Sassafras Saloon in Los Angeles, California
Dozens seen partying at event honoring first responders
03:08 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

At least one of the people attending a party at a bar in Los Angeles on Friday night – without wearing masks or adhering to social distancing – is a Los Angeles police officer.

The gathering sparked an investigation by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, and the LAPD said the department is now attempting to identify LAPD employees, who may have been in attendance.

The LAPD officer, who a source identified to CNN as a current officer in the LAPD’s southwest division, spoke to CNN on the night of the party.

The officer defended the gathering Friday night saying, “Everybody is either family or works at the same place so that’s why we don’t have Covid concerns. They micro-group or whatever with each other and everyone’s been tested and everything. That’s why we all know that everyone in there is cool.”

“If you’re so concerned, why don’t you call the police,” the LAPD officer said as CNN tried to observe the party.

CNN is not naming the officer, as identifying his image may impact his safety as a police officer.

Inside the bar, dozens of people were plainly visible through the bar’s windows from the sidewalk Friday night, drinking cocktails under flashing lights to club music so loud that it vibrated security bars.

CNN was tipped off to the event by a source with direct knowledge of the party, who was told it would involve 100 to 150 law enforcement personnel at Sassafras Saloon.

Attendees entered through the back door, where a small desk with a candle greeted them outside.

The owners of the Sassafras Saloon rented the bar out to someone who wanted to “honor a group of first responders,” according to Lisa Strangis, a spokeswoman for 1933 Group, which owns the bar on North Vine St.

While Strangis said she was unwilling to name which agency the first responders belonged to, she said the renters paid for the space and that 1933 Group employees worked the event.

Strangis denied that 100 people were in the bar Friday night, but declined to provide a number. Strangis also declined to identify the party’s host, saying that was private information.

In a statement, the owners of 1933 Group later added, that they “unequivocally do not condone this behavior and have no intention of agreeing to additional private events, charitable or otherwise, until the state allows.”

The LAPD officer who spoke to CNN Friday night said everything at the party was safe, despite the lack of masks or social distancing.

“You know when you’re in an office and everyone gets tested and everyone knows you’re good? That’s why none of us are worried about it,” said the officer. “Everybody’s spaced there. Everybody’s wearing things. Everybody’s getting temperature checks.”

CNN did not observe any of that occurring.

The event took place as California surpassed 500,000 cases of Covid-19 – the highest number of cases for any US state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of Sunday, more than 9,300 people in the state had died since the start of the pandemic.

In their daily coronavirus news conference on Monday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger told reporters she was “very disappointed when I saw the video, especially given the allegations that it involved law enforcement. Law enforcement is supposed to be upholding the public health orders.”

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also addressed the gathering saying the county has “zero tolerance for having indoor parties at your business places.” Ferrer says county health inspectors have already gone to the Hollywood bar.

“Whether it’s a private or public party, you’ve potentially created a lot of exposures and the possibility that it moves into the community,” said Ferrer.

But California’s not alone. In recent weeks, cases have been rising in many states nationwide, with health experts and officials repeatedly pointing to large gatherings as one of several causes for the spikes in cases.

LAPD working to identify employees

LAPD Public Information Director Josh Rubenstein said in a statement to CNN that the department is looking into the party.

“We are trying to identify LAPD employees, who may have been in attendance. The Chief of Police has made his expectations clear and Department notices have been distributed, that every employee shall wear a face covering and practice social distancing when possible at work and in the field.”

The LAPD tweeted admonishments for loud parties in the Hollywood Hills, posting videos asking residents to observe social distancing.

“All employees are expected to follow these public health guidelines when they are off duty as well,” said Rubenstein. “A personnel investigation will be initiated if it is found that any misconduct occurred.”

Social media posts over the weekend inaccurately stated that attendees of Friday’s party were Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies, prompting the agency to launch an investigation Saturday into whether deputies had violated county health orders.

The LASD said the event was not hosted by the department, nor were the people in social media posts LASD employees, according to a statement posted to Facebook.

“If further details are discovered and action is warranted, we will take appropriate administr