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May Day melee civil trial nears end

In this May 1, 2007 file photo, Los Angeles Police Metro Division officers advance on a crowd during an immigration rally in MacArthur Park.
AP Photo/Chad K. Uyeno, File
In this May 1, 2007 file photo, Los Angeles Police Metro Division officers advance on a crowd during an immigration rally in MacArthur Park.

A civil trial brought by three journalists against the city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department is nearing completion, with closing arguments today. The lawsuit stems from injuries suffered by journalists covering a 2007 May Day immigration rally. The jury has to decide whether the use of force against these journalists was reasonable.

There was a permit for the 2007 May Day rally, but some protesters moved into the street and didn't abide by the rules of the permit. After that, the LAPD declared it an unlawful assembly. They issued dispersal order, and when that proved to be ineffective, they used force.

This lawsuit brought by journalists Patti Ballaz, Christina Gonzalez and KPCC's Patricia Nazario represent the last three outstanding cases following the 2007 rally. In emotional testimony, the journalists testified Monday.

Patti Ballaz and Christina Gonzalez had preexisting medical conditions that the defense says makes it difficult to tease out what their injuries from the May Day rallies did to them. Patricia Nazario says she has a mild and permanent brain injury caused by the police on that day.

There was a significant amount of video, shot both by journalists and police. Testimony included discussion of what the videos either show or don't show.

The plaintiffs say the videos show women who were confused and struck without warning by police officers. However, police picked different parts of the same video to demonstrate that these journalists were communicated with and asked to leave, but did not leave.

Police allege that one of the reporters, Fox's Christina Gonzalez, got too close to an officer's gun. In video, it looked like she was getting close to that side of the officer, but perhaps unintentionally.

KPCC's Patricia Nazario allegedly had a brick in her backpack which a protester grabbed and threw at officers, but there are no videos or photos of this.

There has been new training in response to the aftermath of the May Day rally, the so-called "May Day Melee." LAPD changed its procedures, including how it deals with reporters. The lead officer was demoted and other officers were given suspensions and reassignments, but no one to date has been fired.

Police didn't follow department standards in dealing with the protesters. However, a district attorney argued that there's a difference between failing to meet department standards and breaking the law. Arguing for the city, deputy city attorneys said that the LAPD's standards are higher than the constitutional or legal requirements.

Deputy district attorneys said that reporters were not kings and don't have unlimited rights. This is part of a bigger discussion about what rights citizens have in potentially dangerous situations.

The trial included a reenactment of how an officer used his baton. The jury was shown a variety of multimedia, which seemed to have made an impact on the jury.

There were over 30 witnesses for the plaintiffs, including 16 expert witnesses, all in seven days of court time.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's comments were played to the jury by video, but the mayor was not asked to appear in court.

The jury has to decide 32 complicated questions. If the jury decides that these women will recover for economic or non-economic losses, the jury will then decide how much money these women will receive.