Julianna Lacoste had just shown a point on the back of her neck to television cameras where she said the deputy of a Los Angeles County sheriff's knee dropped during a protest in southern Los Angeles this week. Speaking at a press conference in a nearby public parking lot on Friday, her voice trembled as she remembered feeling like she was dying from the pressure.
Suddenly, media and public speaking attention turned elsewhere.
A group of MPs in riot gear who had been watching from behind a line of yellow tape quickly moved closer.
Shortly before, well-known local activist Najee Ali had briefly crossed the tape and asked officials out loud why two of their colleagues stopped 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee on August 31 for an alleged vehicle injury while he was riding his bike in south LA Neighborhood before being pursued and eventually killed.
Dozens of attendees at the press conference flocked to meet the MPs who were approaching. They held to the side of the tape and filmed the officers.
"It seemed like a straightforward intimidation tactic," said Matthew Sanders, a 30-year-old North Hollywood resident who was arrested and injured in a protest this week. "They took a step to get inside our heads."
The Sheriff's Department's actions also raised the alarm to Mark Ridley-Thomas, the county supervisor, and a member of the sheriff's supervisory board.
The incident came last week amid a series of clashes between law enforcement and protesters outside the sheriff's South LA station on Imperial Highway, which resulted in the use of force by MPs and dozens of arrests.
John Satterfield, a department spokesman, said the sheriff's response team had secured a company's parking lot at the request of a manager. He didn't say which company made the request.
He said there was a minor argument while moving a wire barrier and an investigation was ongoing. The video of the event shows a sheriff officer snapping up a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild who was filming him. Satterfield said he could "make no further comments", including who ordered the violence reported.
The MPs' actions, he said, were "absolutely not" intended to intimidate or silence criticism of the department.
Ridley-Thomas, whose district is South LA, said he expected the county inspector general to be briefed on Tuesday of what was happening on Friday and said he had no information on why riot gear was being used.
"We cannot have the constitutional rights of those who raise their voices denied, and we certainly will not remain inactive if they are trampled," Ridley-Thomas said in an interview.
Priscilla Ocen, a member of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said the sheriff's response to the event was "completely inappropriate" based on photos and videos shared by a reporter.
"People were just trying to express themselves and hold the sheriff accountable," she said. "They shouldn't be harassed or intimidated by law enforcement agencies as they try to do so, especially by law enforcement agencies who are trying to hold them accountable."
The press conference was organized on a large scale by the National Lawyers Guild from the South Los Angeles Sheriff's Station to condemn the use of force against protesters who gathered every evening to demonstrate against Kizzee's gunfire. Dozens were arrested as protesters and MPs clashed on Labor Day weekend and this week.
The sheriff's department said protesters started confrontations by throwing stones and bottles at MPs. But activists have said in interviews that the violent demonstrations were not provoked.
On Friday, yellow tape blocked several pages of the press conference held in a parking lot behind an El Pollo locomotive. Several dozen people were present, including some who have described being hit by projectiles or arrested by MPs without provocation. Meanwhile, the MPs watched on the other side of the tape.
"I think there is a problem when we hold a press conference and there is the media that the police feel the need to wear full-body armor and surround us on three sides," said Cynthia Anderson-Barker, a member of the National Executive Committee Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles. "We were almost done, we were surrounded almost as these protesters normally are at these demonstrations."
While the speakers shared experiences of MPs' injury at the protests, MPs slowly worked to put a wire barrier around the group.
As the event ended, they began making the barrier more assertive, bringing media representatives, representatives from the National Lawyers Guild, and others to an exit.
Several people said they had not heard an order to disperse, and several MPs who moved the wire did not respond when asked why people were being removed from a public place.
"Follow orders," said one of them.
Anderson-Barker said the acts violated freedom of expression.
Around 1 p.m., the MPs had almost sealed off the section of the parking lot where the press conference had taken place with the wire barrier. Alicia Brower, a 33-year-old Hollywood photographer who attended a protest this week, watched them advance.
"They keep doing this to paint their picture that we are animals and criminals and that we should be surrounded," she said.