In the King case, Officer Laurence M. Powell completed an arrest report and Sgt. Stacey C. Koon filled out a sergeant's log immediately after the confrontation with King and before learning that their actions had been captured on videotape. Neither of those documents noted that the vast majority of the blows to King were delivered after he was knocked from his feet and was writhing on the pavement, an omission that prosecutors powerfully exploited in the federal trial of the officers.
Confronted with the videotaped evidence, the officers' lawyers attributed such lapses to the difficulty of remembering precise details from such a violent encounter, but prosecutors maintained that they had demonstrated that the officers knew their actions were improper when they committed them.
"I would say that the reports were extremely important evidence of intent," said former Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven D. Clymer, one of the lead prosecutors in the King case and now a professor at Cornell Law School.
Although other evidence of the officers' intent also was introduced, the inconsistencies between the tape and the reports were the most powerful tool for establishing that the police knew the beating was improper, Clymer said.
To find a police officer guilty of a civil rights violation, prosecutors need to show that the officer not only used excessive force but did so intentionally. Although the question of intent is less explicit in a state assault or excessive force case, prosecutors still need to show that the accused officer willfully used more force than was necessary to arrest a suspect.
Without evidence to demonstrate the intent of Deputies Watson and Franklin, prosecutions of the two men could be more problematic, Clymer and other analysts said.
Meyer reported from Riverside and Newton from Los Angeles. Staff writers Alan Abrahamson, Bettina Boxall, Edward J. Boyer, Tony Perry, Amy Pyle, Henry Weinstein and correspondent John Cox also reported from Los Angeles.