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Witnesses Depict Relentless Beating : Police: Accounts of Rodney Glen King's arrest describe repeated striking and kicking of the suspect. LAPD officers said King's actions justified the treatment.

March 07, 1991|HECTOR TOBAR and RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Rodney King's white Hyundai came to a stop on a busy San Fernando Valley street in front of a sprawling apartment complex.

It was 12:30 a.m. Sunday, and the flashing lights of several patrol cars illuminated the scene. A police helicopter circled overhead, and its thumping sound began to draw tenants to their windows. At least one of them reached for a home video camera.

In the next few minutes, King would be surrounded by at least a dozen Los Angeles police officers, some of whom beat him fiercely. The officers apparently were unaware they were being recorded on videotape.

The officers involved would report later that the beating was justified by King's threatening actions in the first seconds when he emerged from his car.

The videotape--which was broadcast nationally and fueled a public outrage--did not capture these first moments. But eyewitnesses who watched the beating later contradicted the officers' accounts.

What follows is a reconstruction of the brief but furious incident. It is based on interviews with eyewitnesses, investigators and others involved in the case.

It began on the westbound lanes of the Foothill Freeway, where King and two passengers--known to King's attorneys only as "Junior" and "Poo"--were speeding through Sun Valley, heading away from his Altadena home.

According to a California Highway Patrol report, King passed a patrol car at about 115 m.p.h, but then slowed to 80 m.p.h. after passing. The CHP officers, a husband-and-wife team named T.J. and Melanie Singer, gave chase, flashing red lights at the Hyundai, which slowed down but did not stop, said CHP spokesman Sgt. Mike Brey.

King would later tell a parole officer that he didn't stop because he feared that a speeding ticket would jeopardize his parole, sending him back to prison. He was convicted last year of second-degree robbery.

In a televised press conference before his release from jail, King acknowledged: "I may have been speeding, just a little bit."

The car left the freeway at Paxton Street, rolling through a stop sign at the bottom of the off-ramp at about 50 m.p.h., according to police accounts. The CHP officers were entering the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department, Brey said, and the Highway Patrol officer radioed the LAPD, which took up the chase.

King proceeded through surface streets, running red lights at speeds of up to 80 m.p.h., Brey said. The Hyundai finally stopped in the 11700 block of Foothill Boulevard, on a four-lane stretch of the road. On one side of the road was a sprawling, two-story apartment complex; on the other, Hansen Dam Recreation Area, notorious locally as a drug-dealing haven.

According to Brey, as the patrol cars came to a stop, the LAPD officers told the Highway Patrol officers that they would handle the arrest. One law enforcement source said an LAPD sergeant told the Highway Patrol officers, in effect, to "step out, we'll take it."

At the Mountainback Apartments on Foothill Boulevard, Sylvia Sales said she heard a voice over a loudspeaker that said, "Pull over at the light or you'll get hurt."

Another tenant, Josie Morales, 26, a service representative for the Department of Water and Power, was awakened by the noise. She and her husband, Heriberto, moved to their balcony and stood on a lawn chair, watching as the incident unfolded.

King's car and at least five police cars had come to a stop, Morales said. For a moment, no one in the cars moved.

A muffled shout from a police officer followed, Morales said.

According to a law enforcement source, King acted oddly but in a non-threatening manner when he got out. He looked up at the helicopter lights and began to laugh, the source said.

King stepped out and put his hands on the roof of his car. "He never moved his hands," Morales said. "Then I heard another voice yell. . . . The driver (King) moved away from the car and laid down. . . . He lay there 30 seconds more."

King later would recall a police officer telling him to place his hands on the windshield, then ordering him to open the door with his left hand.

"I got out of the car and I laid down," King said. "They said, 'Face down on the pavement. . . .' I laid down."

Morales watched as about a dozen police officers surrounded King. A few other officers were standing near their vehicles.

As King lay on his back, Morales said, one officer fired a shot at him from what apparently was a Taser stun gun, which transmits a powerful electrical charge into a suspect. The shot from the gun struck King on the chest, leaving a burn scar that he displayed to reporters Wednesday.

The officer who fired the gun began hitting King with a nightstick, Morales said. After being struck several times, King tried to get up and two other officers began to strike him as well.

Morales then noticed neighbors out on their balconies. Next door, George Holliday brought out his new video camera and began taping. By that point, Morales said, the beating had already been going on for at least three minutes.

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