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Koon Says He Has No Regrets on Way King Was Arrested : Police: The officer blames the beating on the failure of officials to acknowledge that police sometimes must use force. He also says a tool to replace the prohibited chokehold is needed.

May 01, 1992|LESLIE BERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Police Sgt. Stacey C. Koon said that he has no regrets about the way he and three colleagues took Rodney G. King into custody and that he would change nothing if he had the night to relive.

Koon blamed the beating on the failure of city leaders to acknowledge that police must sometimes use force, and said that the prohibited chokehold must be replaced with other means of subduing suspects who resist arrest.

"The same thing can happen tonight," Koon said in a phone interview. "Community policing is a nice thing if it's workable. A new chief is nice. But nothing has been done to address the use of force. The policeman has no more tools today than he had a year ago."

Koon also said that while he was elated by the acquittals Wednesday, the Superior Court trial in Simi Valley was just the first of many hurdles. Like Officers Theodore J. Briseno and Laurence M. Powell, Koon still faces departmental hearings on misconduct charges, civil lawsuits and possible federal prosecution.

The Police Department was able to fire Timothy E. Wind, the fourth defendant, because he was still on probation at the time of the beating and did not have the same rights as the other three. But Wind still faces civil lawsuits and possible federal prosecution.

"This is going to last. Everybody wants to extract their pound of flesh from us," Koon said.

Koon, Powell and Briseno were suspended without pay after the March 3, 1991, beating pending the outcome of their administrative cases. The departmental hearings were postponed until after the criminal trial because if the officers had been convicted of felony charges, they would have been automatically ineligible to remain as law enforcement officers.

Koon said his departmental hearing before a board of rights--a panel of police commanders that reviews misconduct charges--is scheduled to begin Monday. But police officials expressed doubt that hearings for any of the officers would take place as scheduled, especially if the department's resources must continue to be concentrated on the rioting.

"Who has the time for putting together boards of rights when the city is on fire?" asked Diane Marchant, a police union attorney. "I'm looking out my window and see a brand-new apartment building with flames shooting out the top."

Koon said he has been seeing a therapist regularly over the last year because of stress. He said he will not return to police work even if his departmental hearing is successful and he wins back his job.

"I don't think I could function as a police officer ever again," said Koon, a 15-year LAPD veteran who has portrayed himself and the other three defendants as political scapegoats. "Psychologically, I could not function. It would be maybe something like a Vietnam syndrome."

Koon is seeking a publisher for a book he has written about the last year. Its working title is "Ides of March" because he and the other officers were indicted on the anniversary of Caesar's fall.

"Not that I have grandiose delusions about being like Caesar," Koon said, "but he was killed by the politically powerful, by the moneyed powerful of the time because they were fearful of the changes he was going to bring about in the system."

Briseno, Wind and Powell could not be reached for comment by The Times. But in an interview with NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning, Briseno said he was surprised by the verdict and felt the King beating is a clear example of excessive force.

Briseno, who broke ranks with the other defendants during the trial and maintained that he had tried to stop the beating, also told NBC he stood by his testimony that the other officers were "out of control" that night.

Kathy Briseno told The Times later that her husband was greatly troubled by the rioting that the acquittals have prompted.

"He feels responsible for it and he didn't do anything," she said, adding that although his family is relieved at the verdict, they were not celebrating.

"You saw what went on in the city. This is not a joyous occasion," she said.

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