In a series of pre-dawn raids Tuesday, special teams from the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department arrested three men allegedly responsible for the beating of truck driver Reginald O. Denny--an attack that has come to symbolize the violent rage that swept through the city.
A fourth man turned himself in a few hours later, authorities said.
All four suspects were said to be members of, or affiliated with, the 8-Trey Gangster Crips, one of Los Angeles' most notorious street gangs. The four were identified through videotape recordings of the Denny beating.
Denny, 36, who is white, was yanked from his truck on April 29 as he tried to drive through the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues. With millions of viewers watching on live television, he was hit with a brick, a tire iron and a fire extinguisher until he was beaten into unconsciousness. With police nowhere in sight, he was rescued by four good Samaritans, all of whom are black.
"The Los Angeles Police Department was very, very concerned about our inability to reach Mr. Denny," Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said during a morning press conference. "We are hopeful that at least this will atone for some of that."
Gates, whose department has been widely criticized for not moving more forcefully to quell the riots, said he was so angered by the Denny attack that he personally arrested one of the suspects, Damian Monroe Williams, a 19-year-old whose nickname is "Football."
"I did that all by myself with the aid of about 200 police officers and the FBI," said Gates, who is scheduled to retire next month. According to Gates, Williams told him, " 'Chief Gates, you're going.' And I said, 'Yes, Football, but you're going first!' "
In a statement from his hospital bed, Denny said he had no anger toward his attackers.
"If they got the right guys, good for them," said Denny, who was in good condition Tuesday and being evaluated to decide whether he needs rehabilitation services. "I just want to be left alone. My biggest goal is to go home and be a dad to my kid."
In addition to Williams, authorities arrested Henry Keith (Kiki) Watson, 27, of Inglewood, and Antoine Eugene (Twan) Miller, 20, who lives across the street from Williams, a few blocks from the intersection where Denny was beaten.
The three arrests were made without incident, officials said.
According to police, Miller pulled Denny from his truck and looted the vehicle. Williams allegedly hit Denny with a brick, and Watson was said to have held the driver down with his foot.
The fourth suspect, Gary Williams, 33, is alleged to have stolen Denny's wallet after the beating. He turned himself in.
Special Agent Charlie J. Parsons, who heads the Los Angeles office of the FBI, said Tuesday's arrests marked the first of many that his agents and local police officers expect to make in the Denny case and other riot-related violence, many of them involving victims who are minorities.
In its effort to identify suspects in other attacks, the government has subpoenaed photographs from television stations and newspapers. Some have complied, but many are balking at turning over any footage that was not published or broadcast.
"I think they should turn it over," Parsons said. "It's evidence."
Media executives, including those at The Times, have said that they are withholding unpublished materials out of concern for the safety of reporters and photographers and to ensure that they do not become functionaries of law enforcement.
Parsons said local and federal authorities, who are working together under a task force, also are investigating rumors that gangs played an organized role in spreading the violence that overran Los Angeles after the not guilty verdicts in the Rodney G. King beating case.
"There is a connection between things that occurred during the riot and gangs," Parsons said. "One of the purposes of this task force is to try to quantify that and to see to what extent."
He said, moreover, that the task force has uncovered evidence of business owners engaging in "arson for profit."
Parsons and Gates declined to state what the suspects in the Denny case would be charged with, but officials close to the investigation said that the three allegedly involved in the beating could face state charges of attempted murder, mayhem, torture and robbery. If convicted, they could receive sentences of up to life in prison.
The fourth, Gary Williams, probably will only be charged with robbery, officials said.
If charged, the three main suspects are expected to be tried on the state charges first, but officials said the three could then face trials on two federal charges as well--willfully interfering with an individual attempting to do business during a riot and interfering with a person attempting to operate a vehicle in interstate commerce. They could face up to 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted on both of those charges, according to federal sources.