CHAPTER ONE: THE KING BEATING
Rarely has the work of an amateur photographer so captured the nation's attention as did the dramatic and disturbing scene recorded by George Holliday's video camera in the early morning of March 3, 1991--the morning Rodney G. King, a 25-year-old African-American, was beaten by three uniformed officers of the Los Angeles Police Department while a sergeant and a large group of LAPD, California Highway Patrol, and Los Angeles Unified School District officers stood by. The Holliday tape showed the officers clubbing King with 56 baton strokes and kicking him in the head and body. Within days, television stations across the country broadcast and rebroadcast the tape, provoking a public outcry against police abuse.
Twenty-three LAPD officers responded to the scene of the Rodney King incident. Four LAPD officers--Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officers Laurence M. Powell, Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy Wind--were directly involved in the use of force and have been indicted on felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon. Koon and Powell are also charged with submission of a false police report. Two of the LAPD officers were in a helicopter overhead. Ten other LAPD officers were actually present on the ground during some portion of the beating.
Based on published reports and public documents . . . it appears that three of the four indicted officers had been named in prior complaints for excessive force.
Computer, Radio Transmissions
Computer and radio messages transmitted among officers immediately after the beating raised additional concerns that the King beating was part of a larger pattern of police abuse. Shortly before the King beating, Powell's and Wind's patrol unit transmitted the computer message that an earlier domestic dispute between an African-American couple was "right out of 'Gorillas in the Mist'," a reference to a motion picture about the study of gorillas in Africa.
The initial report of the beating came at 12:56 a.m., when Koon's unit reported to the watch commander's desk at Foothill Station: "You just had a big-time use of force. . . . Tased and beat the suspect of CHP pursuit, big time."
The Rodney King beating gave immediate rise to myriad questions about the Los Angeles Police Department. Concerns were voiced about the openness of the officers' conduct; the presence of a sergeant who failed to control and indeed directed the violence; the puzzling convergence of so many officers at the end-of-pursuit location after the Code 4 broadcast that no assistance was needed; the number of officers who stood by during the beating and failed to report it afterwards; and the radio comments and computer transmissions before and after the incident that suggested a possible racial motivation and a ready acceptance of excessive force as "basic stuff" by LAPD officers.
CHAPTER TWO: LAPD POLICY ON FORCE
Because this report is largely concerned with excessive use of force, it is appropriate to set forth the Police Department's stated policy and its guidelines regarding the proper uses of force.
"While the use of reasonable physical force may be necessary in situations which cannot be otherwise controlled, force may not be resorted to unless other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or would clearly be ineffective under the particular circumstances. Officers are permitted to use whatever force that is reasonable and necessary to protect others or themselves from bodily harm."
The central task of the commission was to determine whether and how the LAPD's use of force policy and guidelines are followed in practice.
CHAPTER THREE: PROBLEM OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
The LAPD can be justifiably proud of its many strengths. It is widely recognized throughout the United States for efficiency, absence of corruption, quality of personnel, sophistication of technology, and accomplishments in crime-fighting.
The commission has found, however, that there is a significant number of officers who repetitively misuse force and persistently ignore the written policies and guidelines of the department regarding force. By their misconduct, this group of officers tarnishes the reputations of the vast majority of LAPD officers who do their increasingly difficult job of policing the city with courage, skill and judgment.
The problem of excessive force in the LAPD is fundamentally a problem of supervision, management and leadership. What leaps out from the department's own statistics--and is confirmed by LAPD officers at the command level and in the rank and file--is that a "problem group" of officers use force and are the subject of complaints alleging excessive or improper force, far more frequently than most other officers.
Jesse Brewer, a retired 38-year LAPD veteran who served as assistant chief from 1987 until February, 1991, testified before the commission that lack of management attention and accountability is the "essence of the excessive force problem" in the LAPD: