Powell Afraid He Would Shoot King, Officer Says : Trial: Policewoman, among the first defense witnesses, testifies that defendant said the motorist's behavior scared him.


A Los Angeles policewoman testified Tuesday that Officer Laurence M. Powell told her moments after the Rodney G. King beating: "I was scared. . . . I thought I was going to shoot him."

Officer Susan Clemmer, among the first defense witnesses in the trial of the four police officers, said she rushed to the beating scene with her partner March 3, 1991, and began directing traffic.

Suddenly she saw Powell coming toward her from down the road, she said.

"He was sweating. He was out of breath. His eyes were kind of big," she said. ". . . He said, 'I was scared. The guy threw me off his back. I thought I was going to shoot him.' "

Powell, Officers Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno and Sgt. Stacey C. Koon are on trial in federal court on charges of violating King's civil rights.

Defense attorney Ira Salzman asked Clemmer to describe Powell's delivery.

"Quick and loud. . . . He was walking around, like pacing around aimlessly," she said.

Clemmer said she moved toward two groups of policemen standing around and saw King hogtied on the ground.

"I walked toward him and looked over other people's shoulders," she said. ". . . I heard him. He was laughing and he kept saying something, an obscene word."

She said King laughed again in the ambulance on the way to a hospital.

"He was face-down, and he had two pair of handcuffs on and a cord cuff. He was laughing and spitting or blowing blood on my pants and shoes. . . . It was a very low, a very deep kind of laugh," she said, imitating the laugh.

A paramedic threw a sheet over King's face to stop the blood from spurting on her, she said.

King testified earlier that he had made a noise as he tried to blow blood out of his mouth but that he never laughed or tried to spit blood on anyone.

At the hospital, Clemmer testified, King was taken to a room where Koon waited and King tried to talk.

"I moved closer, and he looked at Sgt. Koon and said, 'I love you,' and he started laughing and I smiled," she said.

Clemmer gave substantially the same testimony in the officers' state trial, which ended in acquittals and sparked deadly riots.

She took the stand after a defense expert witness testified that King's behavior, as described by the defendants, was consistent with PCP intoxication.

Edgar Oglesby, a former narcotics officer and police trainer who teaches police science, described a "zombie bizarre look" and a rigid "Frankenstein walk or moonwalk" as typical behavior for PCP users.

The officers maintain that King walked rigidly and showed other signs of PCP intoxication.

Tests of King's blood and urine performed the day after his beating showed no signs of PCP. But Oglesby said the drug sometimes does not show up in blood tests. On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Atty. Lawrence Middleton elicited testimony that Oglesby is not a toxicologist and is unfamiliar with recent research on PCP detection.

The first defense witness was City Councilman Hal Bernson, who told jurors how the council banned a police technique known as the chokehold in 1982.

On cross-examination by Justice Department lawyer Barry Kowalski, Bernson acknowledged that the method was dropped after many black suspects were killed as a result of the chokehold.

Outside the jury's presence, defense attorney Harland Braun complained that Kowalski was injecting race into the highly charged case.

"It was an appropriate question, though it did tend to raise the emotions," said U.S. District Judge John G. Davies, who chided the defense for raising the chokehold issue.

"That witness was totally unnecessary to the defense of this case," he said of Bernson. "And when you call a witness who is unnecessary, you are courting disaster."

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