An attorney for Rodney G. King on Monday denounced his client's recent drunk driving arrest as harassment and said he has strong evidence contradicting police assertions that King was driving erratically and failed his sobriety tests.
Lawyer Steven A. Lerman said comments from at least a dozen witnesses indicate that King was not driving recklessly and had actually passed the sobriety tests during his arrest by the California Highway Patrol outside a Denny's restaurant in Orange last Thursday.
"I believe they targeted him once they knew who he was," said Lerman. "If it was a white man in a BMW I don't think they would have given him a second look. I didn't realize that parking in a restaurant parking lot was illegal unless you are black and it's 2 a.m."
King, whose police brutality case sparked nationwide civil unrest in May, was taken into custody shortly after he and his wife, Crystal, went to the Denny's restaurant at Chapman Avenue and State College Boulevard.
According to the CHP, two officers followed another traffic violator into the restaurant's parking lot shortly after 1:30 a.m. and noticed a 1986 Chevrolet Blazer backing out of a parking space in an "erratic manner" before skidding to a stop and hitting a concrete block.
When they stopped the Blazer, the officers said they recognized King and smelled alcohol on his breath. The CHP reported that he then failed his field sobriety tests and was booked at Orange County Jail, where he refused to take breath, blood or urine tests.
Lerman said Monday that there was no evidence to confirm CHP allegations that King had skidded and hit a concrete block while backing out of the parking space. He said his investigators found no tire marks in the parking lot or damage or scrapes on King's truck to suggest that he had hit anything.
"Over a dozen witnesses at the Denny's restaurant refute the CHP version of the incident," Lerman said. "King was not driving erratically. The Chevy Blazer did not hit anything. He performed everything as demonstrated, and he did not fail the test."
Lerman suspects that the CHP simply became suspicious of King because he was black and finally decided to confront him when they found out the Blazer was registered to him.
If there was any resistance to the police, Lerman said, it was because King suffers from post traumatic stress disorder--the result of the severe beating he received in March, 1991, at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers.
Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Guy Ormes, who has been assigned to King's drunk driving case, said: "There is nothing I've seen that indicates harassment or conduct . . . other than what was appropriate."
Although Ormes declined to comment specifically on what Lerman's witnesses purportedly saw, he contended that they might not have seen all the events surrounding King's arrest. The CHP, he said, might have a more complete view of the incident.
King, who was released without bail from Orange County Jail, is scheduled for arraignment in Orange County Central Municipal Court on Aug. 13, if a criminal case is filed. Ormes said a decision whether to proceed with drunk driving charges is at least a week away.
The CHP has maintained that the two officers who arrested King acted properly and had training and experience in drunk driving cases.
"How can (Lerman) say it was harassment?" said Officer Angel Johnson, a CHP spokeswoman. "It was a fluke. The officers happened to have pulled into the parking lot for another stop. They finished that and their attention was drawn to the Blazer."
But Lerman said the arrest is part of an effort to discredit his client, who is trying to reach a $5-million to $8-million settlement in a police brutality case brought against the Los Angeles Police Department. The Los Angeles City Council is now considering the settlement offer.
"They jammed him. He did nothing wrong, nothing illegal," said Lerman, who represents King in the civil lawsuit. "It is an attempt to embarrass this guy while his settlement is pending before the City Council."