The Rodney King Affair : ...
Principals: A motorist and four officers.
1. RODNEY G. KING, 25, an unemployed construction worker from Altadena, on parole after serving a one-year sentence for armed robbery. Pulled over by police on March 3 after allegedly leading them on a high-speed chase that ended in Lake View Terrace. Suffered numerous injuries in subsequent videotaped beating, including fractured cheekbone, 11 broken bones at the base of his skull, and a broken leg. Held for three days at the Los Angeles County Jail before being released; prosecutors later announce that no charges will be filed against him. His attorney says he is contemplating a $56 million lawsuit--$1 million for each blow he received. Secluded since his lone public appearance, in which he said: “I was scared for my life. So I laid down real calmly and took it like a man.”
2. SGT. STACEY C. KOON, 40, a 14-year LAPD veteran. Twice fired 50,000-volt electronic darts from his Taser stun gun at King. Apparently tried at one point to stop the beating. Later wrote in his daily report that King’s injuries were “of a minor nature,” but called beating “a big time use of force” in a computer message. Charged with assault with a deadly weapon, unnecessarily beating a suspect under color of authority, filing a false police report and acting as an accessory in an alleged “cover-up.” Maximum sentence if convicted: seven years, eight months.
3. OFFICER LAURENCE M. POWELL, 28, a three-year veteran. Shown on videotape kicking King and clubbing him repeatedly with his nightstick, including at least five blows to the head and neck. Computer messages from his squad car included one that said, “I haven’t beaten anyone this bad in a long time.” He later submitted a report saying that King had suffered only “contusions and abrasions.” Charged with assault with a deadly weapon, unnecessarily beating a suspect under color of authority and filing a false police report. Maximum sentence if convicted: seven years, eight months.
4. OFFICER TIMOTHY WIND, 30, Powell’s partner and a rookie probationer. Came to the LAPD after eight years on a 54-member force in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan. Also shown on the videotape striking King with his baton. Joins Powell in submitting a report that understates King’s injuries. Charged with assault with a deadly weapon and unnecessarily beating a suspect under color of authority. Maximum sentence if convicted: seven years.
5. OFFICER TED BRISENO, 38, a nine-year veteran. Shown in the videotape kicking King once. Was disciplined for use of excessive force in 1987, when he was suspended for 66 days without pay for hitting a suspect with his baton and kicking the man while he was handcuffed. Vowed at the time not to let it happen again. Charged in the King case with assault with a deadly weapon and unnecessarily beating a suspect under color of authority. Maximum sentence if convicted: four years.
CONTRADICTIONS: DISCREPANCIES IN INITIAL POLICE REPORT
* LAPD officers wrote in their police reports that it was necessary to subdue King with “several baton strikes” and two shots from a Taser gun because he “attacked officers” and resisted arrest.
* Initial law enforcement accounts depict a high-speed pursuit of King’s white Hyundai reaching 110 to 115 m.p.h. along the Foothill Freeway and 80 m.p.h. on surface streets in Lake View Terrace.
* Officers say they suspect that King was high on PCP, a drug that can produce bizarre behavior.
* The LAPD says there were 15 officers on the scene.
CONTRADICTORY LATER REPORTS
* A video shows King being struck more than 50 times with batons. Other witnesses offer differing accounts, but a CHP officer at the scene reports she “didn’t see any need to hit him with a baton.”
* Tapes of CHP and police radio conversations make no mention of freeway speed, but say King’s car was clocked at 65 m.p.h. on surface streets. Hyundai officials say that the model can’t top 100 m.p.h.
* Tests show no traces of PCP, but indicate that King was legally drunk at the time of the incident.
* At least 27 officers were present, 21 from the LAPD.
FALLOUT: TURBULENCE IN THE AFTERMATH
CHIEF DARYL F. GATES
Facing the biggest controversy of his 13-year tenure, Gates describes the beating as “an aberration” and says the officers involved will be punished. A wide range of political figures--conservative columnist George F. Will, U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, among others--call for the chief to step down. Critics say Gates encouraged police racism with flippant remarks. His 8,300-member force rallies behind him, and Gates vows to steer it through the crisis.
MAYOR TOM BRADLEY
The mayor initially shies away from calling for Gates to resign, saying the chief “has to answer to his public.” He denies a report that his aides are orchestrating moves to oust the chief--but slowly turns up the heat, appointing ACLU board member Stanley Scheinbaum to the Police Commission and pushing for release of computer messages that reveal racist remarks by officers who beat King. Finally, late last week, he states that Gates’ removal is “the only way” for the LAPD to recover.
The five-member citizens panel is appointed by the mayor to oversee the LAPD. Under orders from Bradley, it opens a wide-ranging investigation into the LAPD’s policies and practices, especially toward minorities. An initial public hearing draws more than 400 people, many demanding Gates’ resignation. Commissioners are briefed by the city attorney on their options in dealing with Gates. Commissioner Daniel P. Garcia says “there is a very serious crisis in leadership.”
While Gates says three officers should be prosecuted, prosecutors take the matter to a grand jury and obtain indictments against Koon, Powell, Wind and Briseno and vow to investigate officers who watched the beating. U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh, under pressure from black congressional leaders, begins a review of 15,000 police brutality complaints received by federal officials nationwide. Justice Department lawyers weigh possible charges against officers who witnessed the attack.