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Apparent beating of 49ers fan outside SoFi Stadium kept secret for days

LOS ANGELES >> Officials faced mounting questions today about why they didn’t inform the public about the apparent beating of a San Francisco 49ers fan outside SoFi Stadium on Sunday and whether more security measures are needed before the Super Bowl.

It took three days and an inquiry from the Times before authorities in Inglewood confirmed 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 why it took hours for authorities to be informed of the incident. Inglewood police launched their investigation around 7 p.m. after being notified by emergency room personnel who noted wounds suggesting Luna had been attacked.

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 assault in the highly charged Los Angeles-San Francisco sports rivalry.

On Wednesday, hours before The Times revealed the attack, 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 beating 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 assault.

“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.”

As of Thursday, no information on suspects had been released, and the Inglewood Police Department had not responded to additional inquiries.

Veteran PR executive Fred Cook, who directs USC’s Center for Public Relations, said he generally counsels large organizations “to get the information out as quickly and accurately as possible,” in part to reassure the public “we are doing everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“The fact that the Super Bowl is being played there in a short period of time does create a different circumstance for what you communicate,” said Cook, who has advised companies including Amazon, Nintendo and McDonald’s.

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 provided to The Times, SoFi Stadium officials said they were “aware and saddened by the incident.”

“Our thoughts are with Mr. Luna’s friends and family during this difficult time. We are working with law enforcement officials in their investigation,” stadium representatives said.

SoFi Stadium spokeswoman Kristi Mexia, when asked for a follow-up interview 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.

Social media accounts for the city of Inglewood were similarly mum about the incident as of Thursday afternoon, and Mayor James T. Butts had not responded to a request for comment.

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. And there were multiple witnesses in the Stow case; Luna flew to L.A. and attended the game alone, a friend told The Times.

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.”

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.

Even inside the stadium, multiple videos have emerged in recent months of violent fan altercations that lasted considerably long before security intervention. The total number of altercations was not immediately available.

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 attack, and also making it clearer what security measures are in place for people attending the games.

“They should be calling for anyone with video or information to contact a particular number,” he said.

Police said they would be scouring video footage in an effort to track down those involved in the assault.

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 public video footage of the attack has emerged.

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 the assault 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. Our thoughts and prayers go to Mr. Luna, his family, friends, and the medical team providing him care,” 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.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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