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Participants in King Case Try to Cash In

April 25, 1993|JESSE KATZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From the beginning, there was money in the misery.

Amateur cameraman George Holliday was the first to collect, receiving $500 from a local TV station for his videotape of a prone man being struck by baton-wielding Los Angeles police officers.

Two years later, after two trials, one riot and a national debate over police brutality, few come that cheap. In the time-honored if occasionally unseemly spirit of capitalism, the Rodney G. King case is now a cottage industry--a mini-economy fueled by tabloid journalism, high-priced lawyers and an insatiable public appetite for the tawdry details of human frailty.

"That's America," said Dan Beck, vice president of Hannaford Co., which is pushing a movie deal for three of the four officers who stood trial. "How many of us wouldn't like to sell a piece of our lives--if it were interesting enough?"

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, April 13, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 Advance Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
L.A. riots: An April 29 story incorrectly referred to the April 1992 Los Angeles riots as the 'deadliest in the 20th century.' In 1921, a riot by a predominantly white mob in Tulsa resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300 black residents.

Last weekend's jury verdicts turned the flow of cash into a gush. Sgt. Stacey C. Koon took the plunge just hours after being convicted, granting an exclusive interview to "A Current Affair" for what was believed to be $10,000. He reportedly had been inspired by reading how much Amy Fisher was paid for telling all about Joey and Mary Jo Buttafuoco.

Officer Theodore J. Briseno, whose videotaped testimony from the first trial had proven damaging to his fellow defendants in the second one, continued to break ranks on the TV circuit. A day after Koon derided him as "Benedict Briseno," the acquitted Briseno fired back, earning $25,000 for an appearance on "Donahue."

Some members of the federal jury, the warm glow of civic duty quickly fading, joined in the scramble to get paid.

The jury foreman, known only as Bob, offered to sell his story to "A Current Affair," but was rejected, according to a reporter at the show. He later surfaced at the TV tabloid's archrival, "Inside Edition," where sources said he received an undisclosed sum.

"Why should I talk to you when others might be willing to pay?" asked another juror, declining a request last weekend to be interviewed by The Times. After his comment was published, he agreed to speak to a reporter, explaining that the remark should not have been taken seriously.

The best bargain in town might have been the nuggets of street wisdom being hawked for $5 a quote by the winos at Florence and Normandie avenues.

A British newspaperman, one of countless journalists to visit the corner this month looking for clues to the area's mood, wrote in the Guardian of London: "Recalling that this technique set a colleague back nearly $50, I declined mutual exploitation."

For a case that has sparked so many troubling questions about race and politics and justice, it has frequently boiled down to a dollar sign.

Holliday, who works as a plumber, now has a $100-million lawsuit pending against every major network, alleging that they failed to properly compensate him for an image that has filled untold hours of valuable air time.

He received a handsome sum from Spike Lee for use of the tape in the movie "Malcolm X," and he lent his name to a video titled, "Shoot News and Make Money With Your Camcorder."

King, who sold his life story to Triple-7 Entertainment, had originally sued the city for $56 million--a million for each baton blow. When officials last year offered him $1.75 million to settle the civil lawsuit, King's attorney at the time, Steven A. Lerman, accused the City Council of "gross insensitivity."

Of course, there is little doubt that the ever-present legal advisers, making as much as $350 an hour, will eventually get their paychecks.

The jury forewoman from the Simi Valley trial is working on a book. So is Tom Owens, a former LAPD officer who served as King's bodyguard and private eye. In the past week, 5,000 orders came in for Koon's autobiography, according to his Washington-based publishing house, which had sold 25,000 copies.

Daryl F. Gates also has penned his memoirs. That briefly made him the target of a guerrilla group that slipped into bookstores and left flyers urging potential readers not to buy the bestseller as long as the former police chief was not donating proceeds to riot-damaged communities.

"I can't see people gaining in such a way," said Virginia B. Loya, one of the Simi Valley jurors. "If they offered me something, I would give at least half to an organization such as the DARE program, or a Little League team, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving."

Money has often played a role in the day's biggest stories.

The granddaddy of paid interviews was conducted in 1977, when former President Richard Nixon, trying to live down his tarnished reputation from the Watergate scandal and his resignation, agreed to sit down with David Frost for $600,000 and a percentage of the profits from the televised chat.

More recently, the Star paid cabaret singer Gennifer Flowers an estimated $150,000 for her story alleging that she and Bill Clinton had a 12-year affair.

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