In an action that belatedly closes one of the many chapters in the Rodney G. King beating case, prosecutors declined Tuesday to pursue charges that King drove while intoxicated and tried to evade arrest before his fateful encounter with a group of Los Angeles police officers 22 months ago.
In explaining the decision, recently elected Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti noted that the statute of limitations has run out on the drunk driving case. Prosecuting the second charge--a felony for which King could have faced a three-year prison sentence--would have been "base-line unfair" because the alleged offense happened so long ago, Garcetti said.
"If this office wanted to charge (King), it should have charged him closer to the fact," Garcetti said. "In good conscience, I cannot prosecute a case that is so old and in which a defendant was available the whole time and ready and able to go to trial."
Garcetti insisted that politics and sensitivity to post-riot tensions in Los Angeles played no part in the decision. He acknowledged, however, that filing charges against King at this time would be "stirring the pot" as the city tries to recover from the unrest last spring that followed the not guilty verdicts returned on four police officers accused of beating King.
Garcetti answered "yes" when asked whether King could have been successfully prosecuted if charges had been filed in a timely manner.
Neither King nor his lawyer, Milton Grimes, could be reached for comment.
Garcetti was sworn in to office two weeks ago and inherited the decision on the King case from his predecessor, Ira Reiner. Reiner had said shortly after the March 3, 1991, beating of King that his office would not prosecute King because of the officers' behavior but he had never formalized the decision.
Police Chief Willie L. Williams sought the formal action in a Dec. 1 letter to Reiner, a week before the district attorney left office. Garcetti said the letter was on his desk when he took over Dec. 7.
The chief wrote in the Dec. 1 letter that he was not "attempting to influence or dictate" the outcome of the case but felt that a formal decision was warranted.
"Undoubtedly, the Rodney King incident has been an unpleasant and embarrassing situation for the Los Angeles Police Department and all of law enforcement," Williams wrote. "Still, as criminal justice professionals, we cannot simply leave Mr. King's criminal charges unresolved."
On Tuesday, Cmdr. David Gascon, a spokesman for Williams, said the chief is "satisfied that the district attorney has resolved the issue."
The potential case against King resulted from his alleged actions shortly before his videotaped beating on the side of a road in Lake View Terrace.
California Highway Patrol officers had seen King's car on the Foothill Freeway and later reported that he was traveling up to 115 m.p.h. King refused to stop, even after a caravan of CHP and LAPD patrol cars tried to pull him over on surface streets, authorities said.
The beating occurred after King stopped his white Hyundai and got out of the car.
The results of tests taken later showed that his blood-alcohol level was 0.079%, slightly lower than the legal limit of 0.08%. But since the test was taken five hours after the arrest, authorities decided King had been above the limit when he was driving.
In July, King was accused of drunk driving in Orange County, but prosecutors in that case also declined to prosecute.