Bruised and in a wheelchair, Rodney Glen King was cleared for release from Los Angeles County Jail Wednesday as prosecutors announced no charges would be filed at this time against the unemployed construction worker who was severely beaten by a group of Los Angeles police while on the ground.
The Los Angeles Police Department had arrested King for resisting arrest but, according to prosecutors, has failed so far to prove its case.
King was to be released Wednesday night.
“We have sent the case back (to police) for further investigation,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Eastman. “There are a lot of things we want to look at and a lot of witnesses who were not interviewed.”
King, according to his attorney, was interviewed Wednesday by FBI agents, who have launched a civil rights probe into the case.
Mayor Tom Bradley, meanwhile, disclosed that officers involved in the beating--captured by an amateur video-camera operator--have been relieved of field duty pending an investigation into possible police brutality.
“They are now working either at a desk or are on vacation,” Bradley said at a news conference. “They are on other assignments. They are not going to be working the streets and dealing with the public.”
Bradley’s office was unable to say how many of the at least 10 officers present at the beating were no longer on the streets.
The mayor also said the nationally publicized incident points to a breakdown in leadership, starting with Chief Daryl F. Gates, who has called the beating an aberration.
“The supervision does, in fact, flow from the top of the department down--through his orders and instructions, through his training,” the mayor said. “All of that is connected. We want to see where there was a breakdown, a departure from established orders and procedures in this case.”
Neither Gates nor any other police official would comment on the King case, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
The district attorney’s office said the officers who clubbed and kicked King on Sunday after he led California Highway Patrol officers on a high-speed chase failed to interview available witnesses--including two passengers with King--or conduct a thorough investigation to support their claims that King was combative and evading them.
The beating was captured on a homemade videotape by one of a number of witnesses living in an apartment complex across from the Lake View Terrace street where King was stopped in the San Fernando Valley. The violent images of officers battering the prone man, which have been broadcast across the nation, has sparked public outrage and investigations at the city, county and federal levels.
One of the CHP officers at the scene exhorted the Los Angeles police officers to stop beating but was told, in effect, to “stay out of it,” according to a law enforcement source familiar with the CHP report on the incident. “Basically, they beat the guy half to death,” the source alleged.
Prosecutors did not rule out charges being filed against King in the future, saying there is some indication that King was drunk when taken into custody. No chemical tests were run because King was transported by ambulance for medical treatment from his injuries, which included a broken ankle, severe bruises and blows that disfigured the right side of his face.
“It is not a rejection (of the case) forever,” said Roger Gunson, head of the district attorney’s Special Investigations Division.
The investigation into alleged police brutality moved steadily forward, with Bradley announcing on national television Wednesday that the officers were “operating out of control.” Bradley said in an interview on NBC’s Today Show that the investigation would look beyond the King incident to determine whether there is a pattern of excessive force in the department.
John R. Dunne, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the Justice Department is conducting a parallel inquiry to ensure that local authorities do a proper job. The federal probe will be suspended, Dunne said, once there is concrete evidence that the Police Department and other agencies are pursuing their investigations with a view toward disciplining or prosecuting those found to be responsible.
The full extent of King’s injuries was unknown Wednesday, but his attorney, Robert Rentzer, said King was brought in a wheelchair to the interview room at the County Jail where he was questioned by representatives of the FBI, the district attorney’s office and the Police Department.
He had a cast on his right ankle, the right side of his face was swollen and there was a hand-sized bruise on one arm, Rentzer said.
“He looked like he was run over by a freight train,” Rentzer remarked after leaving his client. “He is in pain and has some problems with his memory. . . . The word terrible doesn’t describe how he looks.”
While police contend that King assaulted an officer and fought their attempts to restrain them, the videotape by amateur photographer George Holliday and more than a dozen eyewitnesses have called into question the police version of events.
Witnesses have maintained that King, while on the ground, was shot with a police stun gun, delivering an electrical shock. Afterward, King--6 feet 3 and 225 pounds--rolled on the ground as though in pain as several officers clubbed and kicked him. Others stood by and watched.
Josie Morales, who was asleep in her one-bedroom apartment when she heard Sunday night’s commotion, said about 10 police officers formed an irregular circle around the prone King. She said she saw an officer shoot him with the stun gun and then begin clubbing him. King tried to get up when two more officers struck him with batons.
“He didn’t touch anybody. He got up and ran blindly, but not running at anyone, just trying to get away,” Morales said. “We thought maybe they’d stopped him for guns or drugs or even murder. . . . There was nothing that the guy did that could warrant that kind of beating. We didn’t see him hitting anyone or attacking anyone and he wasn’t going crazy. It was a first-degree beating. . . . He just lay there, defenseless..”
The pursuit of King’s white 1988 Hyundai was started by California Highway Patrol officers who said they clocked his speed at between 110 and 115 m.p.h. The CHP called for assistance and several Los Angeles police officers “jumped into the mess,” said a law enforcement source familiar with the report CHP officers filed with their supervisors.
When the sedan finally stopped in the 11700 block of Foothill Boulevard, King was ordered out of the car with a loud speaker and he “appeared to be acting funny but not violent--laughing and pointing up to the LAPD helicopter that was there.”
The CHP report indicated King had been drinking, an allegation prosecutors said they were attempting to confirm through a check of records at the hospital where King was treated Sunday.
King, 25, from Altadena, was released from prison in December after serving time for a second-degree robbery conviction. He has been held since Sunday on an alleged parole violation. Prosecutors were bound by law to file charges Wednesday--48 working hours after his arrest--or release him.
Regional Parole Administrator Jerry DiMaggio said Wednesday that his office would not attempt to hold King any longer on a parole violation. Sources said King held a maintenance job at Dodger Stadium and, according to his family, was preparing to start construction work on Monday, the day after he was beaten.
“This doesn’t exonerate him,” DiMaggio said. “All we’re making the determination here is that we don’t need to retain him in custody while we continue the investigation.”
Times staff writers Leslie Berger, Carl Ingram, Sheryl Stolberg and Lois Timnick contributed to this report.