side and she went down with the camera. She was also struck on her body by a police officer by a baton. The whole thing happened to her in such an unexpected way."
Asked how the attack affected Ballaz, the psychologist testified it destroyed a sense of loyalty and trust Ballaz had toward the police for years. To the TV reporter, the policemen were colleagues, said the psychologist.
For the city, Brown first attacked Baladerian's credentials. She asked whether Sierra University was accredited by California Psychological Association. When Baladarian answered no, Brown further asked if Baladerian knew that Sierra University has been accused of fraud according to a LA Times news article from August 1990. Again, Baladerian answered no.
Baladerian also seemed to have billed Ballaz twice -- one for acute stress disorder and another for post-traumatic disorder -- for one of their therapy sessions, the cross-examiner pointed out.
On the subject of physical harm to the plaintiffs, Dr. Aliza Lifshitz testified on Friday as the internist for Ballaz and another plaintiff, FOX TV reporter Christina Gonzalez.
Lifshitz said that before May 1, 2007, Ballaz had persistent neck, back, shoulder, hand, and foot pain due to her job as a camerawoman, carrying a camera that weighs about 30 to 40 pounds on her shoulder all the time.
However, Ballaz did not need to get any treatment for her pain before the May Day rally, said Lifshitz. That was because her condition was not bad enough to need treatment.
When he saw his patient on May 2, 2007, Ballaz had an immense amount of pain in multiple areas of the body. Dr. Robert Klapper, Cedars-Sinai Medical Group's Chief Orthopaedic surgeon, testified that the camerawoman's pains were exacerbated due to the police violence.
During her cross-examination of both Lifshitz and Klapper, the assistant city attorney asked whether the doctors' claims about Ballaz's injuries are based on an objective or subjective assessment of the patient's pain.
Lifshitz replied that she based her conclusions on what Ballaz told her and what other doctors said about Ballaz's injuries. But she emphasized that Ballaz did not require any treatment prior to May 1.
During the course of the testimony, Judge Highberger sustained objections from both sides.
During Hillman's direct testimony, he sustained the objection from the defense and told Jarchi to be more specific in his questions. Highberger said that asking Hillman the importance for media to report use of force is vague, but reporting use of excessive force is not.
"It is part of law enforcement to uphold the law," said Hillman said. But, he said, "I believe there were times throughout the event where the media could be cooperative."