Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, reacting to controversy that has prompted calls for his dismissal, recommended felony prosecution Thursday for three officers who participated in the videotaped beating of a man. The chief also promised to discipline a sergeant and as many as 11 other officers who watched.
Gates called the violent incident Sunday morning an aberration and he attributed it to a "total human failure." He singled out a sergeant who apparently failed to stop officers as they kicked 25-year-old Rodney G. King and beat him with nightsticks.
The decision on whether to pursue criminal prosecution rests with the Los Angeles County district attorney. That decision could be made today, officials said.
Mayor Tom Bradley appeared pleased with Gates' call for disciplinary actions, but the mayor also ordered the city's Police Commission--a civilian oversight panel whose members he appoints--to press forward with a comprehensive look into possible deficiencies in the department's training, supervision or what the mayor termed "our command structure."
Bradley, emerging from a private afternoon meeting with Gates and the Police Commission, seemed eager to calm a city unsettled by repeatedly televised images of white officers savagely pummeling a prone black man.
Gates and Bradley have said the incident, which occurred after a traffic stop, did not appear to have racial overtones.
"There is a need for all of us," Bradley said, "to recognize that the city draws its strength from its diversity, and that we will not let an incident of this kind divide us or cause a problem based on our neighborhoods or backgrounds."
Bradley said he would not attempt to remove Gates, as some civil rights groups have demanded. But the mayor stopped short of declaring support for the chief, saying that it is not up to him to decide whether Gates should resign or retire.
The mayor said the city's reputation has been tarnished and predicted that it would take years for Los Angeles and the Police Department to recover. But, Bradley said, Gates' actions were an important first step.
"We have stopped the blood from flowing and now it is important to restore the vitality, the health of the body of the Police Department of this city," Bradley said.
Gates announced his recommendation for prosecution at a midday news conference at Parker Center. The chief also revealed new details about the attack on King, saying that he had been struck 53 to 56 times--significantly more than earlier estimates--and had been kicked seven times.
King, an Altadena resident who was released from prison in December after serving a one-year sentence for robbery, is an unemployed construction worker. He was confronted by the officers early Sunday after what police said was a high-speed car chase.
At his one-hour news conference, Gates said the sergeant at the scene should have prevented the routine arrest from escalating into an uncontrolled beating.
"That supervisor was there, the process was followed," Gates said. "Unfortunately, we had a total human failure on the part of that sergeant and many other officers who should have interceded. There was one officer who tried to intercede just briefly, but it was far too brief."
In a move clearly intended to restore confidence in the department, Gates announced the decision to seek prosecution, which resulted from departmental inquiries into the events. One is a criminal investigation by the Major Crimes Unit and the other is a review by the department's internal affairs unit.
"If they really loved their fellow officers they should have stepped in and grabbed them and pulled them back and said 'Knock it off!' " Gates said of the officers. "That's what every officer should have done. In my judgment it's a cowardly thing . . . to stand there and allow people to get themselves in this kind of trouble."
The chief said the department's 8,300 officers are upset about being painted with the same "broad brush" as those involved in the attack.
"You will not find a police officer in this city that will in any way attempt to justify what those officers did," Gates said.
Although the district attorney will determine any specific charges, Gates said the three officers could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon or assault "under the color of authority."
The three officers and the sergeant have been taken off field duty but are still on the department payroll, Gates said. They will also be charged administratively and may be suspended without pay at that point.
Gates did not identify any of the officers involved, including the sergeant. However, a police report on the incident identified the sergeant as Stacey Koon, 40, a father of five and a 14-year veteran.
"I'd like to talk to you, but this is not an appropriate time," Koon told a reporter while standing in the front yard of his home in Castaic.
Capt. Tim McBride, head of the Police Department's Foothill Division, confirmed that Koon and three other officers--Laurence Michael Powell, 28, Ted Briseno and Timothy Wind, 30--have been relieved of field duty.
Gates earlier did not identify the three officers who he has recommended be prosecuted. He did say, however, that two of them beat King with their batons. Gates said one is a rookie and the other is a three-year veteran. The third officer, according to the chief, kicked King; he has been on the force nine years.
At least one of the officers had been disciplined before for excessive force, Gates said. Koon also had been disciplined for reasons Gates did not specify.
Gates said the criminal cases against three officers will be presented to the district attorney no later than today.
All three officers apparently were recorded on a videotape shot by an amateur cameraman and televised nationally by the major networks. Outraged viewers have flooded police telephone lines with calls, and Bradley told reporters he has received 1,000 complaint calls.
After the beating, King was booked by police for evading arrest and held for four days. He was released from Los Angeles County Jail on Wednesday after the district attorney's office cited lack of evidence to prosecute him.
King told reporters he did not resist the officers. He said he feared for his life during the beating.
Separate investigations into the incident are being conducted by the district attorney and the FBI.
Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said Gates' response did not go far enough. She reiterated her call for Gates to resign.
"He still says that this is an aberration and I don't believe this is an aberration," she said. "Instances similar to the one we have on videotape happen all the time."
Gates brushed aside this and other calls from community organizations that he step down.
"I have absolutely no thoughts of resigning," he said. "Please let my friends out there know who think this is the time, I'm not going. I'm going to be there. If anything this is a time for strength of leadership."
At a news conference Thursday, religious and community groups, including the Brotherhood Crusade, an African-American service organization, pledged to raise $50,000 for civilian patrol teams armed with video cameras to monitor police activities.
"We need a peacekeeping force to watch over LAPD," said Danny Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade. "When they have someone on the ground, we want people to rally around them and observe. Take a snapshot, don't let them intimidate you."
Bakewell was joined at the news conference by representatives of the Los Angeles chapters of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Gates said, "We can turn up absolutely nothing that would suggest (a racial motive), except for the officers were white and the suspect was black."
King's attorneys said he spent Thursday with family and friends, visiting private doctors to receive treatment and establish an independent record of his injuries. According to a doctor who first treated him at a Sun Valley hospital, King's lacerations required 20 stitches to the face and mouth. Attorneys for King said he also may have suffered a broken ankle.
Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, called for a public hearing Tuesday on the Police Department's policies on the use of force.
In Sacramento, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) reintroduced a bill vetoed in September by then-Gov. George Deukmejian that would prohibit a peace officer from using more force than reasonable in making an arrest, preventing an escape or overcoming resistance.