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The Nation | COLUMN ONE

Haunting Past, Bitter Present

Timothy Wind, jobless and lonely in Indiana, can't move beyond his role in the Rodney King beating. The ex-officer remains unrepentant.

July 12, 2004|Jean-Paul Renaud | Times Staff Writer

FISHERS, Ind. — Timothy Wind has no job, no money, no friends.

His ulcers remind him daily of his one overwhelming regret: ever stepping foot in Los Angeles.

"I'm kind of tired of being me, I guess," Wind said quietly from his home in this Indianapolis suburb.

He starts his days sitting at his round, wooden kitchen table and flipping through the classifieds, hoping one day he'll meet an employer who won't ask why he left California, why he was fired from the Los Angeles Police Department, why his name rings a bell. Pointless, he tells himself.

In the last 13 years, Wind has failed to move past his role in the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney G. King. In March 1991, Wind, at the time just 10 months out of the Police Academy, was one of four Los Angeles police officers seen hitting or kicking King at the end of a car chase. Wind stood over King, striking him repeatedly with his baton and kicking him. The subsequent acquittal of Wind and the other officers of criminal charges in the case touched off the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Now, the videotaped beating of car theft suspect Stanley Miller, who was struck 11 times with a flashlight by an LAPD officer after a car chase that ended in Compton on June 23, has sparked bitter memories of the city's darkest days.

Wind, 44, watched the Miller arrest on television.

"They didn't learn the lessons of Rodney King," Wind said. "The lessons are that when you use force, when you're out there doing your job, you're being watched under a microscope. What are you doing going around whacking people?"

Wind is unrepentant about striking King. The difference between the two beatings, Wind said, was that he used a baton, which the LAPD trains officers to employ to subdue suspects, whereas the officer seen striking Miller, John J. Hatfield, used a flashlight. The Police Department does not train officers in how to wield a flashlight.

For Hatfield, the scrutiny of the last three weeks may be only the beginning, Wind said.

Ten years after the LAPD fired him for his participation in the King beating, Wind lives a lonely, sullen life caught up in the past. When he speaks, his voice carries an ever-present timbre of resignation.

Wind swears that wherever he goes someone sooner or later brings up the King case. He moved his family to Indiana four years ago, after he says he realized Los Angeles would never forget him. But even 2,000 miles away, whether at the law school he attended to pursue a new career in criminal justice or while contacting employers, he feels some still view him as a racist.

Wind maintains that he did nothing wrong in the King case because the officers considered King to be violent, and that his position was proven twice in court, both in the initial trial and in a federal civil rights trial. Wind and Officer Ted Briseno were acquitted in the federal trial while Officer Laurence Powell and Sgt. Stacey Koon were convicted of violating King's civil rights. A later civil trial ordered the city to pay King $3.8 million, but did not assess punitive damages against the officers.

One of the lingering questions for Wind is why were those other officers able to move on with their lives in one way or another while he remains haunted and paralyzed?

A crucial mistake Wind seems to be making is insisting on landing another job within law enforcement, several legal experts and activists said.

"He can sell real estate, he can get an office job, he can do a lot of things that have nothing to do with law enforcement," said Jim Kouri, vice president of the National Assn. of Chiefs of Police.

"Everyone still remembers the videotape," Kouri said of those in the law enforcement community. "Even though he was found not guilty, the fact that this person was involved in excessive use of force, no one's going to take the chance to hire him."

Milton Grimes, King's attorney during the trials, said Wind "made his bed, he has to lie in it."

"He should've been found guilty. He should've been punished as the law prescribes," Grimes said. "He's caught up in history as people sometimes are. People are going to remind you of the bad more so than the good in life."

Koon and Powell were each sentenced to 30 months in prison for their roles in the King beating. They both managed to raise funds for their defense, and Koon wrote a book arguing the beating was justified.

Briseno, who testified against the other officers and was later dismissed from the LAPD, said through his lawyer that he has been able to move on with his life. He now works as a security guard.

"He's found a niche where people will leave him alone," said his lawyer, Harland Braun.

King consumed most of his $3.8-million judgment in an attempt at starting a rap record label. He has been arrested repeatedly on charges of domestic violence, drug use and drunken driving.

Wind remains frustrated by his belief that he has not deserved the hard times he's faced over the years.

"We were right," Wind said of the King case. "We used our training."

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