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Officers From Diverse Backgrounds : Profiles: Of the four who were indicted, two have faced disciplinary action while two others are recalled by neighbors as always willing to help.

March 16, 1991|LESLIE BERGER and JOHN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A high school honors student, a devoted father of five, a small-town cop from Kansas and a kid brother who followed his older brother across the country--these are the four Los Angeles police officers indicted in the beating of Rodney G. King.

At least two have histories of disciplinary action and two have some time in college. One joined the department less than a year ago. One was raised by parents who brought multiracial foster children into their home.

Now they are bound by a three-minute encounter on a dark San Fernando Valley street, an incident that could end their careers.

Criminally charged in the assault of King, an Altadena motorist, are: 14-year veteran Sgt. Stacey Cornell Koon, 40; nine-year veteran Theodore Joseph Briseno, 38; three-year Officer Laurence Michael Powell, 28, and his partner, rookie probationer Timothy Edward Wind, 30.

Koon, who joined the Los Angeles Police Department in August, 1976, racked up his experience in one of the toughest areas of the city--the 77th Street Division--before joining the Foothill Division in the Northeast Valley.

In 1989, he shot and wounded a suspect while on duty in the 77th. But the Los Angeles Police Commission, which reviews all officer-involved shootings, found that Koon's actions were justified when he fired his department-issue, .38-caliber revolver at Victor C. Robbins, hitting the 27-year-old man three times in the chest, hip and forearm.

According to a Police Commission report, Robbins, a suspect in a drive-by shooting, fired an AK-47 out his bathroom window when Koon and several other officers surrounded his home early on an August morning.

Deputy Dist. Atty. James R. Hickey wrote in a March 27, 1990, report to the Police Commission: "It is our estimation that a reasonable person would conclude that they are in danger of great bodily injury or death and that Sgt. Koon's responsive act of using lethal force was reasonable."

Koon also was suspended for five days, sources said. He did not appeal to the department's Board of Rights, so no public record of the case is available.

Koon, a muscular man with a stern demeanor, has declined to discuss the King case.

"I'd like to talk to you, but this is not an appropriate time," Koon said recently, standing in front of his new tract home in Castaic.

Former neighbors in nearby Valencia, where Koon is active in church and youth activities, referred to him as "standoffish" and unsocial, a man whose limited encounters with them were often unpleasant.

Although described as a devoted father who often took his five children to a nearby park and occasionally invited neighbors' children along, he was also remembered for threatening a neighbor's pet with a gun. The dog owner, who asked that his name not be used, said his dog once jumped a fence and went into Koon's house.

"He said he would shoot and kill my dog if he ever came over there again," the man said.

Another woman remembered Koon standing in front of his home, waving his nightstick the night a teen-age party got out of hand.

Although Koon and his wife, Mary, a nurse who worked at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, moved from Valencia two years ago, they still regularly attend Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church. During Mass last Sunday, none of the other parishioners approached a solemn Koon and his family, and the family drove straight home.

Briseno followed his older brother from their hometown in Mattoon, Ill., to Southern California, and followed him in becoming a police officer.

Because of Ted Briseno's lack of military experience and his slightness--5 feet, 9 inches tall and 140 pounds--his brother Michael said he had doubts that Ted would make it as a police officer. But he did well in the academy, according to Michael Briseno, an officer for the city Department of Airports, and he joined the Police Department's Foothill Division in 1982.

In 1987, Briseno was suspended without pay for 66 days after fellow officers testified during a police Board of Rights hearing that he hit a suspect with his baton and later kicked the man while he was handcuffed.

The board found Briseno guilty on four counts of using excessive force in the June 14, 1987, arrest of the man, suspected of beating a child: unnecessarily striking the suspect on the head with his baton, making improper remarks, kicking the suspect when he was handcuffed and attempting to persuade a rookie officer to deny that the incident occurred.

One officer testified that when the suspect said he wanted Briseno's badge number, Briseno waved his baton about nine inches from the suspect's nose and said, "I'll give you my badge number up your nose, buddy."

According to a transcript of the hearing, Briseno promised not to let it happen again.

"I got a little too aggressive out there, but I can assure you that it will not happen again ever," he said. "I apologize to the board for that."

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