Briseno Says He’ll Fight to Return to Job : Police: Acquitted officer says his two convicted colleagues should not go to prison.


Jurors acquitted him, but Theodore J. Briseno, one of the four defendants in the Rodney G. King federal civil rights trial, remains a 40-year-old cop without a badge or a paycheck.

Now he says he wants to regain both.

“Obviously, I’ll fight for my job,” Briseno said in an interview Sunday, his first since the conclusion of the historic trial. “I want to be a policeman. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. . . . That’s all I’ve been, is a street cop. That’s all I know. I don’t want to be behind a desk, pushing a pencil.”

The nine-year veteran has been suspended from the Los Angeles Police Department without pay for more than two years.


As for Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officer Laurence M. Powell, the two defendants convicted, Briseno doesn’t think either should go to prison.

“The public--they would never understand it. But believe me, we’ve been through two years of living hell. They’ve done their sentence, believe me,” Briseno said.

“I cannot even imagine what Sgt. Koon is going through right now, or Larry Powell, and their families.”

A racially mixed jury found Briseno not guilty of willfully using unreasonable force against King and of aiding and abetting the three other officers. Briseno said he has spent the hours since Saturday’s verdicts “embracing my family” and, often, crying.

“I think I’m still (in shock),” said Briseno, who spent the weekend at a borrowed beach house. “It’s frightening, having your whole life in 12 strangers’ hands. . . . I’m extremely grateful to all the jurors.”

He has not watched news accounts of the verdicts and was unaware that one juror who came forward on Saturday praised Briseno’s conduct. “That’s really wonderful,” he said. “I’m really grateful for that.”


Briseno sounded alternately relieved, embittered and saddened at the latest turn of events in the two years since the infamous arrest of King on March 3, 1991.

Relieved because, for the second time, a jury had acquitted him. “How could 24 people be wrong?”

Embittered at politicians--including former President George Bush--the news media and others whom he said have exploited for their own advantage the 81 seconds of videotape that captured the beating of King. “The world’s had two years to think about it; I had a few seconds.”

Saddened, he said, at almost everything that has happened--including the prospect of prison terms for Koon and Powell, who were convicted in part because of his testimony.

“He didn’t want them convicted,” said Briseno’s lawyer, Harland W. Braun. “And on top of that, he feels somewhat responsible, because of his testimony.”

Indeed, it was Briseno’s decision to break ranks and testify against his colleagues during the 1992 Simi Valley state trial that set him apart. He was the one officer who said that Powell, directed by Koon, used unnecessary force.


After Briseno retained Braun for the federal trial, they decided that he would not take the witness stand. But over the objections of all four defense attorneys, U.S. District Judge John G. Davies allowed prosecutors to show the jury a portion of Briseno’s 1992 testimony, recorded on videotape.

“It was hard, extremely hard, to testify (at the first trial),” Briseno said. “But it was the truth--and it hurts. . . . What it really comes down to is, I had a different opinion than the two others. They thought what they did was right. I thought what they did was not right.”

As the verdicts were read, Briseno cried, but he did not speak to Koon or Powell, or to former Officer Timothy E. Wind, who also was acquitted.

“No sir, there was not any communication,” Briseno said Sunday. “We were all saddened in our own ways. . . . Whether they were right or wrong, I went through two years with them. It was extremely sad. They are brother officers. My prayers go out to all of them.”

One of his deepest emotional valleys, Briseno said, came after rioting engulfed Los Angeles last spring. “I cried for several days,” he said. “I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m human. I was extremely saddened. That was one of the worst times--but every day’s been a struggle.”

Briseno said he knew he would face federal charges when Bush said last May 1, as Los Angeles was aflame: “Viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the (first) verdict could possibly square with the video” of King’s beating.


“When the President said that, I’ll never forget it. . . . He didn’t listen to the whole trial. . . . He’s got a lot of gall talking about me. Look at his own family. You don’t see his own son (Neil) get indicted” for his role in a failed Denver-based savings and loan.

Bush “wanted to get reelected,” said Briseno. “That’s the bottom line.”

As for King, a felon who was beaten after leading officers on a high-speed chase after drinking, Briseno said: “Truthfully, I don’t think there is anything I would say to him, or want to say. I was doing my job; he was doing what he does.”

Briseno did say, however, that King’s well-covered appearance at the Dodgers’ home opening game does not sit well with him: “It hurts, because I can’t do things (in public) with my family.”

Although his interview with The Times was his first since the verdicts, Briseno said he will now consider accepting money for interviews with television networks or other outlets.

“I have bills, too,” said Briseno, adding that his 73-year-old mother-in-law, who lives at the Briseno family home, has returned to work to help out. “Two years (without an LAPD paycheck). It’s been extremely difficult on us.”

Briseno said that he, his wife and their daughters, ages 10 and 12, have sought family counseling over the last two years. “It’s been very hard on them. Here their dad--he was their hero. They always looked up to him. Truth be told, the last two years, I couldn’t even be a father to ‘em. . . . I want my kids to look at me again as their hero, their provider, their protector. . . . We’ve got to get our lives back together. I know we will.”


As with other officers accused of misconduct who want to regain their jobs, Briseno must first prevail at an LAPD Board of Rights hearing. Three police supervisors preside over the hearing, similar to a military court martial. The board can recommend punishments ranging from termination to suspensions.

And the panel can take into account previous indiscretions: In Briseno’s case, he was suspended for 66 days without pay in 1987 for striking a suspect on the head with a baton and kicking him while handcuffed.

Chief Willie L. Williams is empowered to accept the board’s recommendation or to lower any penalty. He may not increase the punishment. A hearing date has not been set.

“I’ve heard a lot of things about Chief Williams,” Briseno said. “He seems to be fair, and I hope he’ll be fair and understand.”

Looking ahead, Briseno said, “I don’t know what the future’s going to hold. But I know I will always have to deal with this. It’s like a scar; it will never go away. . . . Who’s right and wrong in this whole thing? Was I right? Was I wrong? I don’t know. But I have my family. They’re the ones who will judge me.”

As for the rest of the world, Briseno said he has no doubt it will look not at two jury verdicts, but at 81 seconds of videotape.


“The video speaks for itself,” he said. “And it may not have looked pretty, or professional. But you have to understand--it was a split-second decision. I make no excuses for it, or no apologies.”