BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Father Armen Bagramyan, a retired priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church, is suing the Los Angeles Police Department claiming personal injuries arising from the use of excessive force by an LAPD officer during a protest last month in front of the building housing Azerbaijan’s Consulate General, where thousands of peaceful demonstrators had gathered to condemn Azerbaijan’s aggressive attacks against Armenian a week before.
The suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court Wednesday alleges that while throughout the demonstration Father Bagramyan was assisting the police in ensuring the protest remain peaceful, despite attempts by a group Azerbaijanis who were there to incite violence, he was assaulted by a Los Angeles Police Officer indented in the suit as Officer Ruiz.
The court filing, which was reviewed by Asbarez, alleges that Ruiz “forcefully hit Father Bagramyan in the stomach with the butt of his gun and then violently kicked Father Bagramyan in the chest while he was attempting to regain his balance.”
“At no point before this attack had Officer Ruiz or any LAPD Officer commanded Father Bagramyan to correct any actions or warned him that he was not in compliance with any orders,” explained the lawsuit.
Paramedics were called to the scene and rushed Bagramyan to the nearby UCLA Medical center where he received treatment for his injuries.
“There has been a clear pattern of police violence during peaceful protests that has gone unchecked for far too long,” Bagramyan’s attorney Greg Kirakosian of Kirakosian Law, APC said in an phone interview.
“When clergymen calling for peace and exercising their First Amendment rights are getting needlessly attacked by law enforcement, there needs to be a serious reexamination of our city’s use of force policies. Father Bagramyan intends on obtaining justice for the humiliating and excessive force used against him in the presence of his children and parishioners,” added Kirakosian.
The July 21 event was a peaceful protest for Armenian-Americans to express their anger and condemnation against Azerbaijan, whose armed forces launched several brazen attacks against military and civilian targets in Armenia’s Tavush Province, beginning on July 12.
Before the protest’s announced start time of 2 p.m. a group of Azerbaijani’s had assembled in front of the consulate building in a bid to thwart the Armenian community’s efforts to exercise its first amendment rights and condemn Azerbaijan’s brutal attacks on Armenia. As Armenian community members began arriving to the site, members of the Azerbaijani group began throwing water bottles at Armenian protesters, while LAPD officers were moving the Azerbaijani’s to a side walk across the street to avoid violent outbursts. As the water bottles hit some of the Armenian protesters, a scuffle took place forcing the closure of Wilshire Boulevard until the protest officially kicked off.
The group of Azerbaijanis were chanting “Death to Armenians,” “Kill them All,” as well as other slogans reminiscent of the ones used by Azerbaijani protesters in Baku a week before calling on the government to “Order us to (go to) War.” Their confrontational tone also mirrored the anti-Armenian slogans spray painted on the walls of the Krouzian-Zekarian Vasbouragan church three days after the L.A. protest.
The suit contends that Bagramyan, who was dressed in a cleric’s frock “worked with countless Los Angeles Police Department Officers to maintain peace and keep demonstrators out of the streets. At all relevant times, Father Bagramyan spoke to numerous LAPD Officers, provided them with water, and even prayed with them.”
“Father Bagramyan also spoke with the Captain in charge to discuss efforts to calm the crowed after an Azerbaijani demonstrator struck a young woman.”
There is photographic evidence from the July 21 event showing several people draped in the Azerbaijani flag were carrying knives, a saw, a hammer and metal rods, with one waving a leather belt.
The City of Los Angeles, the LAPD and its officer Ruiz have been named as defendants in the lawsuit, which alleges the priest’s civil rights were violated through the use of excessive force and by curtailing his First Amendment rights. Bagramyan is seeking unspecified damages.
L.A. Police Officer Mike Chan told Asbarez that the department does not comment on litigation.