Three reputed gang members accused of beating truck driver Reginald O. Denny were charged on Thursday with attacking 12 earlier victims in a series of violent assaults and robberies that took place during the early moments of the Los Angeles riots.
The new charges--stemming from seven separate incidents videotaped by news crews and other bystanders on April 29--illustrate a "pattern of malicious beatings and assaults and robberies" that occurred at the flash point of the violence, said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.
At a crowded downtown news conference, Reiner said the hourlong series of attacks--which included two additional cases of men allegedly being pulled from their trucks and beaten--represents a clear rebuttal to the argument that Denny may have provoked the attack that hospitalized him by shouting racial epithets at blacks on the street. The nationally broadcast videotape of Denny, who is white, being dragged from his rig and attacked has come to symbolize the upheaval that followed the verdicts in the Rodney G. King beating case.
"Mr. Denny was not an only victim--he was just one among the great many," Reiner said, deploring media coverage that he claimed has, in some instances, given undeserved legitimacy to the attackers.
"They are not heroes," Reiner said. "They are clearly . . . people who set upon others to try to rob them and beat them."
LAPD Lt. Bruce Hagerty, who supervises a task force on riot violence, said more arrests are on the way. "In the next weeks we're going to present a lot more cases," he said. "We're going to show how brutal the people were out there."
Only hours after the latest charges were announced, the three suspects appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the 33 additional felony counts, which range from assault with a deadly weapon to throwing objects at a vehicle.
Los Angeles Municipal Judge William R. Chidsey rejected Reiner's request to deny bail or set it at $1 million. But the judge did raise the bail to $580,000 for suspects Damian Monroe (Football) Williams, 19, and Antoine Eugene (Twan) Miller, 20. The judge also raised bail for Henry Keith (Kiki) Watson, 27, to $500,000.
Previously, the bail for each of the three defendants had been between $160,000 and $195,000.
In setting the new amounts, Chidsey talked of the terror that victims must have felt, saying that he is "confident and sure each one was scared beyond description. They didn't know whether their lives would be taken."
The judge's action drew moans from many in the jam-packed courtroom and prompted a group of Nation of Islam members, along with a number of youths in attendance, to stand and abruptly walk out. Many wore yellow bows on their clothing in support of the defendants.
One supporter, Compton City Councilwoman Patricia Moore, called the charges against the three men "a witch hunt. . . . This is not liberty and justice for all, this is crazy insanity."
Defense attorneys, who expressed hope that at least two of the defendants would be able to post bail soon because of donations that have poured in, also challenged the validity of the latest charges.
Fred Sebastian, a spokesman for the North Hollywood-based Center for Constitutional Law and Justice, which represents Williams, accused Reiner of "grandstanding" a week before the primary elections--a charge that the district attorney denied.
Sebastian also challenged prosecutors to make the videotapes public to substantiate the new charges. Defense attorneys have tried for about a week to obtain copies of the tapes from authorities, but to no avail, Sebastian said.
"(We) have a deep personal regard for anyone who was injured that day, and our heart goes out to them," Sebastian said. "However, there's no proof that Damian Williams did any of these acts, and until such time that it is proven, it's nothing more than an allegation."
A spokeswoman for Reiner responded by saying that the videos will be made available to the defense team next week and that many of them have already been televised.
Sebastian also suggested that some of the alleged victims may have provoked the attacks simply by driving into the intersection, rather than making a U-turn and traveling in a safe direction.
"It's (contributory negligence) when you enter an intersection where people are throwing rocks and bottles," Sebastian said, alluding to footage he claimed to have seen in one videotape. In the footage, he said, motorists enter the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues, where the rioting began, and inexplicably stop.
"They stop and look around and put their foot on the gas," he said. "It's the strangest thing you've ever seen. It's like (they) were sightseeing."
However, that account did not appear to jibe with the personal experiences of one rioting victim, 47-year-old Takao Hirata, who was described by authorities as the first known victim in the rampage.