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Police Documents Disclose Beating Was Downplayed : Investigation: Highway Patrol officers say they were ‘shocked’ at the level of violence used by police. Reports studied by grand jury add detail to the King incident.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unaware that they had been videotaped, Los Angeles police officers and supervisors downplayed the level of violence used to arrest Rodney G. King by claiming that he suffered only cuts and bruises “of a minor nature,” according to internal police documents reviewed by The Times.

In contrast, three California Highway Patrol officers who watched how the police officers attacked King were so “shocked” at the brutality that they took note of the officers’ name tags.

“I didn’t see any need to hit him with a baton,” CHP Officer Melanie Singer later told investigators.

These conflicting accounts of the March 3 incident in Lake View Terrace are contained in hundreds of pages of confidential police reports, witness interviews and other official materials collected by investigators and studied by the Los Angeles County grand jury, which indicted a sergeant and three officers last week.

The documents lend substantial new detail to the early morning arrest that prompted allegations that the beating fits a pattern of abuse by Los Angeles police officers and has spurred calls for the resignation of Chief Daryl F. Gates.

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Central to the case against the officers is an amateur videotape of the beating that has been telecast nationwide. Contrary to what police officers initially reported about King’s arrest, the 25-year-old parolee from Altadena was struck up to 56 times. His doctor says he suffered a dozen broken bones.

The Times, which gained access to the grand jury records, found:

* Sgt. Stacey Koon, the lead Police Department supervisor at the scene, reported that although the officers repeatedly struck King, the man’s injuries appeared to be light.

In his daily report, filed before his shift ended that day, he wrote: “Several facial cuts due to contact with asphalt. Of a minor nature. A split inner lip. Suspect oblivious to pain.”

Koon also stated that the officers “delivered a torrent of power strokes, jabs, etc., to arms, torso and legs. . . . Taser (a police stun gun) going the entire time. Finally wore suspect down.”

* In Use of Force reports submitted by Koon and Officers Laurence M. Powell and Timothy Wind, they listed King’s injuries as only “contusions and abrasions.”

They also marked boxes on the Use of Force reports stating that King “attacked officers,” “continued some resistance” and “increased (his) resistance.”

In fact, the videotape shows that King is often in a defenseless position as the officers circled and hit him repeatedly.

* Although Koon has been sharply criticized for allowing the beating to get out of hand, CHP Officer Singer told investigators that one Los Angeles police officer grabbed Powell’s arm to stop him after the first few blows were struck. She said Koon yelled at Powell: “Stop! Stop! That’s enough!” The beating momentarily ceased, but then resumed.

* On the day after the arrest, Sgt. Steven Flores of the Foothill Division was contacted by Paul King, who said he wanted to file a brutality complaint on behalf of his brother, Rodney.

Flores, in a report about his conversation with Paul King, said King told him there might be a videotape of the arrest, and that the tape would back up his contention of police abuse.

Flores told Paul King that if he found the tape, “call us back and release it to the LAPD.”

The sergeant then wrote: “According to the reports, physical force was used in arresting (Rodney) King, but the force was justified. No further action is recommended until the results of the use of force investigation are reviewed and evaluated, and unless additional evidence, such as a videotape or witness statement, is obtained.”

His report also notes that nowhere in the police reports of field interviews, watch commander’s log or sergeant’s log is there any mention that King had two friends with him in the car when they were stopped for speeding.

* Higher up the chain of command, a lieutenant also backed the conclusions that only a small amount of force was used to subdue King. Lt. P. J. Conmay, who was Foothill watch commander on March 3, wrote that when Koon’s Taser gun failed to faze King, “he was ultimately subdued after several baton strikes.”

In reviewing these reports, the grand jury decided to indict Koon, Powell, Wind and Officer Ted Briseno on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and unnecessarily beating a suspect under color of authority. Koon and Powell were also charged with filing a false police report.

Koon faces an additional charge of being an accessory after the fact in what Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner has called a “cover-up.” Reiner has not elaborated. The grand jury investigation into the conduct of other officers is continuing.

Once King was arrested and Koon was back at the police station, the sergeant reflected on the difficulties officers had in controlling King.

“Always have a backup plan with a use of force,” Koon wrote in his daily report. “It doesn’t always work the way you’re trained. Taser doesn’t always immobilize. PR24 (the police baton) doesn’t always cripple, etc., if you don’t have a frame of reference.

“Officers tend to panic when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to,” he added. “A backup plan prevents panic, and it don’t hurt to have lots of backup, especially with PCP users.”

Koon was invited by a supervisor to share his thoughts at a future station roll-call meeting.

Dr. Antonio Mancia, an emergency room physician who examined King shortly after the incident, determined that there was “no clinical evidence” that King had taken drugs.

The three CHP officers at the scene came away shocked at the level of violence used on King. Their dismay was heightened when they later viewed the videotape on a television broadcast.

“It reminded me of a monster movie, where the monster gets shot and still is coming at you,” said CHP Officer Tim Singer, describing the repeated blows to King.

Another CHP officer, Gabriel Aid, said he arrived after King was already hogtied. Aid said he was asked by one Los Angeles police officer, “Did you get any blood on your hands?”

The Singers, a husband-and-wife team riding in a two-officer car, first noticed King when he and two passengers were driving on Interstate 210 at what Melanie Singer estimated were speeds of up to “100 miles an hour.” She said King refused to stop, even after her husband advised him over their car bullhorn: “Pull over to the right. We won’t hurt you.”

Los Angeles police officers joined the pursuit, which came to an end in the 11700 block of Foothill Boulevard in Lake View Terrace.

Melanie Singer said that when King got out of the car, he first appeared jovial, smiling, laughing and dancing. At one point, he grabbed his buttocks and paraded in front of them, she said. He also appeared “heavily intoxicated” and “seemed very strange.” As she approached King, she said Koon told her, “No, no. Get back. We’ll handle.”

She said Koon twice shot King with the stun gun, and King stumbled to the ground.

“Officer Powell ran up and struck the suspect on the right side of his head with his baton,” she told investigators. “The suspect clasped his hands to his face and screamed with pain. He was bleeding. Powell then struck him five to six more times in rapid succession in the head and neck area.”

She also described the blows as “causing his face to split.”

“Mr. King appeared to be less resistive,” she recalled. “I considered him disabled.”

At that point, she said, none of the Los Angeles police officers gave King any instructions on what they wanted him to do. “I asked Sgt. Koon if he had called for an ambulance and he said, ‘No, not yet,’ that he will or ‘We’re in the progress,’ or something to that effect,” she said.

At the scene, according to one of the CHP reports, Aid suggested to the Singers that they copy the names off the identification tags of all the police officers there.

The Singers said they then turned their backs to King so they could keep watch on King’s passengers.

Later, the CHP officers said they were shocked when they saw the subsequent 50 baton blows that were captured on the videotape. They said they were unaware that the beating was continuing.

“I definitely was not a witness to what I saw on TV,” Melanie Singer said. “I was shocked when I saw it on TV because I never saw that (part of the beating) happen at the scene.”

The statements also differ on whether King actually threatened the officers.

Two nearby residents, along with Paul Beauregard, a Los Angeles Unified School District police officer, recalled that King acted aggressively toward the police when he got out of the car.

“Mr. King was fighting and kicking while on the ground,” Beauregard told investigators.

“Mr. King’s fists were clenched and he had his hands at shoulder height,” said area resident Dawn Davis. “He was getting ready to fight with an officer.”

But others disagreed.

“The subject did not display any aggressive behavior,” said Josie Morales, a resident. “In fact, he appeared to be passive.”

King’s two passengers, Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms said that although they got out of the other side of the car, they could tell from their friend’s screams that he was under attack.

Allen said that during the car pursuit, he repeatedly urged King to slow down, to no avail. King, he said, “must have gone into shock, because he continued driving.”

Allen said the three of them had not injected drugs, but each of them had consumed 40 ounces of Old English 800 malt liquor.

As Allen lay on the ground, he said he could hear “whacking sounds” coming from the other side of the car. The whacks lasted for three to four minutes, he said. “It sounded as if bones were being broken or someone was receiving a busted skull,” he told investigators.

At one point, he said, a Los Angeles police officer jeered at him and asked: “Do you want to be like your homeboy?”

Helms said he was asleep in the car, and woke up when they came to a stop after the chase. After they got out of the vehicle, Helms said he turned to look at King when an officer suddenly struck Helms on the side of his head with what felt like a baton.

“The blow to the head resulted in bleeding, which ran over to the left side of the head,” Helms told investigators. The report also said Helms “got blood on the collar of his shirt.”

As the police officers were leaving, Helms said, he asked for assistance on how to get home to Altadena because he did not know exactly where he was. “He was told by the officers that they had additional calls and could not help him.”

At Pacifica Hospital, the CHP officers assumed they would retain jurisdiction of the case because it began with a chase on the freeway. However, Melanie Singer said Koon had different ideas.

“When we arrived at the hospital, I started my paperwork,” she said. “I walked over and was talking to King when Sgt. Koon came over and told me that they were going to handle the arrest because they had injuries.”

In a March 5 interview at the hospital, King tried to explain to investigators what had happened. “I know it wasn’t a racial thing,” he said. “But they didn’t have to beat me this bad. I don’t know what I did to be beat up.”

At that time, King was unaware that just minutes before the beating, one of the officers had made an apparent racial slur about African-Americans.

On Tuesday, King said through his attorney, Steve Lerman, that the police comment about “Gorillas in the Mist” was “clearly a racial slur.”

“That’s the way they think,” King said. ". . . I fear the police. I fear them.”

Although the four indicted officers are white, police sources said that at least one of the officers at the scene is black.

Lerman said he plans to file a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles by the end of the week asking for $56 million in damages--$1 million for each blow King reportedly suffered. He said he also will file a damage claim against the state because at least one CHP officer can be seen in the videotape putting his nightstick back in its holster, or “ring.”

“This man is every bit as culpable and guilty as the LAPD officers who stood there,” Lerman said. He did not identify the CHP officer.

Lerman said King believes there may have been two sergeants at the scene, that the officers were trying to kill him and that when he was taken to jail, he kept thinking about his predicament: “Who’s going to believe you? Who’s going to believe you?”

King also did not know that shortly before he was stopped by police, the Foothill officers participated in a special training session on the uses of force. Conmay wrote that the officers, huddled around a practice stand in the parking lot next to the police station, attended a “demonstration on specific uses and moves” of the police baton.

On Tuesday, the Police Department disclosed that 21 LAPD officers, not 15 as originally reported, were at the scene of the King beating. Department spokesman Lt. Fred Nixon said the 21 include the four who were indicted and possibly two in a helicopter. The officers arrived at different times and Nixon said the department is trying to determine who was there and why.

The new figures mean that at least 27 uniformed officers from various agencies were present: 21 from LAPD, four from the CHP and two from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In addition to the four officers who were indicted, grand jury reports identify 13 other Los Angeles police officers at the scene. They are: David O. Avila, Tim E. Blake, Susan J. Clemmer, Paul R. Gebhardt, Christopher J. Hajduk, Ingrid Larson, David A. Love, Joseph F. Napolitano, Kenneth A. Phillippe, Danny Shry, Robert J. Simpach, Rolando Solano and Louis M. Turriaga.

Times staff writers Leslie Berger, Charisse Jones, Sheryl Stolberg and Tracy Wood contributed to this story.


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