When the hard-foam police projectile struck 22-year-old William Gonzalez in the right eye while he was celebratin the Lakers’ NBA title in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday night, it shattered his eye socket, ripped apart his tear duct and “exploded” the eyeball itself, doctors said.
The Kobe Bryant jersey that his brother Michael used to stanch the bleeding was immediately soaked as Michael dragged Gonzalez through the streets, trying to find a way out of the chaos.
“My brother … grabbed me and said ‘Run!’ because they were continuously shooting,” Gonzalez said Tuesday, one day after extensive reconstructive surgery. Others who were also badly injured in the area around Staples Centre, where the LAPD declared an unlawful gathering as storefronts were being damaged and officers targeted with thrown bottles and other items. One man lost eight teeth when a projectile struck him in the mouth.
The injuries Sunday add to a growing list of people hurt by LAPD hard-foam and other “less lethal” projectiles, as the LAPD calls them. Police stated that the weapons are an effective way to disperse crowds that have become violent.
But some of the claims that were made by police about the weapons — that the rounds don’t “penetrate the skin” and that officers don’t aim at the head or other sensitive body parts — are coming under growing scrutiny after a series of incidents over the last few months, some caught on video. The cases have eventually brought calls from activists that the Los Angeles Police Department stop using such weapons for crowd control and have placed pressure on the department to explain the injuries.
An investigation by The Times into police force at mass protests this summer found multiple examples of people being badly wounded by the weapons — with bloodied eyes, head wounds and damaged testicles, among other injuries.
The continued wounding of people in crowd-control situations has come despite litigation over the use of projectiles and settlements that reined in the practice — forcing the LAPD and the city to agree to stricter protocols for how and when the weapons are used. The results are devastating, said Gonzalez’s eye surgeon, Dr. Linden Doss, who spoke to The Times with Gonzalez’s permission. The damage was very extensive, Doss said, as if Gonzalez had been struck by a bat and bitten by a dog all at once.
He will never see out of his right eye and will probably need to have it removed to avoid the threat of losing vision in his good eye through a phenomenon known as sympathetic ophthalmia — a process by which the immune system begins to attack both eyes if one is traumatized beyond repair and remains in the body.
The situation had been very critical there and sensitive.