Rodney G. King wrapped up 2 1/2 days on the witness stand in his lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles on Wednesday, telling jurors he was wrongly sent to prison for robbery before his beating at the hands of police thrust him into the national spotlight.
He said all he did to merit the conviction was throw pies at a store owner.
“So you pleaded guilty, served two years in prison and three years of parole for throwing pies?” asked defense attorney Michael Stone.
“That’s not what I was convicted of,” said King, who insisted that he pleaded guilty to robbery because he could not afford a lawyer to counter the charge.
King is seeking $9.5 million in damages stemming from the videotaped beating by police on March 3, 1991. He is expected to return to the stand in the trial’s second phase when the jury will be asked to assess punitive damages.
On the stand, King came under attack from defense attorneys, who suggested he doctored his account of the beating to increase his chances of a big award. He was also questioned about his criminal record.
King was on probation for armed robbery when he was stopped for speeding and beaten by four Los Angeles police officers. He has had four run-ins with the law since. No charges were filed in three of the cases.
King was placed on three years probation in January for a misdemeanor drunk driving conviction. The judge also ordered him to attend education classes.
Under questioning by his lawyer, Milton Grimes, King said he pleaded guilty to robbery and went to prison in 1989 because he could not afford a lawyer to contest the charge.
Although he was accused of robbing and assaulting a grocer with a tire iron, he said he was blameless. He said the grocer refused to take his $5 in food stamps and attacked him.
“The guy came toward me with a tire iron,” King said. “I picked up some pies from the pie rack and threw them at him to slow him down.”
Stone represented former Officer Laurence M. Powell, one of the four officers originally charged in the beating and one of two convicted in federal court of violating King’s civil rights. Former police Sgt. Stacey C. Koon also was convicted in federal court. They are serving 30-month sentences in federal prison.
Stone suggested that King had grabbed checks and cash out of the grocer’s till.
“No, I did not,” King said.
“And didn’t you take a tire iron out of your pants and hit him?” Stone asked.
“No, I did not,” King said.
“You threw pies?”
“Yes, I did,” King said.
Powell, Koon and former Officers Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy E. Wind were acquitted of nearly all assault charges in a state criminal trial, touching off three days of riots in Los Angeles. Briseno and Wind were acquitted in the federal trial.