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2 Policemen Indicted in Boy's Beating

Courts: Grand jury charges one Inglewood officer with assault under color of authority and the other with filing a false report. They likely will surrender today.

July 18, 2002|BETH SHUSTER and ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Los Angeles County Grand Jury indicted two Inglewood police officers Wednesday on felony charges in the videotaped beating of a 16-year-old boy who was handcuffed, then slammed onto the trunk of a patrol car and punched in the face, according to officials and others close to the case.

Officer Jeremy Morse, who can be seen on the videotape striking the boy, was charged with assault under the color of authority; Officer Bijan Darvish, his partner, was charged with filing a false police report, sources said. The indictment will be unsealed today, they added, and the officers are expected to surrender and be arraigned in court.

County prosecutors took the case to the grand jury within days of the videotape's first airing July 7. They finished presenting testimony late Wednesday morning, and the grand jurors handed up the indictments about 3:30 p.m. to Supervising Criminal Judge Dan Oki, sources said.

Attorneys for both Darvish and Morse were contacted Wednesday afternoon and told that their clients must appear in court at 11 a.m. today or arrest warrants will be executed. Morse's attorney, John Barnett, said Wednesday afternoon that he had not seen the indictment but will be in court with his client today.

Barnett added that he would review the indictment and might ask for the arraignment to be postponed. Ultimately, he said, his client will plead not guilty. "We are confident that an unbiased jury will determine that he used an appropriate level of force, and he is not guilty of any crime," he said.

Wednesday's vote by the grand jury concluded a six-day inquiry into the Inglewood case. The grand jury heard testimony from 11 witnesses, sources said. They included beaten youth Donovan Jackson and his father, Coby Chavis; the two county sheriff's deputies involved, Carlos Lopez and Daniel Leon; as well as other Inglewood police officers. Morse did not testify.

Criminal grand jury proceedings are conducted secretly, with only the jurors, prosecutors and a court reporter present. By obtaining grand jury indictments, prosecutors avoid a preliminary hearing, a proceeding at which witnesses can be cross-examined by the defense.

If convicted, Morse and Darvish each could face up to three years in state prison. The bail for both officers will probably be set at $25,000.

The incident, which occurred July 6, began when the two sheriff's deputies approached Chavis at an Inglewood gas station to investigate expired registration tags on his car, according to accounts provided by the Sheriff's Department, Inglewood police and others.

Jackson came out of the station market and ignored orders by one of the deputies, the Sheriff's Department report said. Patrolling Inglewood police arrived to assist, and a struggle ensued. Jackson was struck in the face twice by Darvish before being handcuffed, according to the Inglewood police report.

Relatives of the boy have said he is developmentally disabled and does not fully process commands.

When the videotape of the incident begins, Jackson is lying on the pavement, already in handcuffs. At that point, Morse, who is white, lifts Jackson, who is black, off the ground and slams him into the police car. Morse is then seen punching the boy in the face--a response, he said in the police report and to others, to Jackson grabbing his testicles.

The treatment of the boy attracted nationwide attention, drawing comparisons to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. That case went to trial in state court, and after the officers involved were acquitted, Los Angeles was plunged into riots that ended with dozens dead and more than $1 billion in property damage.

In the Inglewood case, U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft sent his top civil rights lawyer to Southern California last week to investigate; the FBI has indicated that it would look into the beating, and both the Inglewood police and the Sheriff's Department are conducting internal investigations. A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of the boy and his father.

While those investigations moved forward, Morse was placed on paid administrative leave; the other officers remain at work but have been assigned to desk duty. The two sheriff's deputies are still at work, and department officials have said they do not believe they engaged in any wrongdoing.

Inglewood City Administrator Joseph T. Rouzan Jr. said that the Police Department's internal affairs investigation is nearly complete and that he expects to decide whether to fire or discipline the officers within 14 days.

"We've just about completed the interviews of everyone except Mr. Morse," he said Wednesday. "Sometime next week I'll have the chief's recommendation.

"If you go by information you have here, you have a very serious offense that requires very serious consideration based on what is known," said the former Inglewood and Compton police chief of the taped incident.

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