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Suspect Tells of Attack on Denny : Riots: Damian Williams says on audiotape made by police that he joined in assault on truck driver. He denies hurting other motorists.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Damian Monroe (Football) Williams, the chief suspect in the April 29 beating of truck driver Reginald O. Denny, told police that he began throwing objects at cars after his brother was arrested, and later joined in the attack on Denny, according to a tape-recorded interview.

“I was throwing rocks,” Williams said in the interview, excerpts of which were played for The Times on Thursday. “I was throwing rocks like Darryl Strawberry.”

Court documents say Williams’ interview by police was conducted shortly after he was arrested May 12. Williams’ lawyers would not discuss their client’s comments specifically, but they acknowledged that Williams spoke to police, and they played a different excerpt of the same tape during a Thursday new conference.

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The audiotape opens with an unidentified person--police reports indicate it is Los Angeles Police Department Detective Art Daedelow--reading Williams his rights. On the tape, Williams indicates that he has heard and understood his rights, and mumbles what appears to be agreement when asked if he will waive his right to have an attorney present during questioning.

In the interview, Williams denies several times that he hurt motorists other than Denny, but admits that he was part of the attack on the truck driver.

“The only person I (expletive) with is Mr. Denny,” Williams said during the interview.

If allowed into evidence, Williams’ tape-recorded comments could prove extraordinarily damaging to his defense. They corroborate videotape footage putting him at the scene and include his statements admitting that he took part in the attack on Denny.

The truck driver was beaten senseless at Florence and Normandie avenues during the first hours of the Los Angeles riots.

Williams also is charged with attacking six other motorists. Although those attacks form the majority of the counts filed against Williams, the most serious charges--attempted murder, torture, aggravated mayhem and robbery--have been filed in connection with the Denny beating.

After Dennis Palmieri, the lead attorney representing Williams, was asked to comment on the tape, he called a news conference to announce that he had filed a $10-million lawsuit against officials, including Mayor Tom Bradley, Police Chief Willie L. Williams, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Morrison, the lead prosecutor in the cases against the five men charged in the Denny beating.

Those officials and others manipulated the media to take “the spotlight off” themselves, and directed that Williams be charged “with the panoply of crimes so as to become the focus of the riots,” the lawsuit states.

Calling those officials “the true provocateurs,” the lawsuit adds that they “conspired to release to the media documents and tape recordings in violation of California law in order to manipulate public opinion.”

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said she had not received a copy of the lawsuit and declined to comment.

At the news conference, Palmieri directed much of his criticism at The Times, which has obtained and published excerpts of the statements that the defendants allegedly made to police officers. The Times, Palmieri said, unfairly repeated comments from prosecutors who characterized the statements by Williams and another defendant as “confessions.”

That story and its accompanying headline, Palmieri said, make it virtually impossible for Williams to receive a fair trial.

Palmieri refused reporters’ requests to play the entire tape of officers interviewing Williams, instead only playing a small portion of it. That section includes an exchange between Williams and Daedelow in which Williams appears to refer to promises of lenient treatment in return for his cooperation.

Palmieri said the excerpt proved that Williams was not making a “confession,” but was offering assistance as a material witness in the case. The excerpt does not specifically mention any such agreement, but Palmieri called attention to a portion of the tape in which Williams said he would help investigators “if you promise me I can go home.”

After a brief exchange, Daedelow is heard responding: “I’m going to promise you right now that I’m gonna go out there, and I’m going to talk to the guys, OK?”

In addition to showing that Williams admitted his participation in the Denny beating, the excerpts played for The Times could make it harder for Palmieri to argue that his client’s comments should not be admissible in court because the officers are heard reading Williams his rights.

At the news conference, Palmieri acknowledged that Williams was read his rights, but he and one of his associates suggested that Williams may not have been properly advised. If the attorneys can show in court that Williams was improperly questioned, that could form the basis for excluding the statement.

Despite admitting his role in the Denny beating, Williams told police officers during the interview that he did not attack several other motorists, including Larry Tarvan, a truck driver who was beaten moments before Denny. He also told officers that he tried to help at least one motorist, an Asian woman whose car strayed into the intersection.

In the interview, Williams claims he was directing traffic and urged her to turn around, but she “freaked out.”

“I saved a lot of people,” Williams said. “I saved that man on 71st, that man in the Volvo.”

In addition to Williams, four other suspects are charged in connection with the attack on Denny--Henry Keith (Kiki) Watson, Antoine Eugene Miller, Gary Anthony Williams and Anthony Lamar Brown.

Damian Williams, Watson and Miller are considered the main suspects, and if convicted, face life in prison. Gary Williams is accused of one count of attempted robbery, and Brown is charged with spitting in Denny’s face and with attacking other people at the intersection.


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