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King Says He's Now Sure Police Used Racial Slur


Defense attorneys on Tuesday were unable to shake Rodney G. King from his insistence that police officers used racial slurs while beating him three years ago in Lake View Terrace.

King, who previously expressed uncertainty about whether such slurs were used, sometimes appeared confused or rattled during six hours on the witness stand Tuesday, most of it under cross-examination by attorneys for the city and for 15 present and former police officers named in his lawsuit.

But despite the pressure to waver on his story, King reiterated that he heard racial epithets during the March 3, 1991, beating. He stuck to his statement that he never threatened officers and that he only sought to protect himself from the baton blows and kicks he received during the confrontation.

Early in Tuesday's court session, Milton Grimes, King's attorney, played the audio version of the videotape, made by bystander George Holliday, for the jurors in an effort to support his client's assertion that the beating was racially motivated. It was the first time that the audio portion of the tape has been played in court.

King, 28, was asked if he could point out places in the tape where the racial taunts could be heard over loud distortions and helicopter noises.

"I could do it with my head turned," King said.

As the tape was played, King turned away from the monitor. There was a muddled sound.

"There, there it is," King said. He said he heard on the tape: "Nigger, put your hands behind your back!"

Some observers in the courtroom also said they could hear a voice shout the phrase.

Later, outside court, defense attorneys said they were not impressed.

"You can hear whatever you want to hear," said Skip Miller, an attorney hired by the city as part of the defense team. "That's how you can characterize it. It was totally unclear."

King testified during last year's federal trial--in which two LAPD officers were convicted of violating his civil rights--that he heard some of the officers on the scene three years ago use the racial slurs. But later, under cross-examination in that trial, he said he could not remember if he heard the word nigger or killer.

On Tuesday, King, testifying for a second day in the suit, said that despite his previous hesitation, he is certain that he heard the racial epithets.

Defense attorneys used the apparent contradictions in Kings' earlier statement to challenge his credibility under cross-examination.

But the witness insisted: "I'm telling the truth, the whole truth, the way I saw it on March 3, and the way I heard it."

King was reminded that a few days after the beating he had made public comments and had made statements to police that the incident was not racially motivated. On Tuesday, he said that he had been afraid of going back to prison and that his mother at first suggested that he not raise he issue of race.

King said he later told the truth during the federal trial. Then, he testified that officers had said during the beating: "How you feel now, nigger? What's up, nigger? How you feel now, killer? How you feel now?"

But also during the federal trial, King, under pressure from defense attorneys, conceded that he may not have been sure of what he heard.

"You chose to lie to police investigators?" King was asked by defense attorney Michael Stone, who represents Laurence M. Powell, one of two police officers convicted of violating King's civil rights during the federal trial.

"Yes sir," King said.

Under further cross-examination, King admitted, as he has in the past, to an armed robbery for which he was sent to prison in 1989, and conceded that he had had problems with his marriage. King also again admitted that he had used marijuana and had been arrested for driving under the influence.

The city has accepted liability for King's injuries. King's attorneys have asked for $9.5 million to settle the lawsuit, but the city has not moved from its offer of $1.25 million plus attorneys fees.

City Atty. James K. Hahn, who has been sitting in on the trial, said after Tuesday's court session that the city is still willing to settle the suit out of court. "We may look into it again when the plaintiffs finish their case," he said. "The door isn't closed."

During the first phase of the case, the jury will determine how much King should be awarded in compensatory damages. In the second phase, his lawyers are to argue that individual defendants--including the four officers originally charged in the beating--also should pay King punitive damages.

Former Sgt. Stacey C. Koon was convicted with Powell in the federal trial. Former Officers Theodore J. Briseno and Timothy E. Wind were acquitted.

Earlier, the four men were acquitted on all but one assault charge in a 1992 state trial, whose verdicts sparked three days of riots in Los Angeles.

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