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Father Testifies on Beating

Inglewood: Lawyer details new allegations of youth's mistreatment at the hands of a deputy. Sheriff says he was unaware of the charges.

July 17, 2002|EVELYN LARRUBIA and STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Coby Chavis, the father of the 16-year-old beaten last week during a traffic stop in Inglewood, made new allegations Tuesday that his son had been mistreated by a sheriff's deputy as well as Inglewood police.

Through his lawyer, Milton Grimes, Chavis gave his account immediately after testifying before grand jurors investigating the case.

"Mr. Chavis just finished testifying before the grand jury, but we, I, cannot talk about his testimony" because of secrecy rules, Grimes told reporters. He then detailed what Chavis claims to have seen during the incident.

According to Chavis' account, his son had complied with a deputy's order to sit in a patrol car, then stood when Inglewood police officers arrived. In response, Sheriff's Deputy Carlos Lopez choked Donovan Jackson, Grimes said. That, in turn, incited Inglewood police officers to beat the boy, Grimes said.

A portion of the incident was caught on videotape, leading to a week of protests against alleged police misconduct in the case.

Sheriff Lee Baca said Tuesday that he was unaware of allegations of wrongdoing by any deputies. Officials could not be reached for comment on specific allegations.

Assistant Sheriff Dennis Dahlman provided the department's account to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, who asked him pointed questions about the case. Board members also criticized Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley for the arrest of the bystander who videotaped the incident.

Although sheriff's deputies do not patrol in Inglewood, the officers were passing through the city when they "found it necessary to run the plate" from Chavis' car, Dahlman said. He added that he did not know the reason for running the license plate.

While deputies were talking to Chavis, who was stopped at an Inglewood gas station, Jackson returned from buying a bag of potato chips inside the market and tried to get into his father's car.

In a report, Lopez wrote that he tried to get Jackson to stand back and ordered him to sit in his patrol car while his partner wrote Chavis a ticket. According to Lopez, Jackson did not reply or comply--a slow response which his family attributes to a hearing and speech impairment.

Dahlman said Inglewood officers arrived on the scene at that point but did not get involved until they saw Jackson bump up against Lopez. The city officers took that as a much more threatening move than Lopez did, Dahlman said.

Lopez said he "took him to the ground" and handcuffed the teenager, who struggled against him and the Inglewood officers. Inglewood police reports indicate one Inglewood officer punched Jackson twice before he was handcuffed.

The Sheriff's Department has been investigating the incident as a use of force, and interviews with deputies and witnesses so far have corroborated the written reports that deputies made about the incident, Dahlman told the Board of Supervisors.

Sheriff's investigators are searching for other witnesses through credit card receipts and license plate numbers they are attempting to glean from the gas station's surveillance tape. That tape captured the entire altercation, but is of poor quality, Dahlman said.

According to Chavis' account, he tried to go to his son after officers put Jackson on the ground. Chavis alleges officers took him to the ground, with one calling Chavis "the N-word," Grimes said.

At that point, a bystander, Mitchell Crooks began taping the scene. His video caught Inglewood officers slamming the handcuffed youth against a police car and hitting him in the face.

On Tuesday, supervisors requested weekly reports from the Sheriff's Department on the progress of the internal probe. FBI officials and the Justice Department also are investigating.

Supervisors Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Gloria Molina also criticized Cooley for the decision to arrest Crooks Thursday after he failed to appear before the grand jury with his tape.

Crooks, who was outside CNN's Los Angeles studios at the time, was arrested on an outstanding warrant from Placer County.

"It is almost as horrifying as the tape Mr. Crooks took," Molina said of television images of the cameraman being shoved into a police car. She also criticized Cooley's refusal to discuss the case with the board.

"All we have left is a tape showing his officers nearly roughing up this individual," she added.

Burke added that she was stunned that "with the world watching ... our district attorney would get himself in that kind of a position, giving L.A. County a pretty bad name."

In a letter to the board, Cooley defended his investigators, saying it would be a crime not to arrest someone sought on a warrant.

"I am completely satisfied with the conduct of the involved district attorney investigators. I am personally proud of their efforts," Cooley wrote.

In an interview, Cooley insisted Crooks created the situation by refusing to honor a subpoena to appear before the grand jury unless prosecutors got Placer County to drop pending criminal charges of petty theft and drunk driving.

Crooks is in jail in Placer County, and his lawyer did not return calls seeking comment.

Supervisors also criticized what they called the failure of the Sheriff's Department to correct systemic problems.

That failure has led to millions of dollars in lawsuits for strip searches at the county jail, improper use of force and other incidents by "bad apples," they said.

"You're worried about your budget?" asked Burke, alluding to the department's deficit, now estimated at $60 million to $100 million.

"This is your budget," she said, waving a two-inch-thick stack of papers, excessive-force lawsuits filed against the department last month alone.

*

Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this report.

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