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Mask Off: LA Cops Party in Hollywood

Sassafras Saloon opens to the police despite state order.

Sassafras Saloon as it appeared Friday just before sunset. (PHOTO: Alex McElvain for KNOCK.LA)

On July 31, the Friday night that California became the first state to surpass 500,000 Coronavirus cases, members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) threw a party.

Individuals (some of whom later identified themselves as associates of the LASD) were spotted by KNOCK.LA reporters at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood. Sassafras, an antebellum Savannah-themed bar, has been closed to the public since March 15. Bars and clubs that do not serve food, like Sassafras, have been mandated closed in compliance with state and county public health directives.

Partiers congregate inside Sassafras Saloon late Friday evening. (PHOTO: Alex McElvain for KNOCK.LA)

Around 8 p.m., KNOCK.LA reporters observed party arrivals looking around cautiously as they exited their vehicles before ducking inside the club via a side entrance on La Mirada. (The side entrance was later gated off.)

Footage provided to KNOCK.LA depicts several attendees referring to the gathering as an “LASD party.”

Further footage reveals a packed indoor club, loud music, drinking, dancing, and not a mask visible. The occasion for the gathering is unclear, although a chalked sandwich board next to the discreet side entrance used by attendees read: “Happy Birthday!”

Additionally, KNOCK.LA received reports that some employees of Sassafras were asked to work an event for the LASD that expected around 100 guests.

The bass was so loud it rattled the building, yet the Vine-facing bar remained gated all night, and its distinctive high-wattage sign was never illuminated. Songs such as Valentín Elizalde’s “Como Me Duele” and LMFAO’s “Shots” could be heard from the street.

“We are unaware of any sanctioned parties that were occurring in the Hollywood area on Friday and I can’t comment any further at this time,” said an LASD Public Information Officer when we reached out for comment.

The party comes at a time when Angelenos have been directed to stay inside and not congregate. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s order, “gatherings of people who are not part of a single household or living unit are prohibited within the County of Los Angeles Public Health jurisdiction.”

The same order also mandates the closure of bars, lounges, and nightclubs, as well as other “types of higher-risk business […] where more frequent and prolonged person-to-person contacts are likely to occur.”

The gathering also comes just ahead of what UCLA Law Professor Emeritus Gary Blasi calls a “tsunami of evictions,” which, in Los Angeles, will be carried out by the Sheriff’s Department. The California Judicial Council recently advised that the temporary emergency rules preventing pandemic evictions could expire as soon as August 14.

Some residents don’t have to wait for “UD Day” — the resumption of evictions — to have their shelter disrupted by LASD. In response to the reports of the “LASD party,” LA Postmates Girl tweeted: “Conveniently, a *massive* homeless encampment that had been in front of #Sassafras for months (started when COVID hit) was just cleared up YESTERDAY.”

KNOCK.LA spoke with an unhoused resident who’d been displaced by the sweep.

“I used to stay right in the bar, I never got any notice, they woke me up at 7 a.m., and told me that I had 15 minutes to get out of there or they were gonna bulldoze my whole place, my whole structure,” the resident said. “They did it, they bulldozed the whole thing. And now they’re having a party.”

He continued: “The only encampments they destroyed were a few of them across the street, mine, and my neighbors right next door. And then one block up, they’re fine. They didn’t touch that at all. It’s crazy. And that bar’s been abandoned, and nobody’s been there at all for two months. All of a sudden now tonight they’re having a party, the day after they kicked me out. They were like, ‘yeah, they need this open now.’”

Additional reporting by Jordan Blakeman.