La Mesa

Firm Investigating Breonna Taylor's Death Tapped to Review La Mesa Police, City's Protest Response

The La Mesa Police Department has been under scrutiny for their handling of the May 30 protest, which was held amid calls for racial justice across the country due to incidents of police brutality

Chopper footage shows tear gas used during a protest in La Mesa on March 30.

The city of La Mesa has hired a Chicago firm to review their police department's actions during a protest on May 30 where officers fired bean bag rounds into an unruly crowd, striking a grandmother and sending her to the ICU.

The same firm, Hillard Heintze, LLC, has also been tapped to investigate the actions of Louisville, Kentucky's police department, which is shrouded in controversy after officers killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in a botched raid.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the La Mesa City Council selected Hillard Heintze for an independent review into the city's response on May 30 -- including the La Mesa Police Department and the Heartland Fire Department's actions, and the city's own policies -- to determine if the actions were appropriate and to recommend ways they could be improved.

Hillard Heintz will produce an after-action report that will look at the city's preparation for the May 30 protest and will analyze the city's management and field response, including the police department's de-escalation and crowd control tactics, and their use of force.

The La Mesa Police Department said in a statement to NBC 7 the agency "Department looks forward to a full review of the response to the May 30th, 2020, protest and riot."

"Like the public, the leadership of the Police Department is committed to ensuring that the best and safest practices are utilized at events such as these."

The review is expected to take four to six months, city staff said.

The La Mesa Police Department has been under scrutiny for their handling of the May 30 protest, which was held amid calls for racial justice across the country due to incidents of police brutality, including the killing of George Floyd.

The protest also came in response to a controversial caught-on-video arrest of a Black man by an LMPD officer days earlier. The department announced Sunday that the officer, a three-year veteran, is no longer with LMPD though activists are still seeking transparency.

The large demonstration started in the afternoon and, while boisterous, remained mostly peaceful throughout the day as demonstrators marched through the city and onto Interstate 8, halting traffic in both directions before returning to La Mesa Police Department headquarters.

LMPD Police Chief Walt Vasquez said he began to see troubling signs the protest could turn violent.

And as evening descended, some took advantage of the rising tensions between demonstrators and police by setting banks and vehicles ablaze and looting stores. At one point, La Mesa City Hall and a Heartland Fire & Rescue vehicle were on fire.

A citywide curfew was put into place and police told the crowd they needed to disperse or be arrested for unlawful assembly.

Some began to throw rocks and bottles while officers in tactical gear surrounded the police headquarters and deployed tear gas, flash bangs and bean bag rounds. 

One demonstrator, 59-year-old Leslie Furcron, was caught in the violence and was struck in the face with a round. LMPD believes she had thrown a can towards officers before the rounds were fired.

Furcron was in the ICU for several weeks as a result and was left with "multiple facial fractures" and "will face a lifetime of recovery from the injuries." according to her attorney.

According to city staff, Hillard Heintze intends to speak with members of the community involved in the May 30 protest.

The firm was chosen over at least two other firms because of their extensive experience on police reform issues and in responding to civil rights protests. City staff highlighted the firm's experience with community interaction and cultural awareness training.

Hillard Heintze will also look into those who also took advantage of the racial justice protest by looting and vandalizing businesses and city property. La Mesa police have arrested 19 people in connection.

About 55 businesses have received funds through the La Mesa Disaster Recovery Fund to repair the damage done to their businesses during the looting.

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