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King Re-Enacts Beating at Trial of Suit Against City : Courts: 'I could hear my bones crunching,' he tells jurors. He says he feared for his life as officers hit him.

March 29, 1994|JOHN L. MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rodney G. King on Monday told a federal court jury in his lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles that he was stripped of his decency and still has physical and emotional scars from his beating at the hands of Los Angeles police officers three years ago.

King, wearing an open-collared white shirt and gray slacks, answered a battery of questions from his lead attorney, Milton Grimes, recalling the night of the beating and his feelings at the time. At one point he re-enacted the incident, stepping down from the witness stand and lying on the floor to demonstrate his vulnerability on the night of March 3, 1991.

During the beating, he recalled after returning to the stand, he could hear his bones breaking from the baton blows.

"I felt like I had lost half of my face. . . . I could hear my bones crunching every time the baton hit me.

"It sounded like throwing an egg and hearing the shell crack," he testified.

The city has admitted liability and jurors have been asked to set a damage figure. King is asking for $9.5 million in damages. The most the city has offered is $1.25 million plus attorneys fees.

King, who seemed confident as he answered questions, said he attempted to break free and run from the officers only when he felt his life was threatened.

"We're going to kill you, nigger. Run!" King quoted at least one of the officers as saying. He said the officers also chanted that racial epithet at him as they kicked him and struck him with their batons.

The issue of whether officers used racial epithets during the beating has been in dispute. Shortly after his arrest in 1991, King said he did not believe the beating was racially motivated. It was not until later that he said the officers made racially derogatory remarks.

King's testimony Monday is consistent with comments he made during the federal civil rights case against the officers, but it does not conform with what he told a federal grand jury in 1992.

During the federal civil rights trial, King was asked several times when he had heard the racial remarks, and at one point said he wasn't sure.

"Sometimes I forget a lot of things," King responded at the time. "Sometimes I remember. Sometimes I don't."

Under questioning Monday, King said the incident began while he was out celebrating with friends because he had been rehired by a construction company.

"I was proud of myself. I was very proud of myself for having got back with my company," said King, who had served time in prison for robbery before the confrontation with police that ended in Lake View Terrace.

King, admitting that he had drunk too much alcohol that night, said he panicked when a California Highway Patrol car began to follow his car. He said he was afraid he would be sent back to prison if he was caught driving under the influence.

King testified Monday that he tried to elude authorities for about 12 blocks before deciding that it made little sense to try to get away.

After he stopped his car, he offered no resistance and tried to comply with officers' commands, he testified. He said he did not strike or attack the officers who beat him and that his actions were intended only to protect himself while they were striking, stomping and kicking him.

King said he eventually lay down on the pavement as he was ordered, but that after he did, one of the officers struck him on the right side of the face with what he thought was a baton. "I felt like I lost half my face," he said.

Grimes asked him what he said at that time. "I told him I felt fine," King said.

Asked why he said that, King said: "I didn't want to give (them) the satisfaction (of knowing) that it really hurt. Because of the way I was raised, my dad told me to never show feeling. Don't show pain, don't let anyone see you hurt."

King said he did flinch when an officer pointed a gun at him. At that point, he said, another officer shot him with a Taser--an electrical device designed to immobilize a suspect.

"I felt like a cow that was waiting to be slaughtered, just like a piece of meat," King recalled after he had returned to the stand.

King said the officers' taunting and laughter made him think that police beatings were common practice.

"I had a feeling that this happens all the time," he said. "I just happened to run into the wrong pack of dogs, police officers."

King pointed to several scars on his face and body from wounds he received from the beating and from being dragged to an ambulance. He said he still has numbness on the right side of his face from metal baton blows and where surgery was needed to correct a sunken eye socket. He still walks with a limp and he said he suffers headaches, depression, anxiety and memory loss.

Because of threats to his life, he said, he is seldom able to go out in public with his family. He said that when he does, he is reminded often of the humiliating event.

"It makes me feel bad, it makes me feel horrible," he said.

King said that he feared for his life even before FBI agents disclosed a plot by young skinheads to assassinate him, and that he took such precautions as having surveillance cameras installed in his home. He said he has hired bodyguards and has a pit bull for protection.

Defense attorneys are expected to cross-examine King today, and the first phase of the trial is expected to end Thursday. In the second phase, jurors are to assign blame to individual defendants, including former Sgt. Stacey C. Koon and former officers Laurence M. Powell, Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno. Koon and Powell were convicted of violating King's civil rights in the federal trail and are serving 30-month sentences.

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