The FBI will open a civil rights inquiry into the Los Angeles Police Department's actions at an immigration rally where officers cleared a city park by wielding batons and firing rubber bullets.
The preliminary inquiry seeks to determine "whether the civil rights of protesters taking part in the May 1st immigration rally were violated," according to an FBI news release issued on Thursday.
Police Chief William J Bratton had said earlier on Thursday that he planned to meet next week with the FBI to see whether a bureau probe of Tuesday's clashes at MacArthur Park was possible. "I have no issues with the FBI coming in ... and taking a look at it," he said.
The FBI probe is the fourth official investigation of the violence. The US Department of Justice will review the bureau's results and decide whether to initiate a full-fledged investigation. Police investigators plan to review extensive video of Tuesday's rally, where police clashed with a crowd in MacArthur Park, wielding batons and firing 240 rubber bullets.
Bratton said in an appearance on CBS's "Early Show" that he was "not happy" when he watched videotape of the events. The chief said he hoped a federal review would show the department has nothing to hide while dispelling any claims that police had targeted immigrants or immigrant rights activists.
Rally organizers decried the police behavior as brutal. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, on a trade trip in Mexico City, vowed to fully investigate the matter, saying he was "very disturbed" by what he saw.
"In police departments in major cities across the nation and around the world you'll often see situations like this," Villaraigosa said.
"The difference is we will investigate and make no mistake about it."
The clashes started around 6 pm on Tuesday, when police tried to disperse demonstrators who moved into a street, according to rally organizers and reporters. Officers used batons to push the crowd back to the sidewalk after several people threw rocks and bottles at them, then cleared the park, authorities said.
News images showed police hitting a TV cameraman to the ground, shoving people who were walking away from officers and injuries from the rubber bullets. Bratton has said the use of force occurred while officers were trying to deal with 50 to 100 "agitators" who were trying to provoke police.
A police order to disperse probably was not effective because it was in English and given from a helicopter, Bratton said on Wednesday.
Many at the protest were Spanish speakers, he said. Seven officers suffered minor injuries, and another was pushed off his motorcycle. About 10 other people were treated for minor injuries, though authorities expected the number to rise. The Police Department has opened two investigations, one to create an "after-action report" that evaluates planning and operations, and another by internal affairs to probe complaints against officers.
Bratton said department investigators were still in the process of identifying all officers involved in the clashes, but that no decision about placing any on administrative leave would be made until the probe is finished.
An independent review also has been undertaken by the investigative arm of the city's civilian Police Commission, a five-member board of mayoral appointees that sets policy for the Police Department.
Police union leaders urged against a "rush to judgment." "Our officers gave a legal dispersal order and were met with violence. In the coming days it will become clear what transpired," Los Angeles Police Protective League President Bob Baker said in a news release.
(Additional contribution by Don Thompson in Sacramento and Michael R Blood in Los Angeles)