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Police Documents Disclose Beating Was Downplayed : Investigation: Highway Patrol officers say they were 'shocked' at the level of violence used by police. Reports studied by grand jury add detail to the King incident.

March 20, 1991|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unaware that they had been videotaped, Los Angeles police officers and supervisors downplayed the level of violence used to arrest Rodney G. King by claiming that he suffered only cuts and bruises "of a minor nature," according to internal police documents reviewed by The Times.

In contrast, three California Highway Patrol officers who watched how the police officers attacked King were so "shocked" at the brutality that they took note of the officers' name tags.

"I didn't see any need to hit him with a baton," CHP Officer Melanie Singer later told investigators.

These conflicting accounts of the March 3 incident in Lake View Terrace are contained in hundreds of pages of confidential police reports, witness interviews and other official materials collected by investigators and studied by the Los Angeles County grand jury, which indicted a sergeant and three officers last week.

The documents lend substantial new detail to the early morning arrest that prompted allegations that the beating fits a pattern of abuse by Los Angeles police officers and has spurred calls for the resignation of Chief Daryl F. Gates.

Central to the case against the officers is an amateur videotape of the beating that has been telecast nationwide. Contrary to what police officers initially reported about King's arrest, the 25-year-old parolee from Altadena was struck up to 56 times. His doctor says he suffered a dozen broken bones.

The Times, which gained access to the grand jury records, found:

* Sgt. Stacey Koon, the lead Police Department supervisor at the scene, reported that although the officers repeatedly struck King, the man's injuries appeared to be light.

In his daily report, filed before his shift ended that day, he wrote: "Several facial cuts due to contact with asphalt. Of a minor nature. A split inner lip. Suspect oblivious to pain."

Koon also stated that the officers "delivered a torrent of power strokes, jabs, etc., to arms, torso and legs. . . . Taser (a police stun gun) going the entire time. Finally wore suspect down."

* In Use of Force reports submitted by Koon and Officers Laurence M. Powell and Timothy Wind, they listed King's injuries as only "contusions and abrasions."

They also marked boxes on the Use of Force reports stating that King "attacked officers," "continued some resistance" and "increased (his) resistance."

In fact, the videotape shows that King is often in a defenseless position as the officers circled and hit him repeatedly.

* Although Koon has been sharply criticized for allowing the beating to get out of hand, CHP Officer Singer told investigators that one Los Angeles police officer grabbed Powell's arm to stop him after the first few blows were struck. She said Koon yelled at Powell: "Stop! Stop! That's enough!" The beating momentarily ceased, but then resumed.

* On the day after the arrest, Sgt. Steven Flores of the Foothill Division was contacted by Paul King, who said he wanted to file a brutality complaint on behalf of his brother, Rodney.

Flores, in a report about his conversation with Paul King, said King told him there might be a videotape of the arrest, and that the tape would back up his contention of police abuse.

Flores told Paul King that if he found the tape, "call us back and release it to the LAPD."

The sergeant then wrote: "According to the reports, physical force was used in arresting (Rodney) King, but the force was justified. No further action is recommended until the results of the use of force investigation are reviewed and evaluated, and unless additional evidence, such as a videotape or witness statement, is obtained."

His report also notes that nowhere in the police reports of field interviews, watch commander's log or sergeant's log is there any mention that King had two friends with him in the car when they were stopped for speeding.

* Higher up the chain of command, a lieutenant also backed the conclusions that only a small amount of force was used to subdue King. Lt. P. J. Conmay, who was Foothill watch commander on March 3, wrote that when Koon's Taser gun failed to faze King, "he was ultimately subdued after several baton strikes."

In reviewing these reports, the grand jury decided to indict Koon, Powell, Wind and Officer Ted Briseno on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and unnecessarily beating a suspect under color of authority. Koon and Powell were also charged with filing a false police report.

Koon faces an additional charge of being an accessory after the fact in what Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner has called a "cover-up." Reiner has not elaborated. The grand jury investigation into the conduct of other officers is continuing.

Once King was arrested and Koon was back at the police station, the sergeant reflected on the difficulties officers had in controlling King.

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