LOS ANGELES — On Friday evening, more than 100 children and their parents were gathered at Lincoln Park for a tree-lighting celebration.
Parents took videos of their daughters performing in pink tutus inside the auditorium. Children played in a snow pit outside. The DJ played “Christmas Is Here” and other holiday songs.
On stage, Councilmember Kevin de León, who wore a Santa hat, was handing out gifts to children when a handful of activists entered.
What happened next swept everyone in the room into the maelstrom that is Los Angeles politics in late 2022. Over the next 10 minutes, five activists chased De León around the auditorium, loudly calling him racist and telling him to resign.
Cornered in a back room, De León shoved one of the activists, Jason Reedy, into a table and pushed him down a hallway, losing his Santa hat in the process. Reedy responded by punching De León at least once.
The evening ended with both De León and Reedy filing police reports alleging that they were battered by the other — and children in tears at the violent altercation they had witnessed.
It was another civic low in what has been a series of them over the past two months, ever since De León was caught on a leaked racist audiotape that roiled the city. De León — the only one of three council members on the recording who will still be in office this week — has faced immense pressure to step down, with frequent protests outside his home and at City Hall.
Following Friday’s events, De León reiterated that he has no plans to resign.
“My commitment is solid to my community, to my constituents,” he said. “I’m not going to let a group of extremely hostile individuals from outside the district bully me or my staff or my constituents.”
The drama began earlier in the day, when, after a nearly two-month absence, De León showed up for an L.A. City Council meeting, with dozens of his supporters in the audience.
Reedy, a single father carrying his 5-month-old in a harness on his chest, was there too. Video shows Reedy calmly putting headphones over the baby’s ears, then yelling, “Get him out! Get him out of chambers right now!”
Other protesters also shouted. De León’s supporters chanted. Police officers filled the room. Council President Paul Krekorian immediately called for a recess.
Police ejected Reedy and another man from the chambers, fearing that they would get into a fight. When the council meeting resumed, De León did not return.
Reedy, an organizer with the People’s City Council, has been protesting De León for months, and confrontations between the two had turned physical before. In March, Reedy was verbally challenging De León during an outdoor event when the councilman reached to cover Reedy’s cellphone camera with his hand, hitting him in the face in the process, the activist has said. At a downtown event months later, Reedy was taping De León when the councilman pushed one activist and grabbed the cellphone of another as he walked on Olvera Street.
Asked about those incidents, De León said, “They provoke you, they try to get you to take a swing at them and then videotape you.”
Tensions have escalated since October, after the Los Angeles Times reported on the leaked audio of a private 2021 conversation among Councilmembers De León, Gil Cedillo and Nury Martinez, as well as the president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Ron Herrera.
Some of the racist comments on the leaked tape were about Councilmember Mike Bonin’s son, who is Black. Martinez, who was then council president, said Bonin handled his son as though he were an “accessory” and described the child as “Parece changuito,” or “like a monkey.”
De León appeared to compare Bonin’s handling of his child to Martinez holding a Louis Vuitton handbag. He later said he was referring to Martinez’s “penchant for having luxury accessories.”
The resulting uproar led to widespread condemnation and calls for everyone involved to resign, including from President Joe Biden. Martinez and Herrera did step down. Cedillo, who had already lost his reelection bid when the tape emerged, has since disappeared from public view and officially completes his term in office Sunday.
Only De León — whose term runs until 2024 — remains.
He has apologized for his involvement in the conversation but has forcefully pushed back against resigning, saying he did not want to abandon his constituents. Over the past month, De León once again began attending food giveaways and other community events.
De León arrived at Friday’s event — the tree lighting and toy giveaway — in Lincoln Park around 4:45 p.m.
Alan Ochoa, a DJ at the event, said hundreds of people turned out throughout the evening. There were gifts for the children and coffee and food for the parents.
Ochoa said he was DJing when a group of about five people walked in and started shouting “You’re a racist” at De León.
Ochoa, who grew up in Lincoln Heights, said he doesn’t watch the news and hadn’t been aware of the controversy with the leaked audio.
He said De León got off the stage and tried to walk away, but the group started “getting into his face.” Soon after, he said, children started to cry and run.
“If you’re going to be proving your point, do it outside. Don’t go in there and mess up a whole community event,” Ochoa said. “As it is, we live in a low-income community, and these guys are coming here who don’t even live there, messing it up for our community.”
Sheryl Quock, a member of J-Town Action and Solidarity, said she, Reedy and three other activists decided to show up at the event because normal channels of public comment and protest by broad segments of the population haven’t led to De León’s resignation.
“He is clearly avoiding hearing what the people actually have to say about him holding this office, and he is avoiding taking accountability for the harm that he has inflicted on our community,” Quock said. “Because he won’t listen to our voices, we have no choice but to bring our voices to him.”
Quock took video of the incident on her phone, and it was her depiction of De León throwing Reedy that was first posted online, in slow motion, Friday night.
A 36-second version of Quock’s video posted to Twitter on Saturday by RootsAction shows activists walking alongside De León inside the event, calling on him to resign, while Reedy stands in front of the council member, holding a phone in his face. When De León reaches a door, someone pushes Reedy out of the way.
The video shows De León going through the door to a back room and trying to close it. But Reedy follows, and the councilman appears to push him back. Reedy, holding his arms up, stands nose-to-nose with De León as others mob the pair. There’s a brief struggle, then De León grabs Reedy, shoves him into a table and attempts to push him out of the room.
In an interview Saturday, De León said he tried to leave, but the group kept blocking the exits. Eventually, he ended up in a narrow hallway, where he was backed up against a wall, he said. At that point, he said, Reedy “thrusted his pelvis into me” then “head-butted me on the forehead.” He said that is when he grabbed Reedy and put him on the table.
A social worker who was present at the event and identified himself only as Giovanni for fear of retaliation told the L.A. Times he saw Reedy unsuccessfully try to head-butt De León.
The video does not capture the thrust or the head-butt. Told by a reporter that the two appeared to bump heads, De León said, “We did not bump heads ... he head-butted me.” He also took issue with those referring to what unfolded as a fight, stating that it “was an assault that was unprovoked.”
“I had to defend myself,” De León said. “There comes a point where one has to defend him or herself. We’re not the aggressor. They came to the event to disrupt and agitate.”
Reedy’s attorney Shakeer Rahman said the video clearly shows that De León was the aggressor, despite the council member’s assertions to the contrary.
“Not only has Kevin de León lost all political legitimacy, his claims that he was the one attacked here simply underscore how he’s lost touch with reality,” Rahman said, adding that De León was “a disgrace.”
De León says that after he shoved Reedy down the hall, Reedy punched him in the face. Another video of the incident reviewed by the L.A. Times shows the punch. Rahman said Reedy remained still “until he had no choice but to defend himself.”
Jennifer Barraza, De León’s chief of staff, said that amid the melee, Reedy clipped her in the chin with his elbow. Reedy’s attorney denied this.
The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the incident after both De León and Reedy filed police reports. De León added that he’s considering seeking a restraining order against Reedy.
Friday’s incident only further divided De León’s fellow council members.
Two characterized it as an “assault” of De León and his staff. Krekorian, the council president, called what happened an “intolerable” crime against the council member. Monica Rodriguez, who represents the northeast Valley, said in a statement that the protesters’ behavior was “terrorism.”
“The physical assault of Councilmember De León and his staff at a holiday event is not protected righteousness, and those who rationalize these acts are complicit in the assault,” she said.
Meanwhile, incoming Councilmembers Hugo Soto-Martínez and Eunisses Hernandez said the video provides another reason for De León to resign immediately.
“As this video clearly shows, given an opportunity to walk away, Kevin De León chose to be defiant, just as he’s done multiple times in council chambers,” Soto-Martínez, who represents a district that stretches from Hollywood to Glassell Park, tweeted Saturday. “This is yet another example of what disqualifies him to lead. For our city to heal he must do the right thing and resign.”
(Los Angeles Times staff writers David Zahniser and Julia Wick contributed to this report.)