L.A. Officers Indicted in Beating : Police probe: Grand jury goes beyond Gates’ recommendation that three be prosecuted and 12 be disciplined.
At least four Los Angeles police officers were indicted Thursday by a county grand jury investigating the videotaped attack on a motorist who had been stopped for speeding.
The indictments were sealed and the precise allegations and number of indictments issued by the grand jury were not known.
According to their attorneys and a law enforcement source, four of the 15 officers present at the beating were indicted and were ordered to surrender in court today.
The 23-member panel began hearing evidence Monday in the case, which came to light when a bystander at the early morning March 3 incident in Lake View Terrace presented a homemade videotape to a Los Angeles television station.
The images of uniformed officers repeatedly kicking and striking a prone, unarmed man have sparked outrage nationwide and prompted calls for the ouster of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
At least 400 people turned out Thursday for a Police Commission hearing, heckling Gates and cheering a succession of black community leaders and residents who called for his dismissal. Gates, who sat somberly through the session, later repeated his intention to remain as chief of the 8,300-member department.
In Orange County, several law enforcement officials said they supported the indictments.
Robert MacLeod, general manager of the Assn. of Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies, said that “if the officers wielding the clubs were the ones indicted then they’re getting what they deserve. . . . I know all the officers were shocked and infuriated by the video.”
Garden Grove Police Chief John Robertson said he thought that the indictments were a positive development and would “help the cleansing process.”
“It shows that the system works and that police officers are not above the law,” he said. “It’s very important that everyone in law enforcement organizations learn from this tragic incident. I think that this incident will have far-reaching impact in a lot of organizations and cause them to take a hard look at themselves and say, ‘Geez, could that happen here?’ ”
All 15 officers present at the assault on Rodney G. King, a 25-year-old Altadena construction worker who is on parole after a robbery conviction, have been removed from active field duty by Gates. On Thursday, King’s doctor and city officials denied a widespread rumor, spread largely by word of mouth, that King had died during surgery.
Federal officials, meanwhile, said the FBI is pressing ahead with its investigation of the incident despite what appears to be a vigorous local inquiry. John Dunne, assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, said that although the FBI usually suspends investigations into such matters as the King case if local law enforcement response is strong, “this is not a standard case,” based on “what I saw in the full tape of the beating.”
The case has carried racial overtones because King is black and the attacking officers white. King suffered numerous injuries in the attack. He was held in custody for three days before prosecutors determined there were no grounds to press allegations that he had evaded police in a high-speed chase.
The grand jury acted on evidence presented in secret sessions by Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry White. Witnesses included the man who made the videotape from a nearby balcony, bystanders from the same apartment building, a Los Angeles Unified School District police officer who was present, and at least two Los Angeles police officers.
The central piece of evidence, however, is the videotape. In the two-minute tape, the sergeant is shown holding a stun gun from which a barb had been shot into King early in the incident. As he and others watch, at least three officers appear to take turns kicking King and beating him with nightsticks. Gates said the man was struck more than 50 times.
The grand jury exceeded the scope of Gates’ recommendation that only three officers be prosecuted. Although Gates had singled out the sergeant with the stun gun for criticism--saying that he should have controlled his officers--and vowed to take administrative disciplinary actions against all 15 officers, the chief did not believe that there was cause to criminally prosecute the 14-year veteran.
According to their attorneys, the officers ordered to appear in court are Sgt. Stacey Koon, 40; veteran Officers Ted Briseno, 38, and Laurence Powell, 28, and Timothy Wind, 30, a rookie still on probation. A law enforcement source said all four were indicted, and attorneys for Koon and Powell confirmed that their clients face prosecution.
None of the four attorneys contacted by The Times said they had been told what charges would be pressed against their clients. All were told to report to Department 100 of the Los Angeles Criminal Courts building at 1:30 p.m.
“They just said be here,” said Paul DePasquale, Wind’s lawyer.
Whether any of the other 11 officers were indicted was not known. The four who were indicted had been identified earlier as the first officers to be removed from field duty after the incident.
The grand jury’s action came hours after a tumultuous meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission, a special session for which an open invitation had been extended to anyone with an opinion on the King beating.
Gates sat stoically through the three-hour session, which was frequently interrupted by chants of “Justice! Justice!” and “Daryl Gates must go!” Later, the chief held an impromptu news conference, declaring some of the criticism “poppycock.”
Although Gates has said there is no evidence that the beating was racially motivated, the long line of witnesses at the hearing was drawn mainly from the city’s African-American community and its leaders.
“I’m here today as a black man,” said Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. (D-Inglewood), “and I’m here today to ask Chief Gates a question: How long? How long will this continue to go on in our community?”
Black people, Tucker said, are afraid when they are pulled over by the police: “They don’t know whether justice will be meted out, or whether a judge, jury and executioner is pulling up behind them. . . . How can we respect a department that does not respect us?”
Danny Bakewell, leader of the civic group Brotherhood Crusade, received one of the crowd’s many standing ovations when he declared: “The people are sick and tired of this! We are not going to let black people be brutalized in our community. . . . You take an oath to protect and serve but when you go to the black community all you do is abuse.”
The meeting, held in the 450-seat auditorium at Parker Center, the Police Department’s downtown headquarters, was standing-room only. Outside the Police Department building, several hundred protesters picketed, shouting through bullhorns and carrying signs such as one that read: “LAPD--Humans Need Not Apply.”
Inside, while they were waiting for the commission and Gates to arrive, the crowd erupted into chants of “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Daryl Gates has got to go!” The chanting continued, growing louder and louder until it became thunderous as Gates and the commissioners entered the room.
Later, they cheered wildly as a representative of an association of black lawyers told the commission that--despite the widespread belief that Gates is virtually immune to firing because of the city’s Civil Service system--the panel does have the right to discipline, suspend or remove the chief.
Quoting from the City Charter, Geoffrey T. Gibbs, a lawyer with the John M. Langston Bar Assn., told the citizens panel that the board may remove Gates for “incompetency, dishonesty, discourtesy or neglect of duty.” While noting that Gates is entitled to a hearing before the Civil Service Commission, Gibbs said the board may discipline the chief in the same manner that he disciplines his own officers.
“Rodney Glenn King is fighting to restore his eyesight and regain a normal life,” Gibbs said as the crowd applauded. “We see no reason why the commission should hesitate to make Chief Daryl F. Gates fight to keep his job.”
At his news conference, Gates made a plea for his supporters to send letters to the Police Department. The chief said he was worried that the rank-and-file officers would become demoralized after seeing the hearing on television.
“I’m not asking them to support me,” Gates said. “I’m asking them to send in support for the Los Angeles Police Department. I can take care of myself.”
As to whether he thinks the commission will take any action against him, Gates said: “We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?”
There was no action by the Police Commission on Thursday, nor was any expected. Commission Vice President Melanie Lomax said at the outset that the meeting was intended to give the public a chance to voice its concerns about what she called “this tragic affair.” At the end of the meeting, she said the commission would take more testimony at its regular meeting next Thursday.
The commission, which currently has two vacancies, is appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley and has the authority to change departmental policies and practices. Lomax said the community’s views will become part of the commission’s investigation into police training, tactics and whether a pattern of police brutality exists in minority communities. Bradley requested the investigation in the wake of the King beating.
Times staff writers Sheryl Stolberg, Hector Tobar and Lois Timnick contributed to this report.
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