CHP Officer Describes Chase, Beating of King : LAPD: One defendant tried to stop another’s baton blows to motorist’s head, she says.
During a vivid account of the early moments of the Rodney G. King beating, a California Highway Patrol officer testified Friday that one of the Los Angeles police officers charged in the incident tried to stop a baton-wielding fellow defendant from continuing a series of bloody blows to King’s head.
CHP Officer Melanie Singer testified that Officer Theodore J. Briseno grabbed the baton of Officer Laurence M. Powell with his left hand and pushed it away after King slumped to the ground, dazed and bleeding from Powell’s ferocious “power strokes.”
Singer said Briseno stepped in after another of the accused officers, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, yelled: “Stop! Stop! That’s enough! That’s enough!” But within moments, in a scene memorialized on videotape, the beating resumed.
Singer’s recollections came on the second day of testimony in the trial and seemed to bolster Briseno’s contention that he tried to stop the King beating, unlike his three criminally charged colleagues. Briseno is accused of delivering a single downward kick to King’s head in the final seconds of the beating before the motorist was handcuffed, hogtied and taken to a nearby hospital.
In opening statements Thursday, Briseno’s lawyer argued that his client had used his boot to get King to lie flat on the ground so the other officers would cease their “out of control” conduct.
Singer’s detailed and often dramatic statements were also significant in another respect. She testified about the crucial events that transpired before George Holliday turned on his video camera, a period in which, the accused officers have said, King’s allegedly combative and bizarre behavior warranted the use of escalating force.
Powell’s attorney, Michael Stone, worked hard to cast doubt on her recollections.
Early in her testimony, Singer said Powell struck King four times on the left side of his face and once on the right, “splitting his cheekbone from the top of his ear to the bottom of his jawline.”
“Blood spilled out,” Singer testified. “Blood poured out.”
But later, when Stone showed her photographs of King taken after the beating, she acknowledged that they revealed only a one-inch cut on the right side and no marks on the left. Stone later told reporters that the blows were to King’s shoulders.
“What she saw is inherently unbelievable,” Stone said. “She’s absolutely wrong.”
Stone also suggested in interviews outside of court that Briseno was not attempting to prevent Powell from hitting King. Rather, he said, Briseno was trying to keep Powell from “tying up with the suspect” after King had been shot with darts from a Taser electric stun gun.
Prosecutors also discount Briseno’s argument that he was acting as a protector, noting that the officer’s single kick in no way assisted the battered King. Attorneys for Powell and former Officer Timothy E. Wind, concerned about the division in the ranks of the defense team, said they plan to deal with Briseno’s position later, adding that their clients handled their batons exactly as they were trained.
Singer’s daylong testimony, delivered in a quiet monotone, began with a lengthy account of how she and her husband and patrol partner, CHP Officer Timothy Singer, first saw King speeding on the Foothill Freeway shortly after midnight on March 3, 1991.
She said that in a 7.8-mile chase, King drove on the freeway at speeds exceeding 115 m.p.h. On surface streets, she said, he was driving up to 80 m.p.h. while often ignoring stop signs and red lights.
At one point, she said, she pulled her black-and-white CHP cruiser alongside King’s Hyundai. She said her husband told King: “Pull over to the right. You won’t get hurt.”
But King continued, she said, until he was forced to stop when a pickup truck blocked his exit near an apartment complex in Lake View Terrace.
“He was trapped,” she said. “He couldn’t go any farther.”
With officers from the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District in a semicircle around his car, King got out of the vehicle and was beaten down by a fusillade of baton blows, Singer said.
“The driver seemed almost happy and jovial,” Singer said, describing King’s demeanor. “He was smiling.”
She said he appeared to be talking to the two occupants in his car, and waved and smiled at a police helicopter hovering above. He then turned around and “grabbed his right buttock and shook it at me.”
With her gun drawn, she began to move toward King, she said, continuing to order him to lie face down on the ground with his arms and legs extended. But King, she said, “was dancing around, almost like a pitter-patter.”
Finally, she said, he got down on all fours. But still “he paraded around,” she said, “almost like he was a dog.”
As she came within four feet of King, preparing to handcuff him, she said she suddenly heard Koon shout: “Back! Get back! We’ll handle it! We’ll handle it!”
Believing that the LAPD officers planned to use some diversionary tactic to handcuff King, she stepped away. Singer said two officers, one of whom she identified as Powell, attempted to grab his wrists, but he jerked up, rolled over and bounced them away.
She said King sprang to his feet.
“The driver was flinging his arms wildly, not punching, but trying to throw all these officers off him,” she said. “I remember he hit one of the officers in the chest, but it wasn’t a punch. It was more like a wild movement with his arm.”
Koon, she said, ordered the officers, “Back away!” and then warned King: “If you continue to resist, I’m going to shoot you with this Taser.” When King refused to get back on the ground, Singer said, Koon fired a dart from the stun gun, hitting King on the right side of his body.
“The driver screamed and grabbed his side and made a moaning sound,” she said, “but he wouldn’t get down.”
When King continued flailing his arms and moving toward the sergeant, Singer said, Koon fired a second dart, hitting King’s chest.
“He began to stagger, almost appearing like a monster,” she said. “He staggered one way and then the other way and then he fell, like all his body weight just carried him down directly in front of me.”
Singer said King was on both knees, one hand holding him up off the asphalt. That is when Powell, baton raised, stepped in.
“In a power stroke, he struck him across the head,” she said, describing the blow that she said split King’s cheekbone. With that, she said, King screamed, reached up and covered his face with both hands.
“Officer Powell then moved in and struck him across the knuckles,” she said, forcing King to drop his hands. Powell then leaned in with the baton five more times, she said, and “he continued to strike the head area.”
Noting that under her police training baton blows to the head are prohibited because they can be deadly, Singer said: “In my opinion, there was no reason” for Powell to hit King that way.
It was then, she said, that Koon ordered “Stop!” to Powell, leading Briseno to grab and push away the baton.
Singer said she holstered her firearm and, believing that the incident was over and that King would smoothly be handcuffed, she moved to the other side of the Hyundai to check on King’s two passengers and to search the car.
When she returned--after missing most of what cameraman Holliday captured from his vantage point in the other direction--she was surprised to see that “he had blood all over his face. There was a pool of blood underneath his chin.”
All four defendants have pleaded not guilty. The trial resumes Monday morning.