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Arrests begin in Oakland protests on officer's sentence [Updated]

November 5, 2010 |  8:25 pm

Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts held a news briefing about 7:30 p.m. Friday to say the crowd of protesters had been declared an unlawful assembly and those who refused to disperse would be arrested.

One officer had been hit by a car in a probable accident. A demonstrator also grabbed the gun and holster of a second officer during a scuffle. The suspect was taken into custody.

It was that incident that prompted Batts to call an end to the demonstration.

"I think you have a very aggressive crowd that's out of line and we should hold that crowd accountable," he said. "We will stay professional but at this point we're going to take people into custody who don't leave," Batts announced with Mayor Ron Dellums at his side.

The demonstrators were protesting the two-year sentence given to former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle on Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Grainy video footage of the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting captured by several witnesses shows Mehserle, who is white, firing one shot into the back of Oscar J. Grant III, who was black. Grant, 22, was lying face down on BART's Fruitvale Station platform when he was shot.

Batts said the organized protest had gone "very well," but after 6 p.m. a number of people went in the "exact opposite" direction than they had indicated they would, heading east of downtown.

"This is going to be continuously fluid," he said. "Is it out of control? No. Did it take us a little time to flank them? Yes it did."

The Oakland chief, who was recruited from Long Beach, also said that an assisting police agency had not properly read the Oakland police directive and had drawn powerful weapons. Batts said he quickly informed the agency that "that's not how we do business.... I gave a direct order that those would stand down."

As the chief's briefing was taking place, police used bullhorns to declare an unlawful assembly and told the marchers who hadn’t dispersed that they were under arrest. Officers asked the demonstrators not to resist and warned the media to move away or they would be arrested too.

Surrounded by more than 100 officers in riot gear, some in the crowd sat down on the ground but none appeared to fight with police.

As the arrests began, Ryan Sturgis went through the crowd and gave out a hotline number for the National Lawyers Guild.

[Updated at 8:50 p.m.: Protesters with their hands cuffed behind their backs were lined up along 6th Avenue waiting to be processed at a mobile booking station. Officer Jeff Thomason, the public information officer at the scene, said more than 100 demonstrators were under arrest. He said it would take more than an hour to process them all.]

-- Lee Romney and Maria LaGanga in Oakland