A San Fernando man is alleging that he and a friend were assaulted by Los Angeles Police Officer Theodore J. Briseno just three hours after the officer took part in the now infamous March 3 beating of Rodney G. King.
Mario Gracia, who has filed a claim for monetary damages against the city over the incident, told The Times in a jailhouse interview Wednesday that he and Tim Grimaldo were assaulted by Briseno after being arrested for a street robbery not far from the site in Lake View Terrace where an amateur video cameraman recorded the King beating.
Gracia said he was handcuffed and struck in the back by Briseno and then shoved into a patrol car. He added that Grimaldo--also handcuffed--was slammed head first into a bench at the Foothill police station by Briseno and his partner, Officer Rolando Solano, who was a bystander at the King beating.
The incident marks the first time that allegations have surfaced implying that some of the officers continued to act recklessly after the King beating, up until the time the videotape was made public two days later.
The 22-year-old Gracia said he overheard officers laughing at the Foothill station about the King incident before they realized the beating had been filmed. "They were laughing and talking and went on laughing," Gracia said. "Later on, it snapped in my mind they had to be talking about Rodney King."
Gracia and Grimaldo pleaded no contest Aug. 1 to the robbery charges in a brief appearance in Superior Court in San Fernando, after their defense attorneys threatened to put Briseno on the stand if there were a trial and destroy his credibility because of his indictment for beating King.
Briseno could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His defense attorney in the King case, John Barnett, said he was not in a position to comment on Gracia's allegations or the claim he filed against the city on Aug. 28.
"The fact a complaint has been filed is news to me," the lawyer said.
Solano was not involved in the King beating, but he was present at the incident in his capacity as Briseno's partner that night. A probationary employee who was hired in 1990, Solano was later ordered suspended without pay for 22 days for allegedly failing to stop the King beating and not immediately reporting the incident to his superiors.
Solano also could not be reached for comment. But his attorney, Diane Lenore Marchant, said she could "just remember him recalling that they did make this other arrest." Asked if the arrest involved any allegations of police brutality, Marchant said, "I never heard anything at all about that."
Gracia is represented by Steven A. Lerman, the attorney who has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, the LAPD and the four officers on behalf of King.
Grimaldo, however, has not filed a legal claim against the city, and Tom Owens, a private investigator working for Lerman on the King case, said they are still reviewing whether Lerman would have a conflict of interest in representing both Gracia and Grimaldo.
Repeated attempts by The Times to interview Grimaldo have been unsuccessful.
Police Cmdr. Rick Dinse, an LAPD spokesman, said Wednesday the department will investigate Gracia's allegations. Sources in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office confirmed that they have reviewed the allegations by Gracia but have taken no action against Briseno or Solano for their involvement.
Briseno, 38, a nine-year LAPD veteran, is one of four Los Angeles officers, including Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, who were indicted on assault charges following the King beating.
While two of the other officers, Laurence M. Powell and Timothy E. Wind, can be seen on the videotape delivering the majority of the baton blows and kicks, Briseno's role appears relatively minor.
At one point, he kicks King. Yet he also is seen on the tape waving at his fellow officers--either in a gesture urging them to ease up, or in an effort to keep them away from an electrical stun gun wire.
The King arrest and beating occurred between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. on March 3, near the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street.
Gracia and Grimaldo, 21, along with two other friends, were arrested at 3:45 a.m. near Chamberlain Street and Laurel Canyon Boulevard, about three miles from the King beating site.
In the watch commander's log for the Foothill station that night, Lt. P.J. Conmay described on the same page both the King arrest and that of Gracia and Grimaldo. The log, which has not been made public but was obtained Wednesday by The Times, says of the King case:
"The driver (King) was under the influence of PCP. He started fighting with officers and was Tased (by an electrical stun gun) by Sgt. Koon who was at scene. The Taser didn't phase him and he was ultimately subdued after several baton strikes.
"He was mtd (given medical treatment) and ultimately booked at (Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center) due to his PCP intoxication."
As it turned out, King was not under the influence of PCP or any other illicit drugs, although toxicology tests did show he was legally drunk. Also in contrast with the watch commander's log is the videotape, in which King is never seen "fighting." Likewise, the tape shows that King suffered more than 50 baton strikes, rather than just "several."
The lieutenant's log then describes the Gracia-Grimaldo incident, and Briseno and Solano are praised for their actions in that case.
"Briseno and Solano made a nice obs (observation) arrest of four (robbery) suspects," the log reads. "They heard a crime broadcast, saw the car and recovered all the victim's property. They interviewed and obtained a cop-out from the driver. Good job."
However, Gracia said neither he nor his three friends in the car ever admitted guilt in the robbery. In fact, while all four were arrested, only Gracia and Grimaldo were charged with robbery, and Gracia said that he and Grimaldo were both sitting in the back seat when the Briseno and Solano stopped the car.
Robert Bryan, the victim of the robbery, told The Times that he had come from Fresno to help manage a musical band that night and after the show was over, he was robbed of $20, a gold neck chain and his tennis shoes.
Bryan said he was taken to Holy Cross Hospital for a head injury. At the hospital, he recalled, Briseno arrived to take his statement and became enraged and called him "a little punk" when he had difficulty recalling all of the details about the robbery.
"He was mean," Bryan said. "He was yelling at me. . . . I didn't want to get smart with him because he would have taken me to jail or something."
Gracia said he and his friends were stopped by Briseno and Solano and ordered to sit on their hands on the curb for about 30 minutes while the officers searched the car. During this time, he said, Briseno began to grow agitated.
"You could see Briseno was getting uptight," he said. "He had anger in his face."
Gracia said Grimaldo repeatedly denied that they were involved in the robbery, and his protestations further upset Briseno. "The expression on his face was like if you hadn't eaten for a week and a turkey all of a sudden popped out of the oven."
He said Briseno kept warning them to "cooperate" and admit the robbery because his "sergeant was in a bad mood."
"He looked at all of us and said, 'We just (beat) up somebody else . . . and that's why the sergeant isn't in a good mood."
He said a sergeant whom Gracia later identified as Koon arrived, inspected the scene and then left. At that point, they were handcuffed behind their backs, and Gracia said Briseno struck him in the back when he did not move fast enough into the back seat of the police car. "It felt real hard, like a boom, like he really laid it in to me," Gracia said.
He said he later was reunited with Grimaldo at the Foothill station, and that his friend described being assaulted by Briseno and Solano there. "He said they grabbed him and handcuffed him and slammed him on a bench," he said. "When he got up, he said they slammed him some more."
Gracia said his back still bothers him when he walks or bends, and that he was transferred to the jail's medical ward in order to take medication for the alleged injury. "It continues to hurt," he said.
Gracia said it was only later, after viewing newspaper photographs of Briseno, that he realized he had been arrested shortly after King.
At the Aug. 1 court appearance, they pleaded no contest to the robbery charges and each was given a one-year jail term. At the court hearing, their attorneys were prepared to discredit Briseno.
"I would have done everything possible to eviscerate Officer Briseno and attack his credibility the minute his fanny was placed on the witness stand," said Marc Hentell, Gracia's attorney.