A 55-year-old Armenian priest has alleged in a lawsuit that a Los Angeles police officer struck him in the stomach with the end of a tactical gun and then violently kicked him in the chest as he sought to regain his balance at a recent protest.
Father Armen Bagramyan, a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church, claims the officer’s actions during a demonstration outside the Azerbaijani Consulate in Brentwood in July represented excessive force and violated his civil rights, sending him to UCLA Medical Center in an ambulance.
He also says they came despite the fact that Bagramyan had been helping police maintain order throughout the day.
“On numerous occasions, Father Bagramyan positioned himself between protesters and law enforcement and would speak to protesters via megaphone, instructing them to comply with the officers’ commands,” the lawsuit says.
Video of the incident reviewed by The Times appears to show the officer shove a bright green gun — designed to shoot tactical projectiles — into Bagramyan, who bends forward. The officer then appears to kick the priest, enraging members of the crowd.
“A priest?!” one man yells. “A f—ing priest?!”
Another video shows Bagramyan, in a traditional frock with a large cross hanging around his neck, holding on to the end of the officer’s gun just before he gets kicked.
Greg Kirakosian, Bagramyan’s attorney, says the priest had been blindsided by the officer shoving the barrel of the gun in his stomach, and had grabbed the gun as part of a “knee-jerk reaction” as he doubled over.
“He grabs the object that just pummeled his stomach,” Kirakosian said. Then, “the officer gives this nice, like, ‘This Is Sparta’-type kick,” he said, a reference to the 2006 film “300.”
As other officers step into the fray, the masked officer who kicked Bagramyan raises his gun and points it at the crowd.
Josh Rubenstein, an LAPD spokesman, said the incident is being investigated by the department but he could not comment on the pending litigation.
The July 21 protest was organized by the Armenian Youth Federation. Hundreds of people marched to the Azerbaijani Consulate, where they were met by a smaller group of Azerbaijani counterprotesters. The incident became violent, as bottles flew through the air, and several people were injured.
The protest followed the eruption of violence earlier in the month in Tavush, a northern province of Armenia near the border of Azerbaijan. Allegations of violence and territorial encroachment have been lobbed back and forth between the two countries.
Bagramyan claims he had been working tirelessly during the L.A. protest to “maintain peace” and deescalate tensions between Armenian protesters and Azerbaijani counterprotesters, and never represented a threat to officers.
“Father Bagramyan spoke to numerous LAPD officers, provided them with water, and even prayed with them,” the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claims. “Moreover, throughout this period and following the scuffle, Father Bagramyan was seen and heard on a megaphone working tirelessly with LAPD officers to maintain peace and quell the unrest.”
Bagramyan claims he suffered “severe pain, bruising and internal injuries” as a result of the encounter, and is suing for unspecified damages.
The LAPD has said it is also investigating three alleged hate crime assaults on Armenian protesters at the event. It also said one officer was injured.