Complaints about cops at melee reviewed

September 9, 2007 No Comments

Chet Barfield. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Sep 9, 2007. pg. B.1

The San Diego Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division is investigating complaints about the actions of some officers during the Labor Day melee at Pacific Beach, Chief William Lansdowne said.

Internet postings allege that some officers used excessive force, arrested innocent people and sprayed Mace indiscriminately at bystanders.

The incident, which involved scores of police officers and a drunken and combative crowd numbering in the hundreds, made national news and prompted City Councilman Kevin Faulconer to call for a ban on alcohol at city beaches.

Officials and witnesses say police officers, many of whom were threatened, acted appropriately under trying conditions.

But several eyewitnesses said a group of 10 to 12 officers responding to a disturbance around 5 p.m. on the beach near Reed Avenue angered the crowd by arresting a man who was trying to rescue a police all-terrain vehicle that had either rolled or been pushed by someone else into the surf.

People began yelling and throwing sand and cans at the officers, who called for backup as they formed a circle around three handcuffed men on the sand.

“The crowd didn’t like the fact that they were arresting these guys. Things were sailing through the air,” said lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris, who watched the developments unfold. “As they were loading the prisoners into their Bronco, the perimeter started to collapse.

“The crowd started to rush in, and they were spraying Mace to get people back,” Harris said. “The PD was in full retreat, pulling back to the boardwalk.”

Those officers eventually were joined by about 60 others, including 40 in riot gear, who continued to be pelted with beer cans and water bottles.

Harris said that although the early moments were chaotic, he saw nothing that he considered an overreaction by police, as several e- mailers and people who were interviewed had alleged to reporters.

Typical of those allegations was this one, posted Wednesday on The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Web site: “Officers were spraying Mace at innocent people who did absolutely nothing. … That’s why it got all out of control.”

Lansdowne said he and other department officials reviewed videotapes from the news media and a nearby lifeguard tower. At this point, he said, it appears that officers did not overreact.

“They did use Mace, and Mace makes a wide spray,” Lansdowne said. “It’s possible some people got some Mace on them who weren’t involved.”

He added: “The officers were in fact threatened. Most of the people who got Maced were people that were drawn into it and chose to be part of it.”

He said an Internal Affairs investigation and other departmental reviews are under way, and “it’ll be 90 days before we get all the paperwork done.”

Credit: STAFF WRITER

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