Jury Selection to Begin in Rodney King's Civil Suit : Courts: The city has admitted its liability. King is seeking $9.5 million but the city says it can only afford to pay $1.25 million.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jury selection is to begin today in Rodney G. King's multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the four former police officers who took part in his 1991 beating.

Liability will not be an issue in the trial because the city has admitted its responsibility for King's injuries. All that remains is to determine how much he should be compensated.

"The civil case will be quite different from the criminal trial," said Laurie L. Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor who has followed the case. "The issue of whether the officers crossed the line has been established. What this case will focus on is how much money Rodney King will receive for the officers' violations."

Chances for an out-of-court settlement fizzled last year when the two sides could not agree on damages. Milton Grimes, King's attorney, is seeking $9.5 million for his client. City officials contend that the municipal treasury can only afford $1.25 million.

King's lawsuit against the city and the officers demands payment for alleged permanent injuries and mental anguish he suffered when police beat him with batons and shocked him with a stun gun after a car chase that ended in Lake View Terrace.

Security will be tightened during the civil trial in the Roybal Federal Building where the officers were tried on federal civil rights charges last year.

The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge John G. Davies, who also presided over the civil rights case against Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officers Laurence M. Powell, Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno.

Koon and Powell were found guilty of violating King's civil rights and are serving 30-month sentences in a federal prison in Dublin, Calif.

King's attorneys asked that Davies disqualify himself for allegedly showing bias during the sentencing of Koon and Powell. Davies said that King had provoked the confrontation with police by driving drunk and leading officers on a chase. The judge also questioned the seriousness of the injuries inflicted on King, who was struck 56 times during the videotaped beating.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco denied King's request to remove Davies from the case.

King's civil suit is not accompanied by the community tension that surrounded the officers' federal trial or their earlier not guilty verdicts in state court, which touched off the 1992 riots--the worst civil unrest in modern U.S. history.

"Two officers are in prison and that's taken a lot of the sting out of this case," Assistant City Atty. Don Vincent said.

The trial will be divided into two phases: the first to decide how much King will be compensated for actual damages; the second to determine the amount of punitive damages.

Davies has allotted three days to King's attorneys to put on their case during the first phase, while lawyers for the city and the officers will get two. Both sides will be given seven days in the trial's second phase.

"We will certainly make every effort to stay within the court's confines, but we need to address some issues and that might take some time," said Koon's attorney, Ira Salzman.

Salzman said additional time may be needed to overcome the disadvantage the city has placed on his client by its admission of liability.

"It's an amazing concession of liability," he said. "It's going to hurt tremendously."

The defense will argue--as it did in the officers' criminal trials--that the use of force was proper, in part because the officers were following established department procedures when they beat King, Salzman said.

"Stacey Koon is at the bottom of a long line of policy decisions that he had no role to play in," he said. "How much is enough? He has gone to prison. He has a wife and five children. He has been fired from his job."

Since the beating, King has had several well-publicized encounters with the law. He was arrested in 1993 after his wife accused him of beating her, but she declined to press charges. He was taken into custody again last March on a drunk-driving charge and was ordered to serve two months in a live-in alcohol rehabilitation center.

Bryant Allen and the estate of the late Freddie Helms, the two men who were passengers in King's car on the night of the beating, settled their cases against the city for $55,000.

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