Police from across the Los Angeles region announced Wednesday the arrests of dozens of people on arson, burglary and looting charges stemming from the unrest of late May and early June that gripped cities including Long Beach, Santa Monica and L.A.
Officials said the arrests were part of an ongoing effort among local, state and federal agencies to hold accountable individuals and organized criminal groups that took advantage of mass protests against police brutality to burglarize stores and cause mayhem.
Standing alongside many of the area’s most prominent law enforcement officials outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters downtown, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the arrests were the result of good police work as well as tips from community members and protesters who realized the crimes they had witnessed were not in the interest of social justice or police reform.
“I want to point out that many of these arrests are the direct result of tips and leads and our community stepping forward, including demonstrators — people who were lawfully and rightfully in our streets and witnessed acts of arson, attacks against police officers, attacks on other protesters, burglary and other crimes,” Moore said.
Moore described the arrests as “a means of supporting lawful demonstration, of ensuring the First Amendment rights of everyone are protected,” rather than an effort to deter protest.
The announcement of the arrests comes nearly two months after the 17-agency task force began posting images and video of suspects online, and the FBI offered $10,000 rewards for information leading to arrests.
The FBI said it is processing some rewards as a result of tips but could not say how many.
Though thousands of people were arrested in L.A. during a week of citywide curfews and police orders declaring large gatherings unlawful, relatively few were charged at the time with serious crimes. The LAPD and other agencies took criticism for staging their officers in skirmish lines around crowds of protesters instead of sending them after individuals who were vandalizing property, burglarizing stores and setting fires nearby.
Police said that the crowds had grown large and dangerous, demanding a police response, and that others used the distraction as cover to commit crimes on the periphery and elsewhere in their agencies’ coverage areas. They promised to circle back to make additional arrests related to the violence and vandalism, including by pulling surveillance and body-camera footage and asking the public to send in videos, pictures and other evidence that could help investigators identify and track down suspects.
The search for suspects has riled some who allege that it has been too aggressive and that police have made some accusations with little evidence to back them up. But police say they have been careful and have brought only cases that will stand up in court.
Officials did not have a total number of arrests across all agencies, but individual police chiefs provided figures.
Moore said the LAPD had served 30 search warrants and arrested 14 people responsible for nearly 50 incidents — mostly arson, burglary or looting, a special charge in California covering burglary and theft that occurs during a state of emergency.
One raid at a location associated with an arson and looting suspect resulted in the recovery of an assault-style rifle and substantial amounts of methamphetamine and marijuana, Moore said.
The LAPD is still investigating more than 100 other incidents, Moore said.
Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud said her agency had served 28 search warrants and made 19 arrests.
Renaud said some of those arrested were clearly working as part of organized criminal groups operating not just in Santa Monica but also across the region, including in L.A. and Long Beach.
“There were clear plans. There were multiple people in the same vehicles. There were vehicles following other vehicles. They staged in parking lots, sent one vehicle in to loot with a person who was being timed by someone waiting out in the car … for a very quick entry and exit, which made it difficult for law enforcement to interdict,” Renaud said.
“They were carrying with them suitcases and large bags, indicating that they had planned this with a specific intent — not of engaging in protest activity.”
Renaud said that her department still has open investigations and that “there is still more work to be done.” She did not specify which cases involved organized crime groups, or what those groups were.
Long Beach Deputy Police Chief Eric Herzog said his agency had served more than 20 search warrants and made 23 arrests.
U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said his office is reviewing cases brought by local agencies to determine whether any merit federal prosecution and has already brought arson cases in the burning of a pizzeria in Los Angeles’ Sylmar section and a sushi restaurant in Santa Monica.
He said the charges — arson affecting interstate commerce — carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison.
“These are serious charges for serious crimes, and we hope this will send a message to others who seek to cause mayhem during periods of civil unrest,” Hanna said.
The task force includes the LAPD, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, as well as police from Beverly Hills, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Torrance. It also includes multiple federal law enforcement agencies, the California Highway Patrol and local and federal prosecutors.
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