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Koon Again Testifies That King Beating Was Justified

April 27, 1994|JOHN L. MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dressed in a blue prison uniform and wearing plastic sandals, former Los Angeles Police Sgt. Stacey C. Koon testified again Tuesday that the beating of Rodney G. King was justified.

It was the third trial in which Koon, who was the senior officer at the Lake View Terrace beating scene on March 3, 1991, had testified that neither he nor the officers under his command had violated Los Angeles Police Department policy in subduing King.

"I know I didn't do anything wrong," he said, testifying in King's lawsuit against him and 14 other defendants "I acted in good faith; I've taken full responsibility and accountability for my actions."

Last week, a federal jury awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages from the city. The same jury is now hearing testimony for the consideration of punitive damages against the four former officers who were at the scene, former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and 10 bystander officers.

Koon also took responsibility for the officers under his command, saying their actions were necessary to apprehend a dangerous suspect.

Before Koon took the witness stand, he was greeted by several of the officers he had supervised that fateful night.

"It hasn't been pleasant," Koon said, when asked by one of the officers about prison life in Northern California. After five months behind bars, Koon was 40 pounds thinner and seemed to have lost the confidence he had exhibited during two earlier criminal trials.

The friendly encounter was in stark contrast to the chilly reception the officers gave Theodore J. Briseno, who earlier in the day tearfully testified about how he has become an outcast within police ranks. Briseno testified against Koon and fellow officers Laurence M. Powell and Timothy E. Wind during the first trial in Simi Valley in 1992. The videotape of that testimony was considered key to the convictions of Koon and Powell in last year's federal trial.

"Look around this courtroom at these officers," Briseno said. "Not one of them likes me. No one across the street (at police headquarters) likes me. What I'm telling these jurors is I did what I thought was right."

Briseno and Wind were acquitted in state and federal court of charges that they used excessive force in the beating of King. Koon and Powell are serving 30-month sentences for their federal convictions of violating King's civil rights.

On Monday, Powell testified that he believed the beating was warranted because King posed a threat to officers trying to subdue him after a high-speed chase. He said he thought at the time that King was under the influence of the drug PCP.

Koon was equally adamant in declaring his innocence. As he did in the earlier trial, Koon said he shot King with a Taser electric stun gun and ordered Briseno, Powell and Wind to beat and kick the suspect because he was resisting arrest.

"My belief today, as I sit here, is that this was a managed and controlled use of force that followed the (LAPD's) policy, and did so to the book," he said.

Under questioning from John Burris, one of King's attorneys, Koon refused to alter his perceptions of events that night.

Burris showed several portions of the videotape where King was lying on the roadway being beaten by Powell, but Koon insisted that King was about to attack the officer. Burris pointed to a segment where King was hit with a baton in the midsection and was wincing in pain.

Koon said he thought at the time that King was surveying the scene and preparing to attack.

In the earlier testimony, Briseno said his willingness to criticize the actions of his fellow officers at the scene had made him a pariah among police officers.

"For three years, I've put up with this and it hurts," he said "I look over at Larry and Stacey and I think, 'Is it only me that's admitted something wrong happened out there?' "

Briseno tarnished his own testimony by saying that although he believed at the time of the beating that the officers' actions were wrong, his repeated viewing of the videotaped incident had altered that view.

Attorney Michael Stone, who represents Powell, played the video of the beating in slow motion.

"You now believe (King) was resisting?" Stone asked.

"There are some points on the video, yes," Briseno responded.

"And it's permissible to use the baton to defeat active resistance?" Stone asked.

"Yes, sir," Briseno said.

Stone suggested that what is seen on the video is more accurate than what Briseno saw in person.

"Your perceptions that night were incorrect and erroneous, weren't they?" he asked.

"To some of the things, yes, sir," Briseno said.

But before he left the stand, the officer said under questioning by one of King's lawyers, Federico Sayre, that most of the video shows an unjustified beating.

"My opinion was I couldn't understand it, and I could not justify it," he said.

"Even after viewing the video, do you feel the force exerted on Mr. King was excessive?" Sayre asked.

"Yes, I do," Briseno said.

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