Mayor blames hoodlums for melee, confident convention will be safe

LOS ANGELES - Violence after the Los Angeles Lakers championship win had city officials on the defensive Tuesday with storekeepers questioning police ability to deal with unrest at the summer Democratic National Convention.

Shop owner Payman Moradian called rioters ''a bunch of animals'' and said police should have been more aggressive in stopping them.

''If they would have started with stronger force and higher presence, the crowd wouldn't have gotten out of hand,'' said Moradian, who arrived at his Alarms Depot Tuesday morning to find glass broken and the business looted of $5,000 in merchandise. ''I don't think it's fair for everyone else to get the shaft and the people who did this are out laughing at everybody.''

Mayor Richard Riordan said the outburst by ''a few hundred hoodlums'' must be put in perspective, noting there were 30,000 people in and around the Staples Center arena and that violence was confined to a small area and didn't spread citywide.

''These are not fans; they are losers who only know how to trash our city,'' the mayor said, assuring residents streets will be safe when the Democrats come to town Aug. 14-17.

Wednesday's victory parade will be safe too, officials promised fans at a later news conference.

''There is going to be a zero-tolerance policy tomorrow,'' said police Capt. Stuart A. Maislin. ''We are not going to stand for any law violations by any person. Don't bring your alcohol.''

Staples Center President Tim Leiweke said the city was prepared for a quarter million people, but he expected between 100,000 and 150,000 fans for the parade and rally.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse the people rampaging south of downtown Monday night. Eleven people were arrested and four police officers suffered minor injuries during the rock- and bottle-throwing melee.

Two police cars were torched, two TV news vans were damaged or destroyed, and there were nearly two dozen auto and rubbish fires reported. Looters invaded a computer store, glass storefronts were shattered and at least 74 vehicles at seven car dealerships were damaged.

County supervisors on Tuesday offered a $5,000 reward for conviction of those who incited violence, saying Patriotic Hall was damaged.

''What began as a tremendous victory on the basketball court became a black eye for Los Angeles County as the result of senseless, irresponsible behavior,'' said Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who made the motion for the reward.

Lakers spokesman John Black announced Tuesday evening that the Lakers organization and star center Shaquille O'Neal each will buy a new police car for the department. Costs were not available from police officials after hours.

White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said the violence was ''an unfortunate aftermath'' to the Lakers win.

''It's unfortunate that the celebrations for something so positive could turn so bad so quickly,'' he said.

Lockhart said he hadn't talked to President Clinton about the disturbance.

''We need to learn the lessons of last night also so that we will have an outstanding and safe Democratic National Convention in August,'' he said.

Riordan asked for a report on tactics used during the post-game disturbance. Police Chief Bernard Parks said the department would consider citing additional suspects in the melee as part of its investigation.

Parks defended his officers' response before the City Council, where several members lambasted him for not preventing property damage. Other members lauded the officers' tactics, arguing that a heavy-handed approach would have resulted in more injuries.

''You have no idea what could have happened if they had waded through that crowd with clubs, weapons drawn, and started whipping on people, because in order to stop them you have to beat them up,'' Councilman Nate Holden said, chastising colleagues for interrogating Parks.

The violence erupted within the estimated 10,000 people who had watched the Lakers defeat the Indiana Pacers 116-111 on a jumbo screen outside Staples Center on 11th Street.

Hours before, business operators met with police and convention organizers to discuss DNC security and traffic strategy. They also were assured they had nothing to fear from Lakers euphoria.

''Where were the police?'' asked Stephen E. Auth, president of Kaiser Bros. Oldsmobile, which was damaged by the rampaging fans. ''I'm disappointed.''

Mike Rice, manager of Prestige Products auto accessories across from the Staples Center, said he was concerned about the police response. Some of his windows were shattered.

''My concern is the lack of forethought by police,'' he said.

Rice said he is worried about the convention, which also will be at Staples Center and is expected to attract about 30,000 demonstrators.

City officials have been preparing for the convention for more than a year, and Riordan assured residents and visitors it will be safe.

''Last night was essentially a spontaneous event. The DNC will be a very disciplined, well-planned, business-type event,'' he said. ''The controlled areas around the Staples Center will be much larger than last night, and anybody that wants to get into the controlled areas will have to have credentials.''

About 300 police officers were on hand at the start of the night, with an additional 300 more brought on by the peak of the melee, Parks said. The department spent weeks preparing for Monday night, he said. Officers avoided confrontation for as long as possible in order to protect police officers, firefighters and members of the public, he said.

''We followed the plan to ensure that life was the No. 1 priority,'' Parks said.

''I think from looking at the size of the crowd and looking at the emotion of the crowd we certainly feel as though the end result was the best that we could do in those circumstances,'' he said.

Councilman Rudy Svorinich sternly told Parks he was concerned about what the nation and world had seen.

''I'm finding it a little hard to swallow this morning and a little incredulous that ... mayhem for approximately three hours on the streets of Los Angeles after the Laker victory can be declared a victory in crowd control,'' Svorinich said.

The union representing the city's 9,300 rank-and-file officers questioned the decision to hold officers back as rioters burned vehicles and set bonfires.

Previous riots have taught police to control such fires quickly so crowds don't get out of hand, said Ted Hunt, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

''But we did not control those things last night,'' he said. ''We sacrificed two news vans, two police vehicles, four injured officers and untold numbers of scared people.''

At a press conference, Leiweke dismissed the suggestion that showing the game to the crowd on the giant outdoor TV was a bad idea, and he said the troublemakers were not simply intoxicated.

''These kids came down here for a reason. They were going to cause havoc,'' he said.

The disturbance, coming after the Lakers' first National Basketball Association championship in 12 years, had many people shaking their heads.

''Our society, how can they do things like this? I mean, sure, have your fun, celebrate, but don't be tearing up other people's property like this,'' downtown worker Vince Garcia said.

Television images of looting and burning in the nation's second-largest city were shown worldwide, the camera view again sullying the reputation of Los Angeles eight years after the Rodney King riots.

''The stain on the city from those images will last indefinitely,'' Councilman Mike Feuer said.

''Last night we all witnessed pride and shame, winners and losers. Angelenos cheered and celebrated with pride as we saw our Lakers win the championship after a hard-fought competition with the Pacers,'' Riordan said.

''They were the winners who took pride in their team and their city, but it was with shame and anger that we saw not Lakers fans, but a few hundred hoodlums attempt to spoil our celebration.''


Associated Press Writer Bill Martinez contributed to this report.


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