1991

How structural violence is seen, represented and recorded for the public record, matters to questions of responsibility, ethics and law across the personal, the political and the juridical. The emergence of what might be described as the direct public gaze of the citizen generated document in the context of racist police violence began in 1991 with the amateur video tape recording of the police beating of Rodney King, the first time police brutality was documented by a member of the public and made public as both testimony and evidence.

THE TAPE

Description excerpted from 1996 Supreme Court decision in Koon v. United States written by Justice Anthony Kennedy

On the evening of March 2, 1991, Rodney King and two of his friends sat in King's wife's car in Altadena, California, a city in Los Angeles County, and drank malt liquor for a number of hours. Then, with King driving, they left Altadena via a major freeway. King was intoxicated. California Highway Patrol officers observed King's car traveling at a speed they estimated to be in excess of 100 m.p. h. The officers followed King with red lights and sirens activated and ordered him by loudspeaker to pull over, but he continued to drive. The Highway Patrol officers called on the radio for help. Units of the Los Angeles Police Department joined in the pursuit, one of them manned by petitioner Laurence Powell and his trainee, Timothy Wind.

King left the freeway, and after a chase of about eight miles, stopped at an entrance to a recreation area. The officers ordered King and his two passengers to exit the car and to assume a felony prone position -- that is, to lie on their stomachs with legs spread and arms behind their backs. King's two friends complied. King, too, got out of the car but did not lie down. Petitioner Stacey Koon arrived, at once followed by Ted Briseno and Roland Solano. All were officers of the Los Angeles Police Department, and as sergeant, Koon took charge. The officers again ordered King to assume the felony prone position. King got on his hands and knees but did not lie down. Officers Powell, Wind, Briseno and Solano tried to force King down, but King resisted and became combative, so the officers retreated. Koon then fired taser darts (designed to stun a combative suspect) into King.

The events that occurred next were captured on videotape by a bystander. As the videotape begins, it shows that King rose from the ground and charged toward Officer Powell. Powell took a step and used his baton to strike King on the side of his head. King fell to the ground. From the 18th to the 30th second on the videotape, King attempted to rise, but Powell and Wind each struck him with their batons to prevent him from doing so. From the 35th to the 51st second, Powell administered repeated blows to King's lower extremities; one of the blows fractured King's leg. At the 55th second, Powell struck King on the chest, and King rolled over and lay prone. At that point, the officers stepped back and observed King for about 10 seconds. Powell began to reach for his handcuffs. (At the sentencing phase, the District Court found that Powell no longer perceived King to be a threat at this point.)

At one-minute-five-seconds (1:05) on the videotape, Briseno, in the District Court's words, "stomped" on King's upper back or neck. King's body writhed in response. At 1:07, Powell and Wind again began to strike King with a series of baton blows, and Wind kicked him in the upper thoracic or cervical area six times until 1:26. At about 1:29, King put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed. Where the baton blows fell and the intentions of King and the officers at various points were contested at trial…

Powell radioed for an ambulance. He sent two messages over a communications network to the other officers that said "'ooops'" and "'I havent [sic] beaten anyone this bad in a long time.'". Koon sent a message to the police station that said: "'Unit just had a big time use of force. . . . Tased and beat the suspect of CHP pursuit big time.'"

King was taken to a hospital where he was treated for a fractured leg, multiple facial fractures, and numerous bruises and contusions. Learning that King worked at Dodger Stadium, Powell said to King: "'We played a little ball tonight, didn't we Rodney? . . . You know, we played a little ball, we played a little hardball tonight, we hit quite a few home runs. . . . Yes, we played a little ball and you lost and we won.'"

George Holliday took his tape of the event to Los Angeles television station KTLA. News producers at KTLA ran it on the evening news. CNN picked up the tape the next day. A poll taken in Los Angeles after the tape had been running showed that 92% of those polled believed that excessive force was used against Rodney King. Within 4 days of the screening Chief Gates announced that the officers would be prosecuted.

THE TRIAL

RodneyKingTrial_policeCharged.jpg

Four officers were charged with excessive use of force. A year later, on April 29, 1992, a jury consisting of 12 residents from the distant suburbs of Ventura County — nine white, one Latino, one biracial, one Asian — found the four officers not guilty. The following are excerpts from testimony at the trial.

Timothy Singer

Cross-examination:

MICHAEL STONE: Where did Mr. Powell strike Mr. King with the baton?

OFFICER TIM SINGER: The right side of his head above the ear.

STONE: What happened then?

OFFICER TIM SINGER: Mr. King continued towards me and ah Office Powell delivered another blow. The thought came through mind, "How can he do this?"

STONE: When you mean "he," who are you referring to?

OFFICER TIM SINGER: Officer Powell.

STONE: And what was Mr. Powell doing that you are referring to?

OFFICER TIM SINGER: Striking Mr. King in the head.

STONE: And what was it about this what did you think about this?

OFFICER TIM SINGER: Well I knew it was against CHP policy to strike someone in the head and it could, results be could be deadly. So I just knew it was wrong so that’s exactly what went through my mind: "How can he be doing this?"

Stacey Koon

Direct examination:

DARRYL MOUNGER: And you said you observed him [Rodney King] to be buffed out. Would you please describe to the jury what buffed out means to you?

WITNESS KOON: Buffed out is jargon that I have come to associate with very muscular, in other words an individual that is very pumped up as far as muscles.

MOUNGER: And does that have some significance to you?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, it does.

MOUNGER: And what is that significance?

JUDGE WEISBURG: Rephrase that question regarding …

MOUNGER: Buffed up…

JUDGE WEISBURG: At the time.

MOUNGER: Yes, your Honor. With regard to your state of mind, what were you thinking when you saw this buffed up person.

WITNESS KOON: My initial response is that he is probably an ex-con. CHP Officer Melanie Singer began approaching the suspect with a gun in hand.

MOUNGER: And how close does she get to Mr. King.

WITNESS KOON: I’d approximate about from the distance from you to the edge of the jury box, about 5 or 6 feet.

MOUNGER: And did you say anything to Officer Singer?

WITNESS KOON: Yes sir, I did.

MOUNGER: And what was that?

WITNESS KOON: I ordered her to stay back.

MOUNGER: And why was that sir?

WITNESS KOON: Because she was injecting a gun into the situation and my tactical training had lead me to believe that you don’t approach suspects and do not control them a gun.....

WITNESS KOON: The next thing I saw was Officer Powell is thrown off of Mr. King and Officer Briseno is struggling to get away.

MOUNGER: Alright, when you say thrown off, can you describe for the jury what you mean by thrown off, what position he was in?

WITNESS KOON: Well Mr. King’s left arm was behind him and Officer Powell was on his back and Officer Briseno was trying to force the arm up to meet so the wrist would match behind the cuff and all of a sudden Mr. King’s arm just came out from him and they swayed to the left and swayed to the right and Officer Powell was thrown off and Office Briseno kinda of landed on his bee hind. I ordered them to back off and then I tased the suspect, Mr. King.

MOUNGER: Alright, did you say anything to him before you tased him?

WITNESS KOON: Yes sir, I did.

MOUNGER: What did you say to him?

WITNESS KOON: He was on the rise and I ordered him to get down, to lay down.

MOUNGER: Alright, alright, tell the jury what you mean by on the rise sir.

WITNESS KOON: He had initially gone out flat and after the rolling motion he had kinda come up to his left side and his torso was off the ground and his legs were cocked and he was attempting in my opinion to rise off the ground.

MOUNGER: And did you say anything to him?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, I told him, I ordered him to lay down, to get down.

MOUNGER: And did you say this in a normal tone?

WITNESS KOON: No, I shouted it at him, I advised him or told him that if he didn’t get down I was gonna tase him.

MOUNGER: Alright, and did he stay down?

WITNESS KOON: No, he did not.

MOUNGER: What did he do?

WITNESS KOON: He continued to rise.

MOUNGER: And what did you do?

WITNESS KOON: I tased him.

MOUNGER: Did you see any physical movements of Mr. King?

WITNESS KOON: No, he grimaced, he kinda gave out like a bear like yell.

MOUNGER: And what did he do then?

WITNESS KOON: He continued to rise. He got up to his knees and he began to turn 180 degrees toward me then.

MOUNGER: And what happen then?

WITNESS KOON: I ordered him again to lay down, to get down.

MOUNGER: And what did he do?

WITNESS KOON: He continued to rise. He came up, he continued to rise to his feet and I tased him a second time.

MOUNGER: And what did he do after you tased him a second time?

WITNESS KOON: He repeated this ah this ah groan similar to like a wounded animal and then he ah I could see the vibrations on him but he seem to be overcoming it.....

WITNESS KOON: This time I thought the suspect was under the influence of PCP. PCP is a dangerous drug, it’s a kinda like a policeman’s nightmare that the individual that’s under this is super strong ah they have more or less a one track mind they exhibit super strength, they equate it with a monster is what they equate it with.....

MOUNGER: You see the officers [on the videotape, being shown in the courtroom] giving a tort of blows to his body.

WITNESS KOON: Yes, to his arms, to his torso, to his legs.

MOUNGER: Alright, have you given any specific direction to Mr. King at this time?

WITNESS KOON: I’ve been yelling at him to get down, to stay down at this time.

MOUNGER: Alright, and has he gotten down sir?

WITNESS KOON: No, sir he continues to rise.

MOUNGER: And what are you thinking now sir?

WITNESS KOON: I’m getting ah concerned, scared; I’m getting a little frighten here now because this gentlemen has just be subjected to a multitude of blows with a metal PR24 and there is no evidence that he is going to go into compliance mode....

MOUNGER: Sgt. Koon at this point and time does this incident has just gone on for several seconds is that correct?

WITNESS KOON: It, it does seem like eternity, but it has gone on several seconds, yes.

MOUNGER: Alright, and Mr. King has been hit several times?

WITNESS KOON: He’s been hit a lot of times.

MOUNGER: And at this point do you believe he is trying to get up?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, I do.

MOUNGER: And what did you think he was trying to get up to do?

WITNESS KOON: That he was going to get up and arm himself and possibly attack Officer Winn here in the background, Officer Powell, Office Briseno.

MOUNGER: During this entire incident, do you believe you were in charge of your officers?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, I was in charge of my officers.

MOUNGER: Do you believe your officers did anything improper?

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Objection, irrelevant.

JUDGE WEISBURG: Overruled, you can answer the question.

WITNESS KOON: This was a managed and controlled use of force. It followed the policy and procedures of the Las Angeles Police Department and the training.

MOUNGER: How do you view looking at this videotape sir?

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Objection, irrelevant.

JUDGE WEISBURG: Overruled, you can answer the question.

WITNESS KOON: It’s violent and it’s brutal.

MOUNGER: Was this anything that you enjoyed?

WITNESS KOON: No.

MOUNGER: Why was it done?

WITNESS KOON: It was done to control an aggressive combative suspect and sometimes police work is brutal. That’s just a fact of life.

MOUNGER: Your honor, I have no further questions.

JUDGE WIESBURG: Mr. Stone?

STONE: I have no questions.

JUDGE WIESBURG: Mr. Depasquel?

DEPASQUEL: No, questions your Honor.

Cross-examination:

PROSECUTOR ALAN YOCHELSON: So you felt you were responsible for directing the actions of all the officers at the scene, is that right?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, sir.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: And therefore you would have responsibility for the actions of the officers at the scene, is that correct?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, sir.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: And when you gave directions to the Los Angeles police officers there, you take responsibility for all of their actions, correct?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, sir I take accountability and responsibility for all the actions.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: Those that were within the law and those without that are outside the law.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY MOUNGER: Objection, assumes facts not in evidence.

JUDGE WEISBURG: It’s argumentative, objection sustained.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: When is deadly force authorized by the Los Angeles Police Department?

WITNESS KOON: I’m not sure what you mean by when it’s authorized.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: When can you shoot somebody under LAPD policy?

WITNESS KOON: When they are an eminent threat to you.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: What kind of threat?

WITNESS KOON: Deadly threat to you. They have to pose a deadly threat to you.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: In other words they have to be in a position to kill you?

WITNESS KOON: That’s correct sir.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: And what was Mr. King doing here that lead you believe that he was going to kill you or kill somebody?

WITNESS KOON: It was my belief and my perception that he was under the influence of PCP. If he had grabbed my officer it would have been a death grip. If he had grabbed the weapon, he would have had numerous targets.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: He didn’t grab anybody during these events did he?

WITNESS KOON: No, sir he did not.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: He didn’t kick anybody during these events did he?

WITNESS KOON: No, sir he did not.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: Is it your testimony that you were approaching the point where deadly force was going to be required?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, sir it is.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: And your option would have been to shoot him?

WITNESS KOON: To kill or to shoot sir.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: But because of what you have just spoken about with respect to the choke hold your only option left would have been to shoot him, is that right?

WITNESS KOON: Yes, sir I personally, I personally would have applied a choke hold to Mr. King prior to ordering him to be shot.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: So you have gone in and used this choke hold, is that right?

WITNESS KOON: I personally, I would not have delegated that to any officer....

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: Is it your testimony that every one of these blows depicted on this videotape a justified use of force within the meaning of the policy of the Los Angeles Police Department?

WITNESS KOON: I can’t honestly say I saw every one of those blows that was on the videotape.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: In watching the videotape now is it your testimony that every one of the blows that you see on there is a justified use of force.

WITNESS KOON: It’s a reasonable and necessary using the minimum force, yes, sir that is my testimony.

PROSECUTOR YOCHELSON: In all your years of experience Sergeant have you ever seen a worst beating applied by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department?

WITNESS KOON: I’ve seen uses of forces of considerable violence, but I have not seen anything as violent as this in my 14½ years, no sir....

 

Charles Duke (use-of-force expert)

Direct examination:

DARRYL MOUNGER: What did Mr. King do based upon your perceptions?

WITNESS DUKE: Mr. King came from an out stretched prone position ah…raised up and turned and ah…appeared to run or charge at an officer.

MOUNGER: Alright sir, and in this particular set of circumstances is a baton an appropriate weapon to use to stop that advance or escape?

WITNESS DUKE: Yes it is.

MOUNGER: When he is in this position here, at 3:36:19, would it be appropriate to hit Mr. King with a baton?

WITNESS DUKE: He is in a rising position. He has this leg is cocked, he’s up on his knees, or up on his elbows in a rising position.

MOUNGER: Alright so you are saying based upon all that has happened up to date with regard to this scenario, you think it would be appropriate to hit him?

WITNESS DUKE: Yes I do because once an officer’s attacked to allow the suspect to rise to his feet you allow the potential for esc…escalating the situation into a deadly force mode. The suspect has his hand ah…in a flat, the hand portion of the hand is flat on the ground ah… the arm appears to be cocked this ah…leg which would be his left leg appears to be bent coming up in a position in a…ah…is in a rock what appears to be a rocking position because of the bent leg here and the arm flat on the ground in a pushing position.

MOUNGER: Assuming that an individual perceived him to be attempting to rise would it be appropriate within the policy and procedure to strike that individual?

WITNESS DUKE: Yes it would.

Cross-examination:

PROSECUTOR TERRY WHITE: Sgt. Duke when you first saw this videotape you were shocked by what you saw, weren’t you?

WITNESS DUKE: I wasn’t shocked, no.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Um…when you first saw this videotape did you believe that ah…it possibly contained excessive force by these officers?

WITNESS DUKE: I never form an opinion until I get all the facts.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Sgt. Duke, when you first looked at this videotape did you possibly believe that is contained excessive force? Yes or no.

WITNESS DUKE: I’d have to say no.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Stopping the video at 3:51:02 Mr. King is again on his knees, his upper body raised off the ground, is that correct?

WITNESS DUKE: That’s correct.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright, now is this particular sequence that we just seen from the point and time where it was started to now where it stopped at 3:51:02 um…have you seen Mr. King swing at anyone?

WITNESS DUKE: No I haven’t.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: ah…Have you seen him punch at anyone?

WITNESS DUKE: No, I haven’t.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Okay, his only movement is up to raising off the ground is that correct?

WITNESS DUKE: right on the spectrum of the first uh…incident that you refer to he is in that spectrum of uh…aggression.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Which would again allow the continued use of baton.

WITNESS DUKE: That’s correct.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: This is still an aggressive position in your mind, is that correct?

WITNESS DUKE: Yes, according to your spectrum it is yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Well according to his perception it is an aggressive position?

WITNESS DUKE: Yes on a guide of your perspective..spec…spectrum, yes it’s both.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright, still aggressive enough in your mind to justify the continued use of this deadly weapon.

WITNESS DUKE: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: What movement have you seen by Mr. King ah…at this time.

WITNESS DUKE: He had his uh… knee in a cocked position and the baton blows struck and it straighten it out.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: The baton blows straighten out his leg?

WITNESS DUKE: It caused it…him to move his legs straight in a straight position.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: What do you think it caused it move into that straight position from pain?

WITNESS DUKE: I don’t know.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Does Mr. King need to be unconscious for you to say he is not aggressive?

WITNESS DUKE: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright....

Laurence Powell

Direct examination:

POWELL: ....I looked in to see how many occupants there were [in King's car] and could count three and saw the driver and the passenger looking back at us at one point.

STONE: Alright, when you say looking back were they continuously looking back?

POWELL: At different times, it wasn’t all three turned their heads at the same time but the passenger looked back. I saw the drive look back at a time, saw the passenger look back another time and the driver. All their heads were bobbing like little dolls. That indicated to me that they knew we were there that the police were behind them with lights and siren going....

POWELL: I saw the blank stare [of Rodney King], the slow stiff movements and he wasn’t complying with the verbal commands and I could see sweat glistening on his face.

STONE: Did his conduct concern…did his conduct figure into your evaluation?

POWELL: Yes it did.

STONE: In what way?

POWELL: I was it was I was scared that this guy was under PCP.

STONE: In your mind was it safe to approach him at that point?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Why? Why did you approach him at that point?

POWELL: Sgt. Koon told me to. I walked up to the left side of Mr. King and reached down and grabbed his left wrist and placed my right hand behind just behind his neck on his back and tried to pull the arm out from underneath him.

STONE: What was your reason for doing that?

POWELL: I wanted him to be lying on the ground so I could handcuff him. Mr. King took his arms and broke free of my grasp and the other officers’ grasp put him down on the ground in a push up position raised up his torso and knocked me off and I fell backwards and landed on my rear.

STONE: When this happened did that concern you?

POWELL: Yes.

STONE: Why?

POWELL: Well, he…I had all my body weight on top of this guy and in a matter of second he had done a push-up and had knocked me off and wasn’t complying with the handcuff and he was resisting his fighting.

STONE: As you were, were shhh strug…struggling or tugging on his arms were you assessing anything?

POWELL: Yes, he the great strength and resistance in his arms and you can feel that. I could feel it and I could see I he had very powerful arms this was a big man.

STONE: Alright. Was there ever a time when you stood facing Mr. Baton, Mr. ugh King ugh both of you on your feet where he is failing his arms and your swinging a baton in a forward and reverse power stroke at his shoulders?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Was there ever a time when you were in those same relative positions and you swung your baton in forward and reverse power strokes and struck Mr. King in the jaw or face?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Tell the jury what you remember about that charge.

POWELL: Just remember, I just real fast…I had no time to react it was practical a head on collision where I had to step aside, and I had my baton out but I wasn’t able to swing it and get in the swing.

STONE: Let’s stop there now. When you… what you say was almost a head on collision was… describe for the jury--uhh--in more detail which direction Mr. King was was coming toward you if that was the case and how you were facing him if you were?

POWELL: Yes, he was coming straight towards me and I was facing directly at him.

STONE: Alright. And what was the position of his arms?

POWELL: His arms were up in a manner like this about shoulder height with his hand out.

STONE: You’ve described um his arms extending out from his body his hands open?

POWELL: Right.

STONE: And as he came toward you was he moving slowly or fast?

POWELL: Very quickly.

STONE: And tell the jury what you did in response to that?

POWELL: I…I didn’t have time to react I was starting to swing but it was more like ugh…ugh check swing when he collided into me.

STONE: After the collision did Mr. King continue to go in the direction that he was going?

POWELL: Yes.

STONE: And were you able to watch him?

POWELL: Yes.

STONE: And just describe what you saw.

POWELL: Saw it was his like a ray gall it’s no muscles just everything quit in his face just went in a straight ugh crashing position and landed on his his face.

STONE: What did you see next?

POWELL: I saw his head bounce back up and then his arms came in underneath him and he went into an push up position again raising his torso off the ground and bring his legs in.

STONE: And… what did you do then?

POWELL: I hit him with the power stroke on his right arm and yelled at him to get down on the ground.

STONE: Now, why did you do that?

POWELL: Because I didn’t want him to get back up again.

STONE: Why not?

POWELL: Because he’s a danger he charged me once he attacked me twice I’ve already been attacked and he’s getting up again.

STONE: Did you strike Mr. King for the purpose of punishing him?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Did you strike Mr. King for the purpose of hurting him?

POWELL: No… not for the purpose of hurting him.

STONE: Alright… ugh did you strike Mr. King in anger?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Describe your mental state at the time you were striking him.

POWELL: I was completely in fear for my life scared to death that if this guy got back up he was gonna take my gun away from me or there was gonna be a shooting and I was doing everything I could to keep him down on the ground.

COMMENTATOR: Powell denies the prosecution claim that he taunted Rodney King in the emergency room.

STONE: Let me ask this. Did you yourself say anything about hitting home runs?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Did you hear or say anything about playing baseball?

POWELL: No.

STONE: About hardball?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Did you have any conversations like that at all with Mr. King?

POWELL: Just the actual comment.

STONE: So the answer is?

POWELL: No.

STONE: Did you have any conversations with any other officer in that immediate area about any of those things that I have mentioned?

POWELL: No.

Cross-examination:

PROSECUTOR TERRY WHITE: When you type something into the MBT um…do you think about it before you type it?

POWELL: Usually, yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright, usually you think about what you want to type and then you type the word in, is that correct?

STONE: That’s correct.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Your fingers don’t just go over that keyboard or the typing board involuntarily do they?

POWELL: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Your mind works before your fingers start working, is that correct?

POWELL: Yes....

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You replied to her, "Sounds almost as exciting as our last call. It was right out of "Gorillas in the Mist." And she replied, "Hahaha. Let me guess who be the parties," you remember that don’t you?

POWELL: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright, and then you type in a message to her about trying to get through the night and that you were off for six days and it was time for serious bike riding, then she typed in good guess, didn’t she?

POWELL: I believe so.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Now this incident that you are referring to, this last call "right out of Gorillas in the Mist"--it involved a family of African Americans didn’t it?

POWELL: Yes, it did.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: And in your description of these individuals you called them gorillas didn’t you?

POWELL: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Okay, now this call that involved these African Americans was it in a jungle?

POWELL: In a what?

PROSECUTOR WHITE: A jungle.

POWELL: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Was it at the zoo?

POWELL: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Were there any gorillas around?

POWELL: I didn’t see any.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: um…This movie…this is a movie Gorillas in the Mist, is that correct?

POWELL: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: ah…Was there any wildlife around at all during this call?

POWELL: Not that I saw.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Other than just these individuals who were African Americans, is that correct?

POWELL: No, I wouldn’t call them wildlife.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: But you referred to that call as right out of Gorillas in the Mist.

POWELL: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: There were no gorillas there were there?

POWELL: No, I didn’t see any.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Was that movie playing on their TV when you were there?

POWELL: I didn’t go inside their house.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Okay…did you see anything regarding Gorillas in the Mist while you were at that location?

POWELL: Did I see anything?

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Yes.

POWELL: No....

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Officer Powell, you used excessive force when you beat Rodney King, didn’t you?

POWELL: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Office Powell, you used inappropriate conduct in that incident with Rodney King, didn’t you?

POWELL: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Why did you tell Corina Smith, "I haven’t beaten anyone this bad in a long time"?

POWELL: That’s common police jargon when you talk from policeman to policeman, kind of a professional jargon.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Professional jargon?

POWELL: Yeah.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: So you go up to someone and say, "How many people did you beat today"?

POWELL: I don’t do that, no.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: But you did it here?

POWELL: No, I didn’t do that.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Well you used the word "beaten."

POWELL: Yes, I did use the word "beaten."

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Well "beat" and "beaten," the same thing isn’t it?

POWELL: What do you mean the same thing?

PROSECUTOR WHITE: The same word.

POWELL: No, form of the same word, sure.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright, and that’s professional police jargon in your mind?

POWELL: No, it’s jargon used in the police profession.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright, at any time during this evening did it go through your mind that this was not a human being that you were beating?

POWELL: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Alright, um…Mr. King is a human being, right?

POWELL: Yes, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: He should be treated like a human being?

POWELL: Yes, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: All right, even though he is a suspect and even though he is suspected of committing a crime, this… this man is still a human being isn’t he?

POWELL: Yes, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: He…he deserved to be treated like a human being, didn’t he?

POWELL: Yes, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: All right, he wasn’t an animal was he?

POWELL: No, sir. Just acting like one.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: He wasn’t…he wasn’t. He was just acting like one? Was he acting like a gorilla?

POWELL: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: But he was acting like one because of the sounds he was making?

POWELL: No, sir, because of his uncontrollable behavior.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You allowed this man who you considered a threat to get up off the ground and move toward you, didn’t you?

POWELL: I didn’t allow him, he did that.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You allowed him to get up didn’t you?

POWELL: I had no control, he did it.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Were you standing near him when he started to get up?

POWELL: Not close enough to stop him.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Not close enough to stop him.

POWELL: That’s correct.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Were your feet frozen?

POWELL: Were my feet frozen? Oh no, wasn’t that close.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Were your feet cemented in the ground?

POWELL: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You could have, as he moved, as he attempted to get up you could have moved toward him couldn’t you?

POWELL: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You could have moved toward him and struck him to keep him on the ground>

POWELL: Not in this situation I couldn’t have. I didn’t have time.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Officer Powell, you wanted him to get up, didn’t you?

POWELL: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You wanted him to move toward you, didn’t you.

POWELL: No, that’s not what I wanted.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You wanted to hit him in the head with the baton, didn’t you?

POWELL: No, sir....

Theodore Briseno

Direct examination:

JOHN BARNETT: Officer Briseno, how old are you?

WITNESS BRISENO: Thirty-nine.

BARNETT: And on March 3, 1991, what was your occupation?

WITNESS BRISENO: Los Angeles police officer.

BARNETT: As of that date, how long had you been a Los Angeles police officer?

WITNESS BRISENO: Nine years.....

WITNESS BRISENO: Mr. King came up into a kneeling position, like this, hitting me in the chest and causing me to fall, landing in like a backwards crab position I would call it.

BARNETT: Indicating you… when you gave that description you moved both of your arms straight back and behind you.

WITNESS BRISENO: Straight back.

BARNETT: All right, and so you lost control of Mr. King at that point?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes, sir. I thought Mr. King was under the influence of a…probably PCP.

BARNETT: And was that…what was that based on?

WITNESS BRISENO: From when I saw him get out of the car, from his walk, his stare when I grabbed a hold of him he was sweaty and the fact that he had been shot by a taser and didn’t go down....

BARNETT: Now you saw pop forward and reverse strokes, did you see the area where um…these baton blows were striking?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

BARNETT: And where was that?

WITNESS BRISENO: It appeared to be from the shoulder up.

BARNETT: All right. Now at that point what were you thinking? At the point where these power and reverse strokes were being delivered, what were you thinking?

WITNESS BRISENO: I was thinking that they…he was delivering them to the head.

BARNETT: Can you say for certain whether or not the baton hit the head or was it…

WITNESS BRISENO: No.

BARNETT: Sir?

WITNESS BRISENO: No, sir.

BARNETT: In your mind was it in the area of the head?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes, sir.

BARNETT: And I going to stop at 3:40:23. Do you see yourself in that file…picture?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

BARNETT: And where are you?

WITNESS BRISENO: Four and five from D to H.

BARNETT: All right, and what are you doing?

WITNESS BRISENO: This is what, stopping Officer Powell.

BARNETT: All right, are you stopping Officer Powell wha…why are stopping Officer Powell?

WITNESS BRISENO: Because what I recall is that I didn’t see Mr. King moving and I thought Officer Powell…Officer Powell was out of control then.

BARNETT: So what are you trying to do?

WITNESS BRISENO: Stop Officer Powell. Like I was telling you I just…I didn’t understand what was going on out there. I just didn’t understand it. It didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t see why they were doing what they were doing.

BARNETT: What do you mean doing what they were doing?

WITNESS BRISENO: It was like he moved, they hit him. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand… I was trying to look at in view what they were looking at and I couldn’t see it. I thought, you know, I understood a lot of things that night but I’m thinking evidently they saw something I didn’t see....

BARNETT: I stopped it [the Halliday videotape] right at 4:28:18. Now is this when you have contact with Mr. King?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes, sir.

BARNETT: And where is that contact?

WITNESS BRISENO: It would be…

BARNETT: Tell me from that evening. …on his ...body

WITNESS BRISENO: On that evening it was on his left shoulder.

BARNETT: All right, now are you trying…trying to hurt Mr. King at all?

WITNESS BRISENO: No, sir.

BARNETT: Are you trying to punish him in any way?

WITNESS BRISENO: No, sir.

BARNETT: Have you um…what do you hope to accomplish by putting your foot in that position?

WITNESS BRISENO: Well, I’m hoping he’s going to stop and the officers will back away.

BARNETT: You’re hoping that Mr. King is going to stop moving completely?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes, sir.

BARNETT: And then you will be between Mr. King and the officers?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes, sir.

BARNETT: And then what are you going to do?

WITNESS BRISENO: Drop down and hopefully I could cuff him.

BARNETT: Could you describe what your mental state was at that time?

WITNESS BRISENO: I was very angry, very upset, very frustrated.

BARNETT: Well why were you angry and frustrated and upset?

WITNESS BRISENO: Of the incident that I just saw.

BARNETT: Well, what did you tell your probationer?

WITNESS BRISENO: Well I was taking my anger and my frustrations out of my probationer because I was upset with Sergeant.

BARNETT: All right, well, what did you say?

WITNESS BRISENO: I recall telling him that I was upset with the situation…

BARNETT: Tell the jury what you said to him.

WITNESS BRISENO: I told my probationer that I was upset with the Sergeant…that God damn Sarg should of handle this lot different, should of handled it a lot better and that the officers should have their asses reamed.

Cross-examination:

PROSECUTOR TERRY WHITE: While Mr. King was on the ground did you see any movements that you would describe at threatening…to Officer Powell?

WITNESS BRISENO: Which time?

PROSECUTOR WHITE: During these second series of baton blows.

WITNESS BRISENO: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Did you see any movements by Mr. King that could be defined as aggressive?

WITNESS BRISENO: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Did you see any movements by Mr. King that could be defined as combative?

WITNESS BRISENO: No, sir.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Now eventually you put your hand on the a…baton of Officer Powell is that correct?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: And you pointed out that movement in the video earlier for your council, is that correct?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Now when you made that movement, why did you do that?

WITNESS BRISENO: I wanted him to stop…Officer Powell to stop.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You wanted him to stop what?

WITNESS BRISENO: Striking Mr. King.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Why did you want him to stop striking Mr. King?

WITNESS BRISENO: Because I thought enough…Mr. King… I didn’t know Office Powell viewed but what I saw I just thought there was enough force being used.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Would you say it was a unusual move on your part to step in and grab the baton of another officer?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You’ve never had to do that before have you?

WITNESS BRISENO: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You’ve never had to try and stop one of your fellow officers who was out of control have you?

WITNESS BRISENO: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: But from the situation that you observed at that point and time, that was a drastic step you needed to take wasn’t it?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: It was a drastic step because Officer Powell in your mind was going to continue to beat and beat Mr. King, is that correct?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You didn’t know how to stop this did you?

WITNESS BRISENO: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You tried to say something to the officers but that didn’t do any good did it?

WITNESS BRISENO: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: It just appeared to you that they were out of control.

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: And in your mind you were trying to figure out what can I do, is that correct?

WITNESS BRISENO: Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: What can I do to stop this.

Yes.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: So you went over and stomped Mr. King, isn’t that correct?

WITNESS BRISENO: No.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: At the time you went over and placed your foot um…on Mr. King’s neck and shoulder area Mr. King was moving his hands behind his back, wasn’t he?

WITNESS BRISENO: I just saw his left arm.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: Well his left arm was moving in the direction behind his back wasn’t it?

WITNESS BRISENO: It was moving. I didn’t recall what direction that night.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: And there were no baton stokes at that time was there? That you went in and put your foot on Mr. King’s neck and shoulder area.

WITNESS BRISENO: No, no.

 

Summations

Defense Attorney Michael Stone (Excerpt)

There were many opportunities I suppose for Office Powell to avoid the risk and the threat to his own personal safety that was occasioned by incident that these officers confronted that night. But he determined to stand his ground. He determined to take the necessary steps to do his duty. And as a result of those choices that he made that night on March 3, 1991, early in the morning, he sitting here, as a defendant, before this jury. It’s not Rodney Glen King that sitting here but Officer Lawrence Powell, Sgt. Stacy Kook, Officer Ted Briseno and Officer Tim Wind. What do we, ladies and gentlemen, as members of the community, expect from our police? What is it that we want them to do? These officers, these defendants do not get paid to lose street fights. They don’t get paid to roll around in the dirt with the likes of Rodney Glen King. These are not Robo cops, ladies and gentlemen, they hurt, they feel pain, they bleed and they die just like everyone else. And we leave it to them to take care of the mean streets. So that we can safely enjoy our lives. I decline the challenge to play the video again. You can play the video all you want. Backwards, forwards, slow motion--it’ll be available for you as a piece of evidence. I’ve seen it enough and I think you have too.

 

Prosecutor Terry White (Excerpt)

PROSECUTOR WHITE: You are the impartial judges of the facts in this case. And just as the judge is the judge of the law, you are the judges of the fact. And as judges you should remain impartial and not be an advocate for one side or the other. It is your job to call the evidence as you see it, to decide the case on the evidence and let the chips fall where they may no matter where they may fall.
This videotape it the central piece of evidence in this case. We don’t need to rely on Stacy Koon’s words. We don’t need to rely on Lawrence Powell’s words. We don’t need to rely on what they say happen that night. We don’t need to rely on what Mr. King says that night. We have the videotape and the videotape shows conclusively what occurred that night and it’s something that can’t be rebutted. It’s there for everyone to see. It is the most objective piece of evidence you can have. You have to determine what a reasonable person, acting as a police office, would have done in this particular situation. So it’s objective, not only do we…not only do we find out or determine what the officer was thinking, but then you have to determine as the tryor of fact; was the officer’s actions objectively reasonable.

On that videotape you see unnecessary brutality by Office Powell, unnecessary… excessive…unreasonable brutality by Officer Powell. From that first moment that videotape begins until Mr. King is handcuffed, Officer Powell is relentless in his baton blows to Mr. King. Relentless even though there are points and times that Mr. King is on the ground not doing anything but Officer Powell continues.

Now moving on to a Sgt. Koon. Earlier we briefly talked about aiding and abetting and an aider or abettor is just as liable for a crime as someone who directively and actively commits the act. This is a man the sergeant at the scene, who took charge of the situation from the beginning. From the moment that he stepped out of his car he was in charge of the situation. He ordered Melanie Singer back he says, “stay back we’ll handle this.” He ordered the use of force and by that I mean he ordered the first use of force. He ordered the first swarm in this particular incident. He ordered his officers to swarm or team tackle or gang tackle or however you want to call it. I believe in his report he said swarm Mr. King. He ordered the officers to go in and swarm. He also ordered the officers to ah…to get off that he was going to use a taser. Then he used the taser. He personally operated that taser. He personally used that use of force. Then the batons. He personally directed his officers were to strike in the use of those batons.

If you look at the tape and you determine at some point that a reasonable force has begun and Officer Wind strikes Mr. King after that point, Officer Wind kicks Mr. King after that point, he’s just as guilty as any of the other defendants.

Officer Briseno is being charged with only one …is being charged in counts one and two based on one stomp. That’s all he’s being charged…that’s…that’s his entire extent of his conduct that we are charging as far as a violation of the law. He’s not being charged as an aider and abettor of anyone. Um…he is not being charged for being responsible or being held responsible for anything Officer Powell did or Officer Wind did, or Sgt. Koon. He’s being charged based upon this one stomp that we’re gonna show. I think the thing that is important here…the thing you have to look at is at the point and time where Officer Briseno delivers this stomp to Mr. King. What is Mr. King doing at that point in time? We want you to look at this entire video. We want you to do what the defense doesn’t want you to do. They don’t want you to look at this entire video.

Commander was on the stand. The people’s expert, the people’s use of force expert. Did they ask him one question about this video? No, they didn’t. Did they show this entire video to their defense experts?-- no they didn’t. They don’t want you to look at this entire video.

And according to Sgt. Duke, everything Mr. King did was aggressive. We went through this video on cross-examination, every point aggressive, aggressive, aggressive they continued to use the baton. This man is on the ground. Mr. King is on the ground and he is aggressive. Sgt. Duke says, “look his leg is cocked.” What is this…what is this cocked? His leg is bent. But the language that they say, “cocked,” is it makes it sound more aggressive. His leg is bent. His foots not flat. This is aggressive. What could this man do not to be aggressive? Did he have to be unconscious? As I read somewhere, someone said what did he have to do. Did he have to melt into the pavement? Did he have to melt into the cracks of the pavement for his not be aggressive. And at some point you have to look at that video and say enough is enough. Stop. Go in there and handcuff him. Stop this. This is not right. But they continued to hit him.

I issue a challenge to Mr. Stone, to Mr. Depasquel, to Mr. Mounger, to play this videotape for you and to point out things in this tape that justify the continued use of the baton. I don’t think they’ll do it. I think they are going to get their little frames out. They’re gonna to show 3:23:14. They’re going to show you 3:24:27. They’re gonna show you a frame here; they’re gonna show you a frame there. They’re not gonna show you the entire videotape. They probably won’t even play the entire videotape for you. Cause they are afraid of the videotape. They’re afraid because they know what that videotape shows. Now who are you gonna believe the defendants or your own eyes?....

Why is it every time, every piece of evidence, regarding Lawrence Powell as bad, it’s somebody else’s fault. It’s Terry White’s fault. It’s Allen Yochelson’ fault. It’s Ted Briseno’s fault. It’s Lawrence Davis's fault. It’s never this man’s fault. Why not? This is the man…and look at him. This man laughed. [White walks away from podium and points at Powell]

STONE: Your Honor I have to object.

JUDGE WEISBURG: Mr. White get back to the podium please. Confine your argument to the podium.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: I’m sorry, your Honor.

PROSECUTOR WHITE: This man laughed. This man taunted. And he’s denying it? He’s denying it? How many times did we play that tape in here and was that not laughter? Was that not chuckling? Was that not giggling? Well what was funny out there? Desperate men do desperate things and these three defendants have been doing desperate things for the last six weeks. You don’t need to be an expert to look at that video and say that is wrong. That is bad. That is criminal....

THE AFTERMATH

After a mostly-white jury acquitted four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, it was only minutes before riots broke out - the epicenter was at the corner of Florence and Normandie in South Los Angeles. The riots left more than 50 people dead, thousands injured and more than $1 billion in damage. For the first time since the riots, there is an uptick in the number of Angelenos who fear that another civil disturbance is likely, according to a Loyola Marymount University poll that has been surveying Los Angeles residents every five years since the 1992 disturbances. Nearly 6 out of 10 Angelenos think another riot is likely in the next five years.


"To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern

forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment. There have been powerful

hydraulic pressures throughout our history that bear heavily on the Court to water down constitutional guarantees and give the police the upper hand. That hydraulic pressure has probably never been greater than it is today. Yet if the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever

they do not like the cut of his jib, if they can “seize” and “search” him in their discretion, we enter a new regime. The decision to enter it should be made

only after a full debate by the people of this country." William O. Douglas’ dissent in the case of Terry v. Ohio, 1968

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