August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

New Year’s revelers ignore stay-at-home orders in L.A. County

Thousands of New Year’s revelers were dispersed, detained or arrested in Los Angeles County through the weekend as large celebrations and parties occurred across the region, despite surging COVID-19 infections and a regional stay-at-home order barring such gatherings.

LAPD officials said they broke up at least eight New Year’s Eve gatherings involving more than 2,000 people downtown and in the surrounding area, including one warehouse party where more than 1,000 people were dispersed. Sheriff’s officials said they broke up at least five parties involving more than 900 people — including at a rented house, a vacant warehouse, a hotel and a closed business.

“I have made it clear that we will seek out and take law enforcement action against all ‘Super-Spreader’ events occurring anywhere within Los Angeles County,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a statement.

The enforcement continued a frustrating COVID-19 cat-and-mouse game for local law enforcement, which has been tasked for months with identifying big parties that violate health orders as party promoters go deeper underground to avoid detection.

Police have been warning homeowners and renters at least since May that big parties break the county’s health orders. In August, Mayor Eric Garcetti began ordering power and utilities shut off at homes where parties were repeatedly occurring. Last month, City Atty. Mike Feuer filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against an underground party host downtown.

Still, the parties have persisted — and erupted across the L.A. region as 2020 came to an end.

So-called “influencers” and other young partygoers posted footage on social media of revelers ringing in the New Year the old fashioned way — by screaming, dancing and singing together in enclosed spaces without masks.

Some traveled to states where rules against gathering aren’t as strict. Others stayed in L.A. and simply ignored rules put in place to stop the airborne virus from spreading.

The cavalier approach to partying during a pandemic came as the nation closed the books on a year in which the virus claimed the lives of more than 340,000 people — more than 1.8 million globally — and as local health officials in Los Angeles repeatedly begged people to stay home as the region continued to solidify its position as one of the nation’s worst coronavirus hot spots.

Officials are beginning to see the already-high number of local cases rise to even more alarming levels from what they believe is a spike caused by people gathering for Christmas last week and have said they fear gatherings over New Year’s Eve will compound the problem.

Local hospitals are already at capacity, with few if any ICU beds to spare and the threat of rationing care looming ever larger. Just this week, a more transmissible variant of the virus was detected in Southern California for the first time.

As the last day of 2020 began early Thursday, Los Angeles County health officials begged people to stay home — tweeting that the county had surpassed 10,000 deaths and that a person was dying in the county from the virus every 10 minutes.

“Until we slow the spread, the next person to tragically pass away could be someone you know,” the health department said in a tweet, before sending out dozens of tweets mentioning different types of people who had been claimed: a mother, a cancer survivor, a World War II veteran.

“Please stay home tonight. Slow the spread. Save a life,” the agency wrote on the end of each tweet.

Many did not heed the warnings.

Lt. Raul Jovel, an LAPD spokesman, said LAPD officials were “all monitoring social media” this week to identify planned parties. The work wasn’t easy, in part because party hosts “are getting smarter,” he said.

Promoters often announce a party in a general area — like downtown — but won’t post the address until the last minute or not at all, relying on it spreading by word of mouth instead, Jovel said.

Still, LAPD officers identified at least eight parties on New Year’s Eve.

Shortly after 9 p.m., Newton area patrol officers responded to a call for shots fired in the 3000 block of South Grand Avenue and found “a heavily fortified pop-up marijuana dispensary hosting an illegal underground weed party,” according to Capt. Alex Baez of the Newton division. About 30 people were dispersed.

About 10:30 p.m., LAPD officers worked with sheriff’s deputies to shut down a party of about 150 people in the 900 block of South Mateo Street.

About 11 p.m., officers got a tip on the address of a planned party in the 500 block of West Pico Boulevard, near Staples Center, where about 150 people were dispersed. At 11:15 p.m., 100 people were dispersed from a warehouse party on 12th Street, west of Central Avenue.

About 11:30 p.m., a party in the 200 block of South Broadway — which is only about a block from LAPD headquarters — was broken up, with about 250 people questioned and released. Police shared images of unmasked partygoers in cocktail dresses and heels gathered closely around a couch and table, with confetti on the floor. About 11:45 p.m., about 150 people were dispersed from a rental hall in the 2100 block of South Olive Street.

About 12:10 a.m. on Friday, about 300 people were dispersed from a gathering at Sam’s After Dark, an adult entertainment club in the 1500 block of East Washington Boulevard, police said. “We ordered the occupants out of the club and gained compliance,” Baez said.

A club representative could not be reached for comment Saturday.

At 1:35 a.m., more than 1,000 people were dispersed from a warehouse in the 700 block of Agatha Street, police said.

Jovel said complaints will be filed against the owners of all of the above properties, which represented only a portion of the events broken up. He said citywide totals for all parties broken up over the holiday were not immediately available.

LAPD Capt. Brent McGuyre, who helps command officers in central L.A., said the events downtown were not just parties, but “illegal nightclubs” whose operators weren’t following the same rules as everyone else — not only under the latest COVID-19 restrictions, but under fire codes.

“It’s not fair that real nightclubs and bars are shut down and these businesses are able to continue to operate,” he said.

On Friday, L.A. County Sheriff Villanueva said on Twitter that his agency’s “Super-Spreader Task Force” had arrested 90 adults for “health officer order violations” and warned or advised more than 900 about violating health orders. Along with the message, Villanueva posted a video of more than 50 partygoers streaming out of a graffitied building after deputies broke up an illegal party.

Villanueva’s office said deputies, detectives and other sheriff’s personnel shut down “super-spreader” events on New Year’s Eve in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, Malibu and Pamona. At the event in Hawthorne, five handguns were recovered.

“The goal of these enforcement actions is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the risk to our vulnerable populations,” Villanueva said.

The sheriff’s office said the task force would be back out looking for parties on Friday night, but on Saturday a spokesman said he did not have any information about additional arrests or warnings that were handed out, if any.

The active roles taken this week by both the LAPD and the sheriff’s department in enforcing COVID-19 rules — sending officers into warehouses and other locations where unmasked revelers are partying — come as more officers are falling ill from the virus. Toward the end of last month, more than 10% of L.A. sheriff’s employees were in quarantine after testing positive or being exposed to the virus. Numbers of infections and exposures among LAPD officers also have jumped in recent weeks.

Local directives putting police on the front lines of enforcing health orders have not been met with universal acceptance by law enforcement leaders, with some Southern California law enforcement heads rejecting the idea of taking a hands-on approach to enforcing curfews and other COVID-19 measures.

Police in L.A., who have resisted enforcing things like mask mandates, say they are taking an active role in shutting down parties — and will continue doing so in coming days and weeks.

Mayor Garcetti on Saturday said while many Angelenos have followed the rules, he was “deeply saddened” to see that some had “made the dangerous decision” to attend New Year’s Eve parties.

“I recognize how difficult it is to stay apart, but when even a few people gather, this virus spreads, and kills,” he said.