Officers Claimed Self-Defense in Beating of King
The two Los Angeles police officers seen on a videotape repeatedly beating Rodney G. King wrote in their original arrest report that they used their batons only to defend themselves against King and just struck him “several times in the arm and leg areas to incapacitate him.”
The officers also claimed that an hour after the beating, King became “semi-cooperative and stated he then remembered fighting with officers.”
A copy of the five-page report, obtained Friday by The Times, was prepared by Officers Laurence M. Powell and Timothy E. Wind. It states for the first time in the officers’ own words what they claim occurred during the March 3 arrest.
But the report was written before the officers knew that the beating was captured on videotape by an amateur cameraman. It now lies at the heart of a multicount indictment handed down by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury in which some LAPD officers present at King’s arrest are accused of filing false statements in an attempt to hide the severity of the beating.
“It’s a cover-up, and it’s disturbing,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry White said Friday. “When you read this report and then see the video, you realize they’re talking about two different incidents.”
Attempts on Friday to contact Powell and Wind, and their attorneys, were unsuccessful.
The arrest report, among thousands of pages of documents reviewed by the grand jury, says that King was stopped by officers early on the morning of March 3, after a chase that began with the California Highway Patrol in the north San Fernando Valley.
During his arrest in Lake View Terrace, the 25-year-old parolee is seen on the videotape being struck up to 56 times by officers wielding their police batons.
At no time on the tape is he seen fighting with or threatening the officers.
Afterward, LAPD officers said they believed he was under the influence of PCP because of his erratic behavior in the moments before the beating began. But laboratory tests showed that while King was legally drunk and had some traces of marijuana in his system, he had not ingested PCP.
In their arrest report, Powell and Wind first describe joining the CHP chase of King and his two passengers. They said King was driving a 1988 Hyundai Excel at “speeds at 110 to 115 m.p.h.,” although authorities now dispute that the car was going that fast.
Once the car was pulled over, the two officers said, King’s two passengers got out on the passenger side and King stepped out the driver’s door only after repeated commands to do so.
“Defendant (King) exited his vehicle, then got back in and then exited again,” Powell and Wind said in their report. “Defendant failed to put his hands on his head, instead putting his left hand in his pants pocket and placing his right hand on the roof of his car.
“We continued ordering defendant to place his hands on his head and lay down on the ground.”
The Powell-Wind report made no mention of King laughing or dancing when he first got out of the car, although a CHP officer told the grand jury that he did.
The report continued:
“Defendant finally laid down on the ground and I (Powell) approached him to handcuff him. Defendant then started to raise up and I placed my knee on his back to prevent this movement. Defendant continued to try and rise up, causing me to lose my balance and fall off (King). Defendant started to turn and charge towards me.
“I backed away and Sgt. (Stacey C.) Koon fired a Taser at defendant, striking him in the back and temporarily halting defendant’s attack.”
The Powell-Wind report stated that Koon shot King only once with the Taser electric stun gun. But Koon’s daily report and other evidence show that Koon shot King twice with the Taser.
“Defendant recovered almost immediately (from the Taser shot) and resumed his hostile charge in our direction,” the arrest report went on. “Officer Wind and I drew our batons to defend against defendant’s attack and struck him several times in the arm and leg areas to incapacitate him.
“Defendant continued resisting; kicking and swinging his arms at us. We finally knocked defendant down and he was subdued by several officers using the swarm technique.”
On the videotape, however, Powell and Wind can be seen striking King over and over with their batons, and Officer Theodore J. Briseno is seen kicking him in the head. But the arrest report does not mention repeated baton strikes, and there are no statements about King being kicked by any officers.
King suffered a dozen broken bones, including the bones that make up his eye socket. In addition, CHP Officer Melanie Singer told the grand jury that she was “shocked” at the savagery of the attack and that the LAPD officers beat King over the head with their batons. She described the blows as “causing his face to split.”
She said it is common police practice to avoid striking a person over the head because the injuries can be very severe.
“Defendant continued struggling while on the ground and then started laughing and making incoherent statements,” the Powell-Wind report said. “Defendant continued struggling and was spitting at officers and paramedics even after being told to stop.”
On the videotape, King cannot be seen spitting.
The report then details how King was taken to Pacifica Hospital in Sun Valley. The officers said “we detected a faint odor of alcohol” on King’s breath.
A doctor and two nurses have told the grand jury and other investigators that King appeared cooperative and coherent at the hospital, and that he was having little problem conversing with the hospital staff and police. But the Powell-Wind report draws a different picture.
“Defendant was unable to answer questions about what happened and his hostile, agitated demeanor continued for approximately an hour,” the officers reported. “Defendant’s speech was hurried and usually incoherent and his muscles were extremely rigid.
“Defendant was possibly under the influence of a drug, probably PCP, but due to his injuries, we were unable to evaluate him. After about one hour, defendant was semi-cooperative and stated he then remembered fighting with officers.”
The report also said King was given medical treatment “for abrasions and contusions on his face, arms, legs and torso areas.”
The arrest report was signed and approved by Sgt. Johnny Amott, a supervisor assigned to the Valley Traffic Division. In his testimony to the grand jury, Amott described how Los Angeles police, rather than the CHP, took control over the case.
“One of the officers (Powell or Wind) mentioned there was a use of force involved,” Amott told the grand jury. “And it was decided between their sergeant (Koon) and the CHP sergeant that since the use of force was by LAPD, that LAPD would handle everything.”
White, the deputy district attorney who is prosecuting the case, said in an interview Friday that while the arrest report was prepared by Powell and Wind, it actually was written by Powell.
He added that the report is similar in tone to Koon’s daily report, also written and signed before the videotape surfaced. In the sergeant’s report, Koon describes King’s injuries this way:
“Several facial cuts due to contact with asphalt; of a minor nature; a split inner lip.”
Powell and Koon have each been indicted on a felony charge of filing a false report, which carries a prison term of from one to three years. In addition, they, along with officers Wind and Briseno, are charged with assault.
In his comments to the grand jury, White mockingly referred to the two police reports as “a lapse in memory.”
“Well, actually, I guess we know the truth,” he told the grand jury. “It’s not a lapse in memory. They purposely are concealing this particular evidence. They are turning in false reports so no one knows what happened.
“Without a video camera out there, we would never know, because the truth is something that is not found in these reports by Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell.”
In another development Friday, Mayor Tom Bradley asked the Los Angeles Police Commission to begin an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the firing and rehiring of another police officer who amassed a long record of altercations with the public.
“Police officers must not feel they are above the law,” Bradley warned in a letter to the commission. “My concern, especially in light of the Rodney King beating, is that the department’s failure to reprimand and terminate officers . . . helps create a culture within the department in which excessive force is accepted.”
“That attitude,” the mayor added, “that disregard for the rights of citizens, should not and will not be tolerated in the city of Los Angeles.”
Bradley said he was “deeply concerned” about recent reports that Officer Robert Brodowy was fired from the force because of a history of altercations with the public, only to be rehired by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. Brodowy then retired after 21 years of service on a stress pension in July, 1989. He was awarded a tax-free pension of $1,946.19 a month.
Brodowy could not be reached for comment. But in his pension application, he made this statement:
“I have been involved in numerous altercations and shootings throughout my career that have resulted in physical as well as emotional injuries.
“Personnel problems and conflicts with (Police) Department hierarchy also have contributed to my emotional difficulties.”
But one police source who worked closely with Brodowy said: “This guy was everywhere. People wouldn’t work with him because they were afraid they’d get sued. He was such a dedicated officer, but not the smartest.”
Cmdr. Frank Piersol, a department liaison to the Police Commission, said the panel “absolutely” will investigate the circumstances surrounding Brodowy’s departure, and that its findings will be incorporated into an overall review the commission has undertaken on police abuse.
BEATING CASE ARREST REPORT
Following is a segment from the initial arrest report that was prepared by Los Angeles Police Department Officers Laurence M. Powell and Timothy E. Wind after the March 3 arrest of Rodney G. King. Both officers have since been indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury for allegedly beating King, and Powell, along with a supervisor, has been charged with attempting to cover up the incident. The report uses the letters “DEFT” to represent the word defendant .