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Doctor Says Fall, Not Baton Blow, Caused King’s Facial Injuries

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rodney G. King’s most serious injuries were the result of falls to the ground, not baton blows that hit him in the head, a Newport Beach doctor testified for the defense Tuesday in the federal trial of four officers charged with violating King’s civil rights.

Dallas C. Long, a board-certified emergency physician, directly contradicted the testimony of two doctors who had been witnesses for the prosecution. Each of those doctors said that fractures in King’s head and face were caused by baton blows.

The prosecution’s version also was bolstered by a defense witness, California Highway Patrol Officer Melanie Singer, who testified that she saw King hit six times in the head and face by Officer Laurence M. Powell, one of the four defendants.

But under questioning from Powell’s lawyer, Michael P. Stone, Long said that Singer’s account was not supported by the medical evidence in the case.

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“Is there anything in the medical evidence that suggests a baton blow like this?” Stone asked, demonstrating with a baton on a kneeling Paul R. DePasquale, the lawyer for Timothy E. Wind.

“There is not,” Long replied.

Still standing over DePasquale, Stone then emulated Singer’s version of four blows that she said hit King on the left side of his head. Long said King’s injuries to that area also were inconsistent with baton blows.

Long was followed to the stand by an expert in biomechanics, Dr. Carly Ward, who told jurors the force generated by a full-power baton stroke, such as the one Singer says she saw Powell deliver, would have done far more damage to King than was actually done.

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Together, Long and Ward form the core of the defense’s medical case, which is based on the premise that King suffered his most serious injuries when he fell to the pavement, not as a result of direct baton blows to his head.

Ward will continue testifying today, and she is expected to be followed by Powell, whose face-off with federal prosecutors has been anticipated for months. Stone said Tuesday that he expects Powell to take the stand.

However, Stone still could elect to rest his case without calling Powell to testify. Stone has dropped several other witnesses from the list of those he originally expected to call.

The medical and biomechanical experts called by Stone are intended to cast doubt on the prosecution’s contention that King was struck repeatedly in the head with a baton. Intentional baton blows to the head generally violate police policy, and the prosecution’s chief medical expert, Dr. Harry Smith of San Antonio, Tex., testified that King’s injuries indicate that he was struck directly in the head at least three and possibly four times with a baton.

“Are the injuries to Mr. King’s head and face consistent with a fall to the ground?” Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven D. Clymer, one of two lead prosecutors in the case, asked Smith during his testimony.

“No, they are not,” Smith responded.

Another doctor, Charles Aronberg of Beverly Hills, called the theory that King’s injuries were caused by a fall “out of the question.”

But Long on Tuesday rejected those doctors’ conclusions, saying the nature of King’s wounds led him to a different explanation. In particular, Long said, the soft tissue injuries around King’s facial fractures led him to conclude a baton could not have been responsible.

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Had the injuries been caused by a baton, King’s face would have had different cuts and bruises, Long said. In addition, Long testified that a grain of sand found deeply embedded in King’s face bolsters the argument that he suffered the injuries in a fall because that would explain how the material was embedded so deeply.

Long did say that one head injury could have been caused by a baton, but that even that one was probably the result of a deflected blow, he said.

Clymer attempted to undermine Long’s testimony largely by questioning his credentials. In particular, Clymer noted that Long had never completed his surgical residency and that he had no expertise in biomechanics--a field in which injuries and the causes of injuries are studied.

Long conceded that he was not a specialist in that field, but he called it “a hobby of sorts.”


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