Tearful Briseno Insists He Tried to Stop Beating : Courts: ‘Is it only me that’s admitted something wrong happened out there?’ he says in testimony at trial of Rodney G. King’s civil case.


A former police officer tearfully testified Tuesday that he tried to stop the beating of Rodney G. King and implored fellow officers in the courtroom: “Is it only me that’s admitted something wrong happened out there?”

Theodore J. Briseno, who broke ranks with his Los Angeles Police Department colleagues early on and called the beating unjustified, choked with emotion as he blurted out his feelings about being considered a pariah by some police officers.

“For three years, I’ve put up with this and it hurts,” said Briseno, a defendant in the punitive damages phase of King’s civil lawsuit over the March 3, 1991, beating.


“Look around this courtroom at these officers,” Briseno said. “Not one of them likes me. No one across the street (at police headquarters) likes me. What I’m telling these jurors is I did what I thought was right.”

At another point, he said: “I don’t know if it was right or wrong. I don’t have the answers. I’m sorry.”

Briseno was one of four officers tried on state and federal charges in the beating. Laurence M. Powell and Stacey C. Koon were convicted of violating King’s civil rights and are serving 30-month prison sentences.

“I look over at Larry and Stacey and I think, ‘Is it only me that’s admitted something wrong happened out there?’ ” Briseno said Tuesday.

At a break in the trial, the gaunt, thin Briseno sat with his head in his hands, apparently distraught.

Briseno’s testimony was most damaging to Powell, who testified Monday that the beating was justified, and that he came close to shooting King.

Briseno said he tried to stop Powell’s baton because he felt the officer was unjustified in continuing to pummel King when he was down.

“When I looked at Officer Powell, I saw a frightened man,” Briseno recalled. “He was scared. I don’t know if you’d call it a trance. I saw his eyes as wide as they could possibly be. I’d never seen that look before.”

Last week, the jury awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages from the city. The jury is now hearing testimony for consideration of punitive damages against 15 people, including Briseno, Koon, Powell and Timothy E. Wind, the fourth officer directly involved in King’s arrest.

On cross-examination by Powell’s lawyer, Briseno muddied his testimony by saying that although he believed on March 3, 1991, that the beating was wrong, his repeated viewing of the videotaped incident had altered his perception.

As attorney Michael Stone played the video in slow motion, stopping on various frames, Briseno acknowledged that King seemed to be getting up off the ground at some point early in the incident.

“You now believe he was resisting?” asked Stone, who represents Powell.

“There are some points on the video, yes,” Briseno said.

“And it’s permissible to use the baton to defeat active resistance?” Stone asked.

“Yes, sir,” Briseno said.

Briseno acknowledged that he stepped on King late in the video, trying to stop him from moving.

Stone suggested that what is seen on the video is more accurate than what Briseno saw in person.

“Your perceptions that night were incorrect and erroneous, weren’t they?” he asked.

“To some of the things, yes sir,” Briseno said.

But before he left the stand, the officer said under questioning by one of King’s lawyers, Federico Sayre, that most of the video shows an unjustified beating.

“My opinion was I couldn’t understand it and I could not justify it,” he said.

“Even after viewing the video, do you feel the force exerted on Mr. King was excessive?” Sayre asked.

“Yes, I do,” Briseno said.

Much of Briseno’s testimony mirrored the account he gave the state trial in 1992. He portrayed himself as the only voice of reason on the scene.

The acquittals of all four officers at that trial set off three days of rioting in Los Angeles.