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Policemen's Lawyer Says Tape Shows Fuller Story

Charged in a New Orleans beating, the three are 'political whipping boys,' he says.

October 13, 2005|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — The three white police officers arrested in the videotaped beating of a 64-year-old black man acted appropriately and have unfairly been turned into "political whipping boys," their lawyer said Wednesday.

"Don't convict these guys in the media," said the lawyer, Frank DeSalvo, gesturing toward the men at a news conference here. "Don't convict these guys before they've had their day in court."

The officers did not speak to reporters.

DeSalvo said that the video showed only part of Saturday's French Quarter incident and that the officers had handled the man roughly because he refused to follow instructions to put his hands behind his back. Instead he reached for his waistband, causing them to fear he would "maybe grab a weapon," De Salvo said.

The beaten man, Robert Davis, a retired schoolteacher, was unarmed. In recent days he has repeatedly told his version of the events: that an outing for cigarettes turned -- bewilderingly, he says -- into an assault by officers after he called one of them "rude and unprofessional" for interrupting his conversation with a black officer on horseback.

Davis has denied the police account that he was inebriated, insisting he has not had a drink in 25 years. Police did not administer an alcohol test on Davis either at the scene or at the hospital, where he was given six stitches during treatment for a fractured cheekbone, broken nose and black eye.

DeSalvo questioned Davis' version and warned at one point that he would "pick Mr. Davis apart" if the officers came to trial, in criminal or civil court.

"We will get to learn more about him than he knows," DeSalvo said of Davis.

DeSalvo said police union officials had watched the entire video, shot by an Associated Press Television news crew, and had "broken the thing down frame by frame."

He said the officers were trying to restrain a man who "brought it on" by his own belligerence.

In court Wednesday morning, Davis pleaded not guilty to charges of public intimidation, public intoxication, resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.

The three officers -- Lance Schilling, Robert Evangelist and S.M. Smith -- pleaded not guilty Monday to battery charges. They have been suspended without pay, a punishment DeSalvo denounced.

He said they were emblematic of a political process that had made the police force "political whipping boys" for the last 25 years.

Davis' lawyer, Joseph Bruno, said his client would probably seek civil damages in the incident. "A jury will decide an appropriate amount of compensation to make the man whole," he said.

Davis just wants to make sure "a few bad eggs" will be held accountable for their actions, his lawyer said. "My client is desperately trying to spin this the right way," Bruno said. "He is not out to ruin the New Orleans Police Department."

DeSalvo, however, said news coverage of the incident was overshadowing the bravery and heroism his clients and hundreds of other officers had shown after Katrina.

"They kept this city alive," DeSalvo said.

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