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For Cops, a Whiff From '91

July 09, 2002

Videotape of a white Inglewood cop slamming a handcuffed developmentally handicapped black teenager onto a squad car, then throwing a hard punch to his face, may not be "Rodney King, the Sequel." But as CNN and other networks endlessly replay that scene, captured at a gas station three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport, Americans will watch and wonder whether L.A. has learned anything in the decade since that night in March 1991.

The answer is yes.

A decade back--as the Christopher Commission would later confirm--cops often dished out street justice and stuck together when a roughed-up citizen complained.

In this case, commanders and police experts who have seen the newscasts are breaking ranks to declare emphatically that clobbering a handcuffed suspect is as indefensible as it is illegal. The Inglewood Police Department already has suspended the officer shown striking the 16-year-old, Donovan Jackson.

After the King beating, then-Chief Daryl F. Gates reacted slowly and defensively, dismissing the videotaped assault as an aberration. This time, the Inglewood department, the Los Angeles County district attorney, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and the FBI were quick to launch parallel investigations to determine whether the action captured on the video was the textbook case of excessive force it appeared to be.

The Sheriff's Department is investigating because of the involvement of deputies, who approached the teenager's father at the service station after seeing that his license plate was expired. Inglewood officers arrived as backup.

Sheriff Lee Baca has no tolerance for police brutality. He has a cadre of civil rights lawyers running clean investigations of excessive-force allegations. The lawyers, unlike cops who work in Internal Affairs, have nothing to lose professionally by finding the truth. They'll never return to patrol with officers who consider them snitches. Baca's department is creating a model that other law enforcement agencies should copy.

The Inglewood Police Department, meanwhile, should look at improving officer training as the investigators determine what happened Saturday and decide what further discipline, if any, is warranted.

Authorities say the teenager assaulted an officer. Indeed, at least one cop is seen bleeding in the TV news footage. But it's the rare police officer who doesn't understand by now that there is no justification for beating a restrained suspect. We're confident that the Los Angeles law enforcement community will demonstrate that it has lost all tolerance for anyone who forgets.

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