Jury deliberations began Tuesday in the second phase of Rodney G. King's lawsuit for punitive damages against six current and former Los Angeles police officers, after attorneys on both sides concluded closing arguments.
U.S. District Judge John G. Davies told the jury that they may award punitive damages against the defendants if they used unreasonable force or acted in reckless disregard for King's constitutional rights.
"The purpose of punitive damages are to punish and to deter others from committing similar acts in the future," Davies instructed.
King's lawyers asked the jury to award between $3.8 million and $15 million in punitive damages from former Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, former Officers Theodore J. Briseno, Laurence M. Powell and Timothy E. Wind and current Officers Rolando Solano and Louis Turriaga. Koon and Powell are serving 30-month prison sentences for violating King's civil rights.
Gregory Peterson, an attorney for Briseno, who has filed a countersuit, told the jury that King is now far richer than any of the defendants left in the lawsuit. He asked the jury to award Briseno half as much as the $3.8 million it awarded King last month in compensatory damages.
He said that $3.8 million "is quite a feast. Now (King and his attorneys) are gnawing at the bones."
Peterson said King was responsible for his injuries because he provoked the officers by leading a high-speed chase and resisting arrest. He also said the city of Los Angeles shared blame for the beating, which was captured on videotape and broadcast worldwide.
But Milton Grimes, King's lead attorney, said the officers initiated the confrontation with King by yelling a racial epithet at him and then telling him to run for his life.
"We're going to kill you nigger, run," Grimes said the officers told King that night. The defendants deny the allegations that they used racial slurs.
Grimes also said the scene that night resembled a bullfight. "They took Mr. King like he was a bull and then they played with him in the ring," he said.