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All 4 Acquitted in King Beating : Verdict Stirs Outrage; Bradley Calls It Senseless : Trial: Ventura County jury rejects charges of excessive force in episode captured on videotape. A mistrial is declared on one count against Officer Powell.

April 30, 1992|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — A Superior Court jury on Wednesday acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of using excessive force when they beat black motorist Rodney G. King, rousing renewed anger over a racially charged case that had triggered a political uproar in Los Angeles and unleashed a national debate on police abuse.

The not guilty verdicts by the Ventura County jury--which included no blacks--were reached after barely six hours of deliberations, the panel's forewoman disclosed in court. For the next three days, she said, the panel focused exclusively on a single count of assault against one of the officers. With the jury unable to reach a consensus, a mistrial was declared on that count by Judge Stanley M. Weisberg.

Jurors apparently were not convinced by a videotape that captured the March 3, 1991, beating of King by Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and Officers Laurence M. Powell, Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy E. Wind. The 81-second video, filmed by an amateur, showed the officers delivering repeated baton blows to King as he lay prone on the ground.

Its images have been seared in the minds of viewers the world over who have watched the tape broadcast repeatedly.

The long-awaited verdicts immediately triggered protests and expressions of outrage by shocked community leaders, politicians and many residents throughout Southern California. Loud demonstrations were convened at the Police Department's Civic Center headquarters and at the site of the beating in the Lake View Terrace area of the San Fernando Valley.

A visibly angry Mayor Tom Bradley said he was left "speechless" by the "senseless" verdicts and urged the city to remain calm. "The jury's verdict will never blind the world to what we saw on the videotape."

Bradley said the system "failed us" and that the men who beat King do not deserve to wear the uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department.

"I'm outraged at this result," King's attorney, Steve Lerman, said. "Any right-thinking, normal person who sees that videotape and experiences the shock and viciousness of the event can't sit with this verdict as being the final say."

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

"I am shocked, outraged, and frightened for our nation," said Dr. 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's tomb in Atlanta today.

Except for the single deadlocked count, all four defendants, who are white, were acquitted on all counts. They may face a federal civil rights investigation, however.

The jury refused to talk to reporters after the verdicts were read in a packed, silent courtroom at the East County Courthouse.

"This experience has been an extremely difficult and stressful one, one that we have all agonized over a great deal," said a statement prepared by the jury forewoman, a 64-year-old military contracts manager. "We feel we have done the best job we could have done."

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 the baggage tags to conceal names and addresses.

The four defendants were acquitted of one count of assault with a deadly weapon. All except Powell were acquitted of assault under the color of authority; the jury deadlocked 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.

Upon hearing the verdicts, Briseno--who had testified that he believed his fellow officers were "out of control" when they beat and stomped King--leaped to his feet and hugged his attorney. Powell and his attorney, Michael Stone, hugged each other.

Later, as Koon left the courthouse, angry bystanders shouted "Guilty!" and scuffled briefly with sheriff's deputies flanking the sergeant.

The prosecutors, who had stared silently at their table during the reading of the verdicts, hung their heads and marched out of the courtroom after verdicts were read.

"My reaction is shock first, then disappointment," Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry White, the lead prosecutor on the case, said. "Obviously we feel the evidence warranted a conviction of the defendants and jury disagreed with us."

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.

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