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THE INGLEWOOD BEATING

Racial Animus in Case Denied

Police: Inglewood chief says he is disappointed by officer's actions but urges all concerned to reserve judgment until investigations are done. Inquiry is stepped up.

July 12, 2002|JILL LEOVY and HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Five days after a videotaped beating by an Inglewood police officer sparked protest and criminal investigations, the city's police chief, Ronald Banks, publicly addressed the controversy for the first time Thursday, saying he was disappointed and concerned over the taped images but rejecting the suggestion that the incident was racially motivated.

Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn has said the officer who struck 16-year-old Donovan Jackson should be fired and prosecuted. Banks, by contrast, urged Inglewood residents and others to reserve judgment on the case until an investigation is completed.

Banks did not mention Dorn by name. But the chief, who was on vacation when the incident occurred, said any city official who voices a decision on the case too soon could jeopardize the investigation.

"For public perception, and maybe from a legal perspective, it could create a problem," he said.

The chief's news conference occurred as local and federal authorities were stepping up their efforts to confront the July 6 beating and its aftermath, and protesters were continuing to demand action. So intense was the scrutiny that Banks referred to the past few days as the "siege of the Inglewood Police Department."

Ralph Boyd, who heads the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division, flew to Los Angeles to meet privately with Inglewood officials and others, and in downtown Los Angeles a parade of witnesses appeared before the county grand jury.

One of those whose testimony was sought by that panel was Mitchell Crooks, 27, the deejay who shot the videotape of the beating that now has aired across the nation. Crooks was under subpoena to attend the grand jury hearing with his tape, but he did not appear as ordered, and instead was confronted by police outside CNN's Los Angeles studios, prosecutors said.

Crooks ran from police, they added, and he said later that he was hurt in the scuffle. He was arrested on warrants for petty theft, driving under the influence and hit-and-run, according to the district attorney's office.

The three charges stem from a sequence of events in February 1999. Sheriff's Capt. Rick Armstrong said Crooks is accused of driving under the influence on Interstate 80 in Roseville, northeast of Sacramento, when he became involved in a wreck. Armstrong said that after the accident, Crooks drove to the nearby town of Rocklin, where police caught him trying to steal two VCRs from his mother's home.

He was convicted of all three crimes in March 1999 and ordered to begin serving a seven-month sentence in Placer County Jail in May of that year. But he never showed up for the jail sentence, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

In Los Angeles County, prosecutors, who had been looking for him all of this week, responded to several tips regarding Crooks' whereabouts over the last several days, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. Investigators tailed Crooks, but were one step behind him until Thursday.

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Curt Livesay said Crooks could have avoided the arrest if he had responded to earlier requests to cooperate with investigators.

"Let's put it this way: Had we been able to secure his presence on the first day, the second day or the third day, we wouldn't have even known about the warrants," he said. "He could have been here and gone and been free today."

*

The videotape that Crooks shot has sparked angry protests and comparisons to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by several Los Angeles police officers.

In the Inglewood case, Jackson can be seen in the video as he is thrown face-down against the hood of a police car and punched in the face while handcuffed. Jackson is black. The officer shown shoving and hitting Jackson, Jeremy J. Morse, is white.

Morse was relieved of duty with pay Monday.

At his news conference, the police chief rejected comparisons between the King and Jackson incidents.

"I don't think there is a modicum of comparison between this and the Rodney King case, and I'm very familiar with the Rodney King case," said Banks, who was a deputy chief in the Los Angeles Police Department at the time of the King beating.

*

The Inglewood incident began Saturday after two county sheriff's deputies approached Jackson's father, Coby Chavis Jr., at a gas station to question him about an expired license tag on his Ford Taurus. Four Inglewood officers arrived to assist.

Sheriff's deputies and Inglewood police said they had been talking to Chavis about the tags when Jackson came toward them while eating from a bag of potato chips. Deputies and Inglewood police said the scuffle was sparked when Jackson refused to comply with police orders. Jackson's family said the boy is mentally impaired and reacts very slowly to commands.

In his report, written before the videotape was aired on television, Morse admitted hitting Jackson. The officer said he did so because Jackson, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, reached back with his right hand and squeezed the officer's crotch.

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