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Prosecution Rests Case in Rodney King Beating Trial

By Lou Cannon
The Washington Post


Prosecutors in the civil rights trial of four Los Angeles police officers rested their case Monday after offering evidence that police defendants falsified reports to cover up the beating of motorist Rodney G. King.

Two Los Angeles police witnesses testified that officer Laurence M. Powell and Sgt. Stacey C. Koon deliberately understated the extent of the beating given King when he was subdued March 3, 1991, after a high-speed chase.

Koon, Powell, officer Theodore J. Briseno and former officer Timothy E. Wind are on trial for violating King's civil rights. They were acquitted on 10 state charges last year in suburban Simi Valley with a jury deadlocking on an 11th charge that Powell used excessive force under color of authority.

According to testimony Monday by Sgt. John Amott, Powell filed a report with him seven hours after the King beating that mentioned use of batons to subdue King but omitted important details, including names of civilian witnesses and passengers in King's car.

Amott said that, when he later saw the videotape of the beating on television, he found it in conflict with Powell's report.

"I don't see (that) what I saw on the tape was reflected in the report," Amott testified.

Amott said that Powell should have given King a blood-alcohol test after his arrested and that he told Powell this when he filed his report. But Amott said it was then "too late" to order such a test.

Both sides agree that King was intoxicated. The officers said they believed that he also was under the influence of the drug PCP, which sometimes renders its users impervious to pain.

Tests on King for PCP were negative, and the prosecution has suggested that defendants concocted suspicions of PCP use to justify their actions.

Martha Esparza, a nurse at County-USC Medical jail ward, where King was admitted several hours after the beating, testified that he appeared "calm and cooperative" and showed no signs of having used PCP.

Esparza said that, when she asked King how he felt, King said he "got beat up, and I agreed that he looked like he got beat up."

The prosecution called 35 witnesses in 13 days of testimony.

The final witness was Lt. Patrick Conmay, who reinforced prosecution contentions that defendants had tried to minimize the beating.

Conmay, who was Koon's superior, said Koon had told him that King had been repeatedly hit with baton blows but that Koon had not told Conmay that King was struck while on the ground.

"That would be an important consideration in review of this case of force," Conmay said.

The defense plans to produce witnesses to dispute these points, said Koon and his lawyer, Ira Salzman.

Among points the defense will attempt to make is that Koon himself called the beating a "big-time" use of force in a computer message sent at the time of the incident.

After the prosecution rested, U.S. District Judge John G. Davies dismissed motions for directed verdicts of acquittal for Koon and Briseno.

"The prosecution had to sigh a breath of relief at winning these two motions," said Laurie Levinson, a former federal prosecutor Laurie Levinson and now a Loyola University law school professor. "They may have an advantage during the defense case because they've seen what the defense put on at Simi Valley."

Salzman, who is to call witnesses for Koon beginning Tuesday, said he will seek to have the jurors "walk in the shoes of the officers that night."

This strategy succeeded for the defense at Simi Valley. Several jurors said after the trial that the officers's actions were justified because King was hostile and combative.

With the jury out of the courtroom after the prosecution rested, Davies admonished defense lawyers for repetitive questioning and urged them to complete their case within three weeks.