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Driver Describes Beating : Courts: Black motorist who filed a civil rights lawsuit tells jury that in 1987 at least 10 white officers from three cities assaulted him after a Costa Mesa Freeway stop.

September 08, 1993|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A black motorist testified Tuesday in a police brutality case that a routine traffic stop in 1987 turned into a police beating involving at least 10 white officers from three Orange County jurisdictions.

Reginald R. Rainey, 42, told jurors in Orange County Superior Court that one officer "put his feet on my face and pressed my face into the mud. . . . He pressed on my nose like he was putting out a cigarette."

Rainey later pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace, was placed on probation and, in 1988, filed a civil rights lawsuit against Santa Ana, Irvine and Tustin and three of the officers allegedly involved. Defense attorneys deny the allegations, saying Rainey was verbally abusive to officers and resisted arrest.

Rainey, who now lives in Hemet in Riverside County, said that on Dec. 2, 1987, officers from Irvine, Santa Ana and Tustin surrounded him at the Edinger Avenue off-ramp of the Costa Mesa Freeway, used racial epithets, beat him with their batons and kicked him in the face. He also alleges that they laughed and made jokes.

Attorneys for Irvine and Santa Ana (Tustin was later dropped from the suit) said Tuesday in opening statements that Rainey had been speeding and driving erratically before the stop, and that he was verbally abusive to officers and resisted arrest.

Rainey was described by those attorneys as "kind of a vagabond" who has given wildly varying accounts of the incident, including "an element of fantasy."

"Had Mr. Rainey been cooperative," said Jeffrey C. Miller, attorney for the city of Santa Ana, "this would have been a routine traffic stop."

Outside the courtroom, Rainey's attorney compared the case to that of Rodney King in Los Angeles, saying the beating was a "feeding frenzy" that was followed by an official "cover-up."

At the request of lawyers for Irvine and Santa Ana, Judge Randell L. Wilkinson ordered attorneys not to mention King's name before the jury.

But in his opening statement, Rainey's attorney alluded to the King case by telling the jury that "we don't have a videotape in this case."

That remark prompted a motion for a mistrial from Irvine's attorney, Lee A. Wood, who said the comment was "a clear and direct reference to the Rodney King incident." However, the motion for mistrial was denied.

Wood said later that he asked for the order barring mention of King, not because of the similarities in the cases, but "because there are no similarities."

Rainey, a former college student, Marine Corps veteran and the son of a Baptist minister, testified that he moved to California from the East Coast in the mid-1980s to join members of his family in Orange County.

At the time of the 1987 arrest, he said, he was working two jobs, hanging drywall and working for his brother's custodial maintenance service, as well as trying to get jobs as an actor and model.

Rainey, who was driving with a license that had been restricted because of an earlier traffic offense, said he was heading south on the Costa Mesa Freeway that evening, on his way to a nightclub. He estimated his speed at 65-70 m.p.h.

Irvine Officer David Mihalik said in his report that Rainey drew his attention when he stopped suddenly on the freeway and cut across several lanes to exit. Rainey pulled over as ordered and passed a field sobriety test, Mihalik wrote.

But because Mihalik was outside his jurisdiction and because he found Rainey to be "verbally abusive," the officer radioed for assistance, he wrote in his report.

As officers from Irvine, Santa Ana and Tustin arrived, Rainey complied with orders but remained "angry and abusive," Mihalik reported.

The officer said he placed Rainey in a chokehold. Then, Rainey testified Tuesday, a group of other officers arrayed in a semicircle took turns beating him, laughing and calling him names.

After blows to the leg, rib cage and groin, which he said resulted in surgery for a hernia, Rainey dropped to his knees and then face-down onto the shoulder of the road, "for protection" from the blows, he testified.

Within several days of his arrest, Rainey filed complaints with the FBI and the Irvine Police Department, but he declined to allow the officers to photograph his injuries, the cities' attorney said.

His lawsuit alleges police brutality and violation of civil rights.

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