Three of the four men accused in the videotaped beating of truck driver Reginald O. Denny will be charged today with earlier assaulting a "large number" of victims--including a high-ranking Los Angeles fire battalion chief and a child--in the early stages of last month's riots, authorities said Wednesday.
Although officials were unusually tight-lipped about the new charges, they said the additional allegations come after investigators studied numerous videotapes taken by news crews and bystanders at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said the new assault charges should "debunk" a defense theory that Denny provoked his assailants by chanting racial slurs. She said there is no evidence that the earlier beatings that occurred at the same intersection involved provocations of any kind.
"These sorts of wild claims by the defense," she said, "have absolutely no basis in fact."
Although Gibbons was reluctant to discuss the new charges in detail, she did say that they involve "numerous incidents and numerous victims" in the hour before Denny was yanked from his truck and brutally assaulted April 29.
Gibbons said the new victims are Anglo, Latino or Asian and include men, women and at least one child. "We're talking a large number" of victims, she said. "There's a whole group of them."
She said that while some of the other victims were hospitalized, none were injured as seriously as Denny, who was hit repeatedly in the head. Gibbons said details of the charges will be disclosed at a news conference scheduled for this morning.
Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Bruce Hagerty, a supervisor in a special joint task force of investigators, also was reluctant to discuss the new charges.
Hagerty said police are concerned that the new allegations could further enrage some elements of the city who believe the four Denny defendants are being unfairly prosecuted. Denny is white and the defendants are black.
"It's too big a case; the stakes are too high," Hagerty said, explaining his refusal to discuss the new charges in detail. "We have to walk a very thin line here. There still could be some civil unrest as a result of these new charges. So we don't want to inflame the situation."
The suspects, who remain in custody and have been ordered to appear in court on the new cases this afternoon, are Damian Monroe (Football) Williams, 19; Antoine Eugene (Twan) Miller, 20, and Henry Keith (Kiki) Watson, 27. They are facing charges of attempted murder and interfering with interstate commerce in the Denny beating.
The fourth defendant in the Denny case--who officials said will not be named in the new charges today--is Gary Williams, 33, who has been charged with stealing Denny's wallet as the trucker lay beaten and bloodied on the pavement.
One of the new cases involves city Fire Battalion Chief Terrance Manning, who oversees six fire stations in South Los Angeles. The son of Los Angeles Fire Chief Donald O. Manning, he was in a city car traveling through the intersection when a barrage of rocks and bottles hit his vehicle like "a giant hailstorm."
"It seemed like 100 items were striking the car at one time," the 15-year Fire Department veteran said Wednesday.
The car, driven by a staff assistant, was moving through the intersection at about 15 m.p.h., according to Manning, when a black male suddenly stepped from the curb to his right and blocked the vehicle.
"He took a full champagne bottle and threw it right through the front windshield," said Manning, who is white. "We were showered with glass."
Manning, 36, said he and staff assistant Fred Mathis ducked as the unbroken bottle landed in the seat. Seconds later, a second black male stepped from the same curb and ran at the car with a large red pick-ax--similar to the type used by firefighters, Manning said.
"He ran . . . with it raised directly over his head and brought it down on the roof of the car," Manning said. "It went completely through the roof, but it didn't go through the headliner. It left a four-inch gash in the roof of the car."
On Monday, Manning said, two LAPD detectives questioned him about the incident that occurred at Florence and Normandie avenues--where Denny was beaten--based on a videotape they said they obtained from a private citizen.
Manning, who said he has not seen the videotape, recalled telling the detectives that he was unable to get a clear look at the attackers. "They seemed to have a reasonably good idea who the suspects were," Manning said of the police.
On Wednesday, LAPD officers retrieved the unbroken champagne bottle from Manning's office for possible use as evidence, he said. Police also collected the pick-ax that was believed to have been used in the attack and that had been turned in after the riots to a fire station in South Los Angeles.
Prosecutors have notified defense attorneys in a legal motion of the pending new charges and their intention to seek increased bail for Damian Williams, Watson and Miller. Their bail amounts now range from $160,000 to $195,000.
Defense attorneys for the three on Wednesday accused Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, who is scheduled to hold a news conference today, of withholding information on the new charges to put a media spotlight on his bid for reelection in next week's primary.
Fred Sebastian, a spokesman for the North Hollywood-based Center for Constitutional Law and Justice, which represents the three defendants, claimed that defense attorneys tried all Wednesday to obtain specifics on the new charges but were rebuffed pending today's press conference.
All that defense attorneys could learn, according to Sebastian, was that the charges involved alleged attacks on two fire officials in the car, at least one count of assault with a deadly weapon, an allegation of "spraying a caustic chemical" and robbery.
"You get get more information out of the Kremlin than you do out of the D.A.'s office," Sebastian said. "It's unbelievable. . . . Apparently, this is trial by press conference, not trial by Constitution. It's an election tactic."
He said that his office has gathered more than $1.5 million from supporters in the community and around the world, and attorneys will be ready to post bail for at least one of the defendants, Damian Williams, today--"no matter what amount the judge sets."
"We've received offers of money and support from all over the country and as far away as China," he said.
District attorney's spokeswoman Gibbons sharply denied that politics played any part in the timing of Reiner's press conference.
Rather, she said, the charges are the result of diligent police work in which detectives sifted "frame-by-frame" through numerous videotapes of the violence at the intersection.
"This is where the bulk of the new charges are coming from," she said, adding that still more charges could be filed as more tapes are reviewed.
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