Simi Valley police have opened a criminal investigation into threats against jurors in the Rodney G. King beating case and against people whose names merely resemble those of the King jurors, officers said Thursday.
Police said they hope to arrest those who have vowed by telephone and mail to harm the persons or property of the jurors, who last week reached not-guilty verdicts in the case against four Los Angeles police officers accused of beating King.
"Regardless of anyone's opinion of the verdict, threatening jurors is an attack on the core of the criminal justice system," Simi Valley Police Chief Paul Miller said in a statement. "It will not be tolerated."
The flurry of threats appears to be concentrated in Simi Valley, the location of the highly publicized trial. Only two jurors, plus two alternate jurors who did not assist in reaching the verdicts, live in Simi Valley, authorities said.
Simi Valley officials this week have tried to distance the city from the verdict, pointing out that the King beating incident occurred in Los Angeles and that most of the jurors do not live in Simi Valley. But the ongoing threats indicate that many angry people have not gotten the message, police said.
"I think it's part of the hysteria that followed the verdicts and resulted in the riots," Simi Valley Police Lt. Bob Klamser said.
The threats have even reached Simi Valley residents whose names are similar to those on the jury panel. And at least one prospective juror, a Simi Valley resident who was never seated in the jury box, has received threats.
"I think someone lashing out at a prospective juror--there's no rational linkage there," Klamser said. "But this has not been a rational week."
There are no parallel investigations by Ventura, Oxnard, and Santa Paula police departments and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.
Immediately after the verdicts were announced, the Sheriff's Department offered protection to the anxious jurors. And in recent interviews, several jurors have told The Times that they have received so many angry and threatening telephone calls that they have either changed their phone numbers or temporarily moved from their homes.
But as of Thursday, investigators said jurors living outside Simi Valley have not informed authorities about threatening calls or letters. "We have not received any reports from any jurors in our jurisdiction regarding threats," said Lt. Bill Edwards, supervisor of the Sheriff's Department intelligence unit.
Klamser declined to say how many complaints have been reported in Simi Valley. But he acknowledged that neighboring areas do not seem to have the same problem. "That's one of the interesting things about the threats," said Klamser, who commands the Simi Valley department's investigations unit. "To the best of our knowledge, none of the other jurors have been threatened. I think that's another phenomenon of the linkage of Simi Valley to the trial."
Police said anyone arrested in the Simi Valley inquiry could face charges such as making a threatening telephone call, which is punishable by up to six months in jail, or terrorism--a felony that could lead to a state prison term.
A Thousand Oaks woman whose husband's name is the same as a juror's, except for the middle initial, said Thursday that she has received eight calls since the verdict. She said they all were "inquiries," not threats. "It's been a little more than a minor annoyance," she said.
A Ventura man with the same first initial and last name as a juror said he was well aware of the problem of nuisance and threatening calls. He declined to discuss the issue, saying, "Why add to it?"
An Ojai woman said her son, who is in a coma at a nursing home, has the same first and last names as one of the jurors. After the jurors names' were published in a newspaper, she said, the nursing home recommended that the phone in his room, used by visiting family members, be left off the hook.
Klamser said his department "is taking all appropriate steps to ensure the safety" of the threat victims in his city. But he declined to discuss any security measures that had been initiated.
Angry callers who have been unable to reach the jurors began telephoning Simi Valley police officers and other public officials, threatening the jurors, police, Simi Valley City Hall and the East County Courthouse.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), in an interview, defended his city from what he considers unfair criticism. "Simi Valley is not responsible for what has happened because of a group of anarchists in South-Central Los Angeles," he said.
Gallegly, who has introduced legislation to crack down on illegal immigration, said illegal immigrants played a significant role in the civil unrest.
"A significant percentage of those who were rioting and looting and participating in what we could accurately refer to as anarchy was illegal aliens," Gallegly said. "It would be very hard to argue that their mission was to defend Rodney King's honor."
Meanwhile, in Oxnard on Thursday night, about 350 people filled the St. Paul Baptist Church for the first in a series of public forums planned to allow the county's residents to tell leaders what needs to be done to improve race relations.
Participants vented their frustrations over the verdicts and offered suggestions for ending racial prejudice, speaking in portable microphones passed to them by moderators, Phil Donahue style. Many in the audience, most of whose members were black, said that real change will come about only with the election of people who are sensitive to the problems of minorities.
"I will say one thing to this church," said Louis Bryant, 44, a Ventura resident. "Power to the people."
Other speakers emphasized the importance of providing minorities with the chance for a college education and of parents' setting positive role models for their children.
"Please vote and respect each other and raise your children right," one woman said.
Times staff writer Alan C. Miller and correspondent Kay Saillant contributed to this story.
LETTERS: Readers write about the verdicts and riot: B6