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Activist Escalates His Anti-Police Campaign

August 21, 1986|DEBORAH HASTINGS | Times Staff Writer

Community activist Michael Zinzun, who says he was beaten and blinded in one eye by Pasadena police in June, stepped up his high-profile battle against the Police Department on Wednesday by staging a rally in downtown Los Angeles.

With about 50 poster-carrying supporters, Zinzun, who also is the Peace and Freedom Party candidate in the 55th Assembly District, marched in front of the Criminal Courts building and demanded that criminal charges be filed against the officers who allegedly beat him.

Exhorting the group like a fiery preacher, Zinzun shouted "What do we want?"

"Justice!" the group screamed.

"When do we want it?" Zinzun cried.

"Now!" they replied.

While his civil rights supporters remained outside, Zinzun, followed by a flock of reporters, went to the 17th floor of the building and demanded that the district attorney's office file charges against the Pasadena officers.

Steve Sowders, head of the district attorney's Special Investigations Division, assured Zinzun that the incident is being investigated, but said a decision on whether to file charges will not be made until after the investigation is completed.

Zinzun, 37, has held a number of press conferences and rallies since the June 22 incident. He has enlisted the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, Pasadena's Urban League and various other civil rights organizations in collecting about 1,800 signatures protesting the alleged brutality and in distributing hundreds of leaflets that compare it to the racial violence in South Africa.

Shortly after the incident, Zinzun and about 150 residents and representatives of the organizations packed a meeting of the Board of City Directors and demanded that an investigation be conducted by an independent entity.

City directors agreed and last month named a private attorney in Oakland to investigate the incident. Zinzun and his supporters have staged demonstrations at Pasadena City Hall and the Police Department, and Zinzun has filed complaints with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice over the alleged beating. His battle against the Police Department stems from a violent confrontation between police and residents of the Community Arms housing project in northwest Pasadena, a predominantly black neighborhood.

Early-Morning Hours

The incident started about 1 a.m. on June 22 when police were taking Steve Rivers, 30, into custody on suspicion of burglary. The situation escalated, police and witnesses said, when the handcuffed man began screaming that he was being beaten.

A crowd of about 30 residents gathered outside the complex, and according to witnesses, began shouting for the officers to stop and demanding to know their names and badge numbers.

In the crowd was Zinzun, who lives across the street. Police have said Zinzun struck an officer. But Zinzun said he was trying to walk away when he was attacked from behind by "five to seven" officers who sprayed him with tear gas, placed him in a chokehold, beat him and struck him in the face with a flashlight, permanently blinding him in one eye.

Zinzun, Rivers and Frank Taylor, 32, were arrested and booked on suspicion of interfering with an officer. Rivers and Taylor suffered minor injuries. Zinzun, through his attorney Terrence Bennett, has filed a $6.9-million claim against the city over his injuries. Taylor, also represented by Bennett, is seeking $1 million from Pasadena. Zinzun said that he suffered a fractured skull and that three different doctors have told him that the optic nerve in his left eye is severed and cannot be repaired.

No criminal charges have been filed against the three men, pending the outcome of the district attorney's investigation.

The private attorney selected by the Board of City Directors to investigate the matter, Edwin J. Wilson, is conducting what would normally be the Police Department's internal affairs investigation to determine if the officers violated police procedure.

Wilson, who has tried more than a dozen civil cases involving charges of police brutality, both as a defense lawyer and as a prosecutor, said Tuesday that he has interviewed more than 30 witnesses, but has not yet talked to the officers involved.

He could not, however, discuss specifics of the case until the investigation is completed, possibly within a month, he said. Likewise, Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Mason, who has interviewed about the same number of people, said he could not comment on his findings.

"We're trying to sort out the facts and see if there are any crimes that occurred and who should be charged, if anyone," Mason said.

Zinzun, a former Black Panther and head of the Los Angeles-based Coalition Against Police Abuse, said this week that he and his supporters have received petitions from overseas and from groups across the country protesting the incident. A three-part interview with Zinzun is scheduled for broadcast this week by radio station KPFK.

Matter of Civil Rights

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