On the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday two years ago, television viewers across the nation saw a white Long Beach police officer appear to shove a black man into a glass window, shattering it. Bleeps blotted out the officer's obscenities. A loud thud sounded as the officer appeared to slam the black man onto the hood of his patrol car.
The image, captured by an NBC camera crew, will be replayed again and again in the coming weeks as the trial of former Officer Mark Dickey, 31, and his partner, Mark Ramsey, 29, gets under way in Long Beach Municipal Court.
Jury selection began Monday in the trial stemming from the incident that sent reverberations through Long Beach and its beleaguered police force.
Dickey is charged with assaulting Don Jackson, a black activist who had set out to prove that racism existed in the Police Department. Both officers face charges of falsifying a police report.
After Jackson's highly publicized "sting" operation, pressure by residents led to the creation of a citizens police review board. Police Chief Lawrence Binkley cracked down on the rank and file with additional supervision, training and surveillance.
"The impact was tremendous, especially in the black community," said Clarence Smith, the city's only black councilman. "The Police Department hasn't been the same since. A lot has happened."
The two officers in the confrontation requested and received stress-related disability retirements, which will pay 50% of their salaries for life.
Jackson, a former Hawthorne police sergeant who retired on an unrelated stress disability claim, went on to become a sought-after spokesman against police brutality. Today, he is a criminology student at Pennsylvania State University.
In recent weeks, 78 prospective jurors were selected from a pool of nearly 280, based on written questionnaires. The jury chosen will be asked to decide a series of questions: Did Dickey push Jackson into the window? Or did Jackson, as defense attorneys allege, break the window with his elbow? Did the officer slam Jackson on the hood? Or did the activist hit the car, making a loud noise, with his hand and arm?
Deputy Dist. Atty. Herb Lapin said the prosecution will rely heavily on videotapes of the incident. "This is one of those cases that we rarely get, where everything is in writing or on tape," he said.
Attorneys for both sides said they will show all the footage taken by three cameras on Jan. 14, 1989, when Jackson, three colleagues and an NBC camera crew set out to document racism in Long Beach.
That night, Jackson and colleague Jeff Hill cruised down Pacific Coast Highway in a car, a camera pointing out the rear window. The NBC van and a third car, both equipped with cameras, followed.
Dickey and Ramsey said in their police report that they stopped Jackson's car because Hill, the driver, was weaving. In the four-minute tape shown on NBC's "Today Show," the car did not appear to be weaving.
"They stopped us because we were black men driving a beat-up car and not because we did anything illegal," Jackson said.
The officers also said in their report that Jackson uttered obscenities at them. The tape shows Dickey, and not Jackson, doing the cursing.
"Mr. Dickey acted inappropriately with Mr. Jackson, and both he and Mr. Ramsey lied about it," Lapin said.
Defense attorneys say they plan to argue that the officers reacted the way they were trained to under such circumstances and that Jackson, as a former sergeant himself, knew how to provoke them, making them worry about their safety.