Inglewood officials on Thursday released new details about a violent altercation in a parking lot at SoFi Stadium on Sunday that left a San Francisco 49ers fan in a coma as they faced mounting questions about why they didn’t inform the public about the incident sooner.
It took three days and an inquiry from The Times before authorities in Inglewood acknowledged the incident, which left 40-year-old restaurant owner Daniel Luna in a medically induced coma.
Luna was found bleeding in a stadium parking lot just after 4 p.m. Sunday, about half an hour into the NFC championship showdown against the Rams, yet it remains unclear who made the 911 call that ultimately resulted in his transport to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
It’s also not been established when law enforcement was informed of the incident. Inglewood police said they launched their investigation around 7 p.m. after emergency room personnel noted possible assault injuries on Luna and summoned officers. But the L.A. County Fire Department said law enforcement was at the scene hours earlier when paramedics arrived.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts said at a Thursday evening news conference that video had emerged showing people mingling in the parking lot when a person in a yellow jersey pushes a person in a red jersey from behind, then turns to walk away.
“That person came and pushed Mr. Luna from behind, and when Mr. Luna turned around, [the person] punched him in what looked like the mouth area,” Butts said. He described it as “a small altercation,” saying Luna fell and hit his head after one punch.
Some experts said the timing of the incident — weeks before the nation’s attention turns to the stadium for the Super Bowl — created a “PR nightmare.” Others said it raises important questions about safety and security protocols during big games, noting that it’s not the first such violent incident in the highly charged Los Angeles-San Francisco sports rivalry.
On Wednesday, hours before The Times revealed Luna’s injuries, public health officials, local leaders and representatives from the NFL and SoFi Stadium held a news conference to discuss COVID-19 safety protocols for the Super Bowl, but the incident was never mentioned.
Horace Frank, a former assistant Los Angeles police chief who oversaw major game security operations, said it was unconscionable for authorities to delay in revealing the incident.
“You should put out that information to the public because the perpetrator is a public safety hazard and threat to the community,” Frank told The Times. “You want to get the persons responsible for this heinous attack into custody as soon as possible.”
Inglewood Police Lt. Geoffrey Meeks on Thursday denied that there was an attempt to cover up Luna’s beating in the run-up to the Super Bowl, saying, “We don’t have anything to hide.”
He said the department’s public silence was in keeping with standard practice for ongoing investigations.
“We tend to release information when we have exhausted all other investigative leads or are looking for specific information,” he said, adding that publicizing cases can lead to a flood of questionable tips that “forces us to spend time and resources to investigate every bit of information that comes in.”
Yet the city only weeks ago released information seeking the public’s help hours after a shooting at an Inglewood house party killed four people.
Butts on Thursday similarly denied that Inglewood wanted to hide Luna’s injuries. “Absolutely no, you don’t notify anyone every time you have an injured person…. There are all types of injuries that occur in crowds and you don’t call and hold a press conference to everyone,” he said.
Eric Rose, a public relations executive and well-known crisis manager in Southern California, said he was giving the Rams and stadium officials the “benefit of the doubt” because they may not have had all the facts, but “what they do going forward is going to decide their reputation in the community.”
So far, the response has not been robust.
In a statement to The Times, SoFi Stadium officials said they were “aware and saddened by the incident” and “working with law enforcement officials.”
SoFi Stadium spokeswoman Kristi Mexia, when asked for a follow-up to that statement, said, “This is the only comment we are able to provide at the moment.”
She did not respond to a list of questions, including when stadium officials first learned of the incident and what they are doing to ensure the safety of fans at the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.
The recently completed $5-billion stadium has transformed Inglewood into a sports and entertainment destination even as it has led to gentrification and other challenges for many of the area’s longtime residents.
The Super Bowl — typically a windfall for the cities that host it — is projected to bring in as much as $477 million for the Los Angeles area, with total tax revenue up to $22 million, according to recent reports.
Though the motives for the SoFi incident are unclear, it has parallels to the infamous 2011 beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow outside Dodger Stadium. But in that case, police reported the beating to the media within hours and asked the public for help in finding suspects.
Still, David Lira, a member of Stow’s legal team, said the incident at SoFi “is not a surprise.”
“It’s foreseeable, and because it’s foreseeable, that’s why you have to have the owners always constantly reviewing their security plan and changing it according to what teams and crowds are coming into the stadium,” Lira said. “It’s common sense.”
Butts said it was inaccurate to liken the incident at SoFi to what happened to Stow.
“The situation in Dodger Stadium is nowhere comparable to this,” he said, “and to be blunt about it, it looked like a small altercation that went very bad…. It wasn’t like you had people ganging up on somebody and beating them.”
Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the stadium said some parts of the lots don’t have full camera coverage. Most of the security is focused inside and immediately around the stadium, and the parking lots are left to people directing traffic, they said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department said Luna was found on the ground near Lot L, which sits off Stadium Drive across from an artificial lake south of the stadium.
“I’m very comfortable there was sufficient security,” Butts said. “You’re not going to stop every altercation argument that occurs between fans, it’s just not going to happen.”
Sources said the stadium has been encouraged to bring in more L.A. County sheriff’s deputies to supplement security after internal concerns arose that there was not enough law enforcement to police often drunk and angry fans.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said last week that he has assigned 380 personnel to the Super Bowl to help ensure the safest game possible.
Rose, the crisis manager, said now is the time for SoFi Stadium and Inglewood to be proactive. He mentioned posting rewards to assist law enforcement with finding the perpetrators of the apparent attack, and also making it clearer what security measures are in place for people attending the games.
Police said they had been scouring video footage, with Meeks on Thursday noting that there was an extensive amount to be reviewed.
Meeks also said that paramedics from the L.A. County Fire Department who were called to help Luna did not summon police.
Otherwise, he said, “we would have been on this thing from the beginning.”
Chad Sourbeer, a fire battalion chief, said the department’s preliminary review of the call indicated Meeks’ account was not completely accurate. Law enforcement officers were at the scene when paramedics arrived, he said — although he could not specify which agency the officers belonged to. There was also a large crowd gathered near Luna, he said.
“L.A. County Fire Department did not need to report this because law enforcement was already there,” he said. “Our mission was to take care of the patient, not law enforcement. Our job was to assess the patient and save their life.”
More than 70,000 people were in attendance at Sunday’s game — including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — but so far no video footage of the incident has been made public.
Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Garcetti, noted that the incident was outside the mayor’s jurisdiction and that neither he nor the LAPD knew about it until it was reported in the news. Los Angeles Police Department officials immediately reached out to their counterparts in Inglewood to offer assistance, he said.
“Senseless acts of violence like this one have no place in civilized society,” Comisar said. “The mayor’s thoughts are with the victim of this horrific assault and his loved ones, and he hopes that whoever committed this crime is found quickly and brought to justice.”
The 49ers expressed similar condolences in a statement to The Times.
“What happened to Daniel Luna is reprehensible, and we strongly condemn all violence. We know local authorities in Los Angeles are conducting a full investigation and we’re here to support them however we can,” the team said.
As for security at the Super Bowl, Comisar said highly trained law enforcement professionals were leading a “multi-agency effort” to secure the game.
“Local residents and fans traveling in from out of town should know that they are safe, and that all the necessary steps are being taken to protect their well-being,” he said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.