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Bradley-Gates Feud May Have Played Role in City’s Riot Response

May 5, 1992 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A feud between Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Chief Daryl Gates has raised questions about whether their war of no words hampered the city’s response to the riots.

″For a mayor not to talk to a chief for 13 months is absolutely inexcusable and can’t help but have a negative impact,″ said City Councilman Joel Wachs. Wachs, who has supported Gates, called for an investigation.

Many suggested, however, that it wouldn’t have made much difference if the two were closer because the City Charter gives the mayor so little authority over the police chief. Several critics said Gates alone bears much of the responsibility.

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″The fact that the police chief has acted so autonomously in the past would lead one to conclude that the mayor’s influence or anyone else’s influence over Chief Daryl Gates’ actions would have been minimal at best,″ said Ralph Sutton, spokesman for the Brotherhood Crusade, a South Central Los Angeles community group.

The Police Commission, a civilian oversight panel, plans to explore the issue in its review of the city’s response to the riots, said commission President Stanley K. Sheinbaum.

The bad blood between Republican Gates and Democrat Bradley goes back years. It reached a peak last year when Bradley called on Gates to resign after the Christopher Commission issued a report critical of the Police Department following the Rodney King beating.

That report and pressure from many lawmakers, including Wachs, led the chief to announce his retirement. He’s set to step down next month, to be replaced by Willie Williams, Philadelphia’s police commissioner.

Bradley said he and Gates hadn’t spoken to each other for a year and a month, right up to the night the rioting started.

Although accounts vary somewhat, it appears their first face-to-face conversation came at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday in the emergency operations center downtown. By then, buildings were ablaze, looters were running wild and people were getting killed.

As the unrest intensified, Gates and Bradley were in different parts of the city at events that were philosophically miles apart.

Gates was speaking at a Brentwood fund-raiser for a group opposing a ballot initiative to overhaul the Police Department. Bradley backs the measure, which would limit the tenure of the chief.

The chief’s attendance at the event sparked controversy.

He told CBS-TV’s ″Face the Nation″ he was at the event for ″five minutes or so.″ In fact, a video of the fund-raiser showed he was there for about 90 minutes, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Counting travel time from downtown, 15 miles away, Gates was away from his command post for up to two hours, from about 6:30 p.m. to about 8:30 p.m.

During that time, the streets grew increasingly violent. A mob at an intersection in South Central Los Angeles was beating motorists and setting fires. No officers responded and the rioting spread.

Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said before the acquittals of four white police officers in the King beating, Gates made big promises about how well the department was prepared to respond to civil strife, only to have the police act slowly.

″When the chips were down, the emperor had no clothes,″ said Yaroslavsky. ″That to me is more troubling than anything else. I don’t understand why two hours could go by while on citywide TV we’re watching a guy getting beat up, many people getting beat up, and seeing no police in the area.″

Gates didn’t return a phone call Monday, but on Sunday he said he regretted attending the fund-raiser.

″There’s no question about it,″ Gates said. ″On reflection, I wish I hadn’t because of the criticism that comes from it. But I was very close to the location at the time that the incident broke out. I simply went over, excused myself, and left. I was there only five minutes or so.″

During the early violence, Bradley was attending a rally at First AME Church in South Central Los Angeles, urging people to channel their anger from the acquittals in positive directions. Television news used split screens to show scenes of the rioting against Bradley’s appeal for reason.

Bradley spokeswoman Vallee Bunting said that on the way to the rally, Bradley was aware of ″something going on″ at the intersection of Florence and Normandie and had a discussion before his 7:45 p.m. speech with Deputy Chief Matt Hunt, commander of the area where the violence erupted.

After the speech, Bradley was told of the extent of the violence, and told Hunt to take action. Bradley said he didn’t speak to Gates, nor did he see any reason to.

″The chief of police has his legal duties to perform,″ Bradley said. ″Whether he and I ever talk would not deter him from carrying out those duties.″