A judge on Tuesday refused to acquit four Los Angeles police officers accused in the Rodney G. King beating, ruling that prosecutors presented "sufficient evidence to support a conviction" of each defendant.
Judge Stanley M. Weisberg ruled after prosecutors completed their case and defense attorneys argued that the district attorney's office had not proved that the officers used excessive force on the black motorist, or that two of them, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officer Laurence M. Powell, attempted to cover up the incident.
"Based upon a review of the evidence presented, and specifically a review of the videotape evidence that has been introduced," the judge said, "the court finds that there was presented by the prosecutors sufficient evidence to support a conviction . . . as to each charge and as to each defendant."
Earlier in the day, prosecutors presented their last two witnesses, including Los Angeles Police Department Detective Addison Arce, who was asked to view the videotape in front of the jury.
Arce pointed out Powell on the videotape as the officer who radioed a police dispatcher, and he identified Theodore J. Briseno as the officer shown kicking King once while the motorist was rolling on the ground under a torrent of baton blows.
Prosecutors completed their case by presenting much of the equipment that was worn and carried by the officers that night, including Powell's jacket, metal baton and high-top black boots; Briseno's boots; Koon's Taser stun gun, and Officer Timothy E. Wind's boots and baton.
Then, in a hearing away from the jury, defense attorneys argued that their clients should be acquitted.
Darryl Mounger, who represents Koon, argued that at the beginning of the incident Koon ordered a California Highway Patrol officer to holster her weapon and step away from King, preventing her from possibly shooting the motorist.
Mounger attempted to refute testimony from a police lieutenant who said Koon admitted telling other officers where to administer baton blows on King's body, and he argued that Koon's police computer message describing the incident as a "big-time use of force" was justified.
"It was big-time," Mounger said. "It (the message) was a communication detailing and describing the conduct of his officers.
"I don't think there's any evidence that he intended for his officers to do anything that was criminal," Mounger argued.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Yochelson disagreed: "The evidence is very clear he shared" in the beating.
Paul DePasquale, Wind's attorney, questioned whether a police baton is a deadly weapon capable of producing great bodily harm. He noted that prosecutors had presented no testimony from experts about what constitutes excessive force by police officers.
Although Wind can be seen on the videotape striking King many times with his baton, DePasquale told the judge that two CHP officers who testified as key government witnesses "observed no baton blows by Mr. Wind."
Yochelson, however, said there was no legal requirement for the government to bring in experts on the use of force. Jurors can "arrive at their decision based on what they see on the videotape," he said.
William J. Kopeny, an attorney for Briseno, contended that it "was lawful" for his client to stomp on King because he was trying to protect the motorist from the blows of the other officers.
"Briseno," the lawyer said, "was applying the foot motion to Mr. King for the purpose of keeping him down, out of harm's way from the onslaught of co-defendants' batons, and to accomplish a safe and lawful arrest of Mr. King."
But Yochelson said that although Briseno may have at one point tried to push away Powell's baton, he later kicked King.
"The evidence from the videotape shows that whatever he did previously, he walked up to Mr. King and applied his foot, and Mr. King's body flies in the opposite direction," Yochelson said.
Michael Stone, Powell's attorney, gave no oral argument for an acquittal but joined the motions by the other lawyers.
All four defendants have pleaded not guilty. The trial resumes this morning when Mounger is scheduled to begin presenting his defense of Koon.