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All 4 in King Beating Acquitted : Violence Follows Verdicts; Guard Called Out : Trial: Governor deploys troops at mayor's request after arson, looting erupt. Ventura County jury apparently was not convinced that videotape told the whole story.

April 30, 1992|RICHARD A. SERRANO and TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The statement was read by a court official after the jurors were whisked away in a Ventura County Sheriff's Department bus to a nearby Travelodge where they had been sequestered during their deliberations. There, they were escorted to pick up their bags, some of which had masking tape placed on tags to conceal their names and addresses.

The four defendants were acquitted on one count of assault with a deadly weapon. All except Powell were acquitted of assault under the color of authority; the jury deadlocked 8 to 4 favoring acquittal on this count for Powell. He may face a new trial on that count.

Powell and Koon were acquitted of filing a false police report. Koon also was found not guilty of acting as an accessory after the fact.

King's attorney, Steve Lerman, was furious with the verdicts.

"It says it's OK to beat somebody on the ground and beat the crap out of him," Lerman said. "They (the jurors) chose to ignore and disregard the fundamental issue: The issue of brutal, vicious felonious assault against this man. There is nothing Rodney King did to deserve this fate, and (the defendants) are walking out as heroes.

"The fact that maybe 12 white jurors are not going to convict four white cops, it may be as basic as that."

The officers' legal troubles are not over, however. A federal civil rights investigation, which had been put on hold pending the trial's outcome, will be reactivated, U.S. Atty. Lourdes G. Baird said.

Elsewhere in the country, there was a similar outpouring of anger.

"I am shocked, outraged and frightened for our nation," said Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "We all cried and prayed for our nation. . . . Even in Johannesburg, South Africa, they have begun to punish white officers who assault black people."

Lowery planned to hold a prayer vigil at Martin Luther King Jr.'s tomb in Atlanta today.

The King beating quickly became a watershed event in Los Angeles history, spawning an unprecedented move to reform the Police Department, hastening the retirement of one chief and the hiring of another--and forcing this ethnically diverse city into profound introspection on the state of race relations.

With tensions running high after the beating, a blue-ribbon panel was formed to investigate the Police Department. Named the Christopher Commission for its chairman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the panel found a police force plagued by tacitly condoned racism and abuse at the hands of rogue cops. The commission called on Chief Daryl F. Gates to step down.

After Wednesday's verdicts, Gates met with reporters at Parker Center but declined to express his opinion about the jury's verdict.

"An awful lot of people will voice their opinion," Gates said. "I don't intend to."

Gates directed much of his news conference to urge calm in the city. But even as he spoke, a crowd gathered in front of Parker Center. As Gates left the room, demonstrators were shouting "LAPD are rednecks! LAPD are racists!"

"This may be a test," Gates said. "I believe people will meet that test."

Later, as violence spread through parts of the city, Gates activated the LAPD Emergency Command Center, canceled police leaves and declared a permanent alert.

Gates' designated successor, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Willie L. Williams, who is black, was monitoring the riots on television at his Philadelphia home.

"The outbursts by these people are certainly in no way helping the healing process. It's making it very difficult for those people who were trying to take this court decision and make changes.

"It's a no-win situation, everything that occurred in the last few hours, the rioting, the fires, the shooting death.

"They are going to solidify the views of those people who are not wanting to see things smoothed over, but want them further divided."

He declined to comment on the LAPD's tactics of holding back during the early stages of the rioting, but said he will review it when he takes office in several weeks.

He also said he will consult with Los Angeles officials today to see if he could play any role in calming the situation.

"Tactically," Williams told The Times, "it's probably one of the most crucial times in the history of the Police Department--one of the most crucial, precarious times in Chief Gates' career and mine."

Legal experts said the jurors may have reached the verdicts based on their fears of crime and pre-existing attitudes favoring police officers. The key factor, they agreed, was the change of venue granted to the defense. Moving the trial out of Los Angeles County to more conservative and less racially diverse Simi Valley produced a jury disposed to siding with police, the experts said.

The six-man, six-woman jury included one Latina and one Asian-American. Only a handful of blacks were present in the original jury pool.

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