Culminating a month of legal maneuvering and probing questions, a jury of seven men and five women--none of them black--was chosen Monday for the trial of four white police officers accused in the beating of black motorist Rodney G. King.
The seating of the jury, on the eve of the first anniversary of the beating, came after 260 Ventura County residents were quizzed about their attitudes toward the Los Angeles Police Department, Chief Daryl F. Gates and allegations of widespread racism and brutality within the Police Department.
Although civil rights groups had expressed concern that moving the trial to predominantly white Ventura County would make it difficult to select a representative jury, prosecutors and defense lawyers said they were satisfied with the selection.
“We were not looking for any particular age group or ethnic group,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry White, the lead prosecutor. “I’m just concerned about having a fair and impartial jury. That’s all we ever wanted.”
Michael Stone, attorney for Officer Laurence M. Powell, said the defense team feels “very positive” about the jury. “We were looking for a neutral jury,” he said. “I feel we got one.”
John Barnett, attorney for Officer Theodore J. Briseno, said: “I think we’ve obtained a level playing field, no more.”
Selection of the 12 jurors, including one Latina and an Asian-American, sets the stage for opening arguments to begin Thursday in a case that has brought national notoriety to the Police Department. The trial is expected to last at least into April.
In court hearings and in answer to written questions, the 12 jurors disclosed a wide range of opinions. One said the beating was “uncalled for.” Others said it clearly appeared to be a case of “excessive force.”
Most of those selected for the panel said they had viewed the widely broadcast videotape made by an amateur cameraman showing King being beaten, kicked and shot with a police stun gun in a Lake View Terrace neighborhood. But they said they could put aside their reactions and render a fair verdict.
With the jury expected to study the videotape over and over again during the trial, one juror selected Monday said he may find that task unpleasant.
“It is not something I would go out of my way to see but if it is necessary, I can handle it,” said the juror, a 43-year-old telephone line installer who moved to Simi Valley from Los Angeles in 1975.
Along with the 12 jurors, six alternates were named to step in if any juror leaves the case. Five of those are women; all are white.
Only 2% of the 260 prospective jurors were black, and many of them were excused after they advised the judge that they held strong views about the beating and did not think they could be fair to the police officers.
King, Gates and cameraman George Holliday are among 175 witnesses listed for the long-awaited trial. It also is likely that several, if not all, of the defendants will testify.
In addition to Briseno and Powell, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and former Officer Timothy E. Wind are charged with assault. Koon and Powell also are charged with filing false reports on the beating.
Along with their testimony, the jurors will hear from numerous police Internal Affairs Division investigators and use-of-force experts, as well as residents of an apartment complex who were awakened last March 3 to the sound of police sirens and then watched as King was struck more than 50 times as more than a dozen officers stood by.
Although defense lawyers had hoped that moving the trial to Ventura County would avoid problems created by intense media coverage, the monthlong jury selection process revealed that publicity was equally pervasive here.
Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg has ordered the identities of the jurors be kept confidential, but he allowed the release of lengthy questionnaires that provide both biographical information and insight into the jurors’ attitudes about the Police Department.
Only three prospective jurors claimed to have never seen the videotape, which has been shown around the world. A fourth prospective juror, who is a reporter for the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle and said he had read only one newspaper article about the King incident, was excused from the jury pool Monday.
The majority of the potential jurors also said they knew that Gates was under pressure to resign after the beating, but few said they remembered the work of the Christopher Commission and its recommendations on reforming the Police Department.
During a series of daylong hearings in February, the 12 jurors chosen expressed evenly divided views on the King beating and the Los Angeles Police Department.
The Asian-American juror, a 49-year-old nurse at the Olive View Medical Center in Los Angeles County, told the judge she believed the beating was “uncalled for.”
“I don’t know why they did that,” said the woman, who was born in the Philippines and lives in Simi Valley.
A 48-year-old computer analyst from Thousand Oaks recalled vividly his opinion upon seeing the videotape of the beating.
“The video,” he said, “made it appear that more force was used to control the subject than what was necessary.”
He also made it clear that he does not believe police officers, by virtue of their uniform and badge, are above the law. Police work, he added, is “a tough job which I wouldn’t want.”
But, he said, “as in any field, some officers shouldn’t be there. The power can attract some who are on a power trip.”
A 34-year-old Ventura man, who works as a garbage collector for Oxnard, said he believed a policeman should use force “only if the person or persons pose a danger to the officer or someone else.”
“If a police officer uses excessive force or violence,” the juror said, “he should be treated like I or anyone else would be treated: subject to the law.”
Asked about the King video, the juror said: “I didn’t feel it took as many officers present to arrest and subdue one man . . .”
But other jurors appeared to be have kinder feelings for the defense.
“They have to make a lot of life-threatening judgments and they do a lot with the community,” said a 54-year-old bank clerk in Ventura. “But you don’t hear much about that.”
She added that police work is a “giant responsibility” and that “it takes a special kind of person to make a good officer.”
“They try to do a good job in difficult times,” said another juror, a 59-year-old retired Ventura County mental health worker who lives in Camarillo. And a 49-year-old Southern California Edison Co. cable splicer, who lives in Santa Paula and said he viewed the King videotape twice, expressed his opinion of the police this way:
“I don’t know any police officers personally, but the ones I’ve come in contact with have been polite and helpful. I respect the job they do.”
Times staff writers Laura A. Galloway and Ann Griffith contributed to this article.
Profile of the Jurors
Twelve jurors were selected Monday to hear the case of four police officers accused in the beating of Rodney G. King. The court has ordered that the names of the jurors be kept confidential. The following biographical information and quotes relating to attitudes about police were drawn from jurors’ testimony in open court and their written answers to court questionnaires .
JUROR 1: 49-year-old white male, lives in Santa Paula and works as a cable splicer for Southern Calfornia Edison.
* Quote: “I don’t know any police officers personally, but the ones I’ve come in contact with have been polite and helpful. I respect the job they do.”
JUROR 2: 54-year-old white female, lives in Ventura and works as a bank clerk.
* Quote: “Chief Gates is not wanting to step down, and he wants to see the issues (of police reform on the June ballot) resolved before he leaves the department. I can understand his feeling at this point.”
JUROR 3: 65-year-old white female, a retired real estate broker living in Ojai.
* Quote: “I would like to know what really happened--not all the hype.”
JUROR 4: 43-year-old white male, lives in Simi Valley and works as a service technician for Pacific Bell. His brother is a retired LAPD sergeant.
* Quote: “No, I do not believe an officer should be allowed to punish a person with force or violence. But I realize that force is sometimes necessary to stop people whey they are committing crimes.”
JUROR 5: 48-year-old white male, lives in Thousand Oaks and works as a computer analyst.
* Quote: “An officer should not be allowed to punish a suspect when it is not his job to determine guilt. That is the job of the court and judge. Any officer using violence to punish a suspect should be subject to prosecution.”
JUROR 6: 40-year-old Latina, lives in Saticoy and works as a housekeeper at the Ventura County Medical Center. Her 12-year-old son hopes to someday become a police officer.
* Quote: “I saw he (King) was getting beat up. They were hitting him and arresting him at the same time.”
JUROR 7: 65-year-old white male, a former teacher and a retired Naval aviator now living in Camarillo.
* Quote: "(Police officers) should apprehend but not punish.”
JUROR 8: 50-year-old white male, lives in Piru and serves as a park ranger for the United Water Conservation District.
* Quote: “Seeing the video, I saw the attack . . . I saw the officers moving toward the man and I saw some fighting going on.”
JUROR 9: 34-year-old white male,lives in Ventura and works as a trash collector for the city of Oxnard.
* Quote: “After first viewing the video, my opinion was that too many officers were there to justify arresting one person. Now, I believe there’s more to it than just what’s on the video.”
JUROR 10: 64-year-old white female, lives in Camarillo and works as a program manager for Industries Inc.
* Quote: “I believe it is the responsibility of the courts to punish, not police officers.”
JUROR 11: 59-year-old white male, lives in Camarillo and is a retired Ventura County mental health worker.
* Quote: “They (police officers) try to do a good job in difficult times.”
JUROR 12: 39-year-old Asian-American female,lives in Simi Valley and works as a staff nurse at the Olive View Medical Center in Los Angeles County.
* Quote: “Police officers are also human beings like us. And as human beings, they are not perfect.”