( George Holliday / Courtesy of KTLA via Associated Press )
Four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged in the videotaped beating of Rodney G. King on March 3, 1991, were acquitted in Superior Court, sparking massive riots. Two of the officers were later convicted in federal court of violating King's civil rights.
Gates Wants 3 Officers Prosecuted in Beating
Police: Chief calls incident an aberration caused by 'total human failure.' Bradley also presses investigation.
March 8, 1991
Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, reacting to controversy that has prompted calls for his dismissal, recommended felony prosecution Thursday for three officers who participated in the videotaped beating of a man. The chief also promised to discipline a sergeant and as many as 11 other officers who watched.
Gates called the violent incident Sunday morning an aberration and he attributed it to a "total human failure." He singled out a sergeant who apparently failed to stop officers as they kicked 25-year-old Rodney G. King and beat him with nightsticks.
The decision on whether to pursue criminal prosecution rests with the Los Angeles County district attorney. That decision could be made today, officials said.
Mayor Tom Bradley appeared pleased with Gates' call for disciplinary action, but the mayor also ordered the city's Police Commission -- a civilian oversight panel whose members he appoints -- to press forward with a comprehensive look into possible deficiencies in the department's training, supervision or what the mayor termed "our command structure."
Bradley, emerging from a private afternoon meeting with Gates and the Police Commission, seemed eager to calm a city unsettled by repeatedly televised images of white officers savagely pummeling a prone black man.
Gates and Bradley have said the incident, which occurred after a traffic stop, did not appear to have racial overtones.
"There is a need for all of us," Bradley said, "to recognize that the city draws its strength from its diversity, and that we will not let an incident of this kind divide us or cause a problem based on our neighborhoods or backgrounds."
Bradley said he would not attempt to remove Gates, as some civil rights groups have demanded. But the mayor stopped short of declaring support for the chief, saying that it is not up to him to decide whether Gates should resign or retire.
The mayor said the city's reputation has been tarnished and predicted that it would take years for Los Angeles and the Police Department to recover. But, Bradley said, Gates' actions were an important first step.
"We have stopped the blood from flowing and now it is important to restore the vitality, the health of the body of the Police Department of this city," Bradley said.
Gates announced his recommendation for prosecution at a midday news conference at Parker Center. The chief also revealed new details about the attack on King, saying that he had been struck 53 to 56 times -- significantly more than earlier estimates -- and had been kicked seven times.
King, an Altadena resident who was released from prison in December after serving a one-year sentence for robbery, is an unemployed construction worker. He was confronted by the officers early Sunday after what police said was a high-speed car chase.
At his one-hour news conference, Gates said the sergeant at the scene should have prevented the routine arrest from escalating into an uncontrolled beating.
"That supervisor was there, the process was followed," Gates said. "Unfortunately, we had a total human failure on the part of that sergeant and many other officers who should have interceded. There was one officer who tried to intercede just briefly, but it was far too brief."
In a move clearly intended to restore confidence in the department, Gates announced the decision to seek prosecution, which resulted from departmental inquiries into the events. One is a criminal investigation by the Major Crimes Unit and the other is a review by the department's internal affairs unit.
"If they really loved their fellow officers, they should have stepped in and grabbed them and pulled them back and said 'Knock it off!' " Gates said of the officers. "That's what every officer should have done. In my judgment it's a cowardly thing . . . to stand there and allow people to get themselves in this kind of trouble."
The chief said the department's 8,300 officers are upset about being painted with the same "broad brush" as those involved in the attack.
"You will not find a police officer in this city that will in any way attempt to justify what those officers did," Gates said.
Although the district attorney will determine any specific charges, Gates said the three officers could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon or assault "under the color of authority."
The three officers and the sergeant have been taken off field duty but are still on the department payroll, Gates said. They will also be charged administratively and may be suspended without pay at that point.
Gates did not identify any of the officers involved, including the sergeant. However, a police report on the incident identified the sergeant as Stacey Koon, 40, a father of five and a 14-year veteran.
"I'd like to talk to you, but this is not an appropriate time," Koon told a reporter while standing in the front yard of his home in Castaic.
Capt. Tim McBride, head of the Police Department's Foothill Division, confirmed that Koon and three other officers -- Laurence Michael Powell, 28, Ted Briseno and Timothy Wind, 30 -- have been relieved of field duty.
Gates earlier did not identify the three officers whom he has recommended be prosecuted. He did say, however, that two of them beat King with their batons. Gates said one is a rookie and the other is a three-year veteran. The third officer, according to the chief, kicked King; he has been on the force nine years.
At least one of the officers had been disciplined before for excessive force, Gates said. Koon also had been disciplined for reasons Gates did not specify.
Gates said the criminal cases against three officers will be presented to the district attorney no later than today.
All three officers apparently were recorded on a videotape shot by an amateur cameraman and televised nationally by the major networks. Outraged viewers have flooded police telephone lines with calls, and Bradley told reporters he has received 1,000 complaint calls.
After the beating, King was booked by police for evading arrest and held for four days. He was released from Los Angeles County Jail on Wednesday after the district attorney's office cited lack of evidence to prosecute him.
King told reporters he did not resist the officers. He said he feared for his life during the beating.
Separate investigations into the incident are being conducted by the district attorney and the FBI.
Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said Gates' response did not go far enough. She reiterated her call for Gates to resign.
"He still says that this is an aberration and I don't believe this is an aberration," she said. "Instances similar to the one we have on videotape happen all the time."
Gates brushed aside this and other calls from community organizations that he step down.
"I have absolutely no thoughts of resigning," he said. "Please let my friends out there know who think this is the time, I'm not going. I'm going to be there. If anything, this is a time for strength of leadership."
At a news conference Thursday, religious and community groups, including the Brotherhood Crusade, an African American service organization, pledged to raise $50,000 for civilian patrol teams armed with video cameras to monitor police activities.
"We need a peacekeeping force to watch over LAPD," said Danny Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade. "When they have someone on the ground, we want people to rally around them and observe. Take a snapshot, don't let them intimidate you."
Bakewell was joined at the news conference by representatives of the Los Angeles chapters of the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Gates said, "We can turn up absolutely nothing that would suggest [a racial motive], except for the officers were white and the suspect was black."
King's attorneys said he spent Thursday with family and friends, visiting private doctors to receive treatment and establish an independent record of his injuries. According to a doctor who first treated him at a Sun Valley hospital, King's lacerations required 20 stitches to the face and mouth. Attorneys for King said he also may have suffered a broken ankle.
Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, called for a public hearing Tuesday on the Police Department's policies on the use of force.
In Sacramento, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) reintroduced a bill vetoed in September by then-Gov. George Deukmejian that would prohibit a peace officer from using more force than reasonable in making an arrest, preventing an escape or overcoming resistance.
Times staff writers Leslie Berger, Sam Enriquez, Andrea Ford, Jane Fritsch, Carl Ingram, John Johnson, Charisse Jones, John L. Mitchell and Tracy Wood contributed to this report.
With LAPD Under Attack, the Chief Defends Himself
March 17, 1991
Under fire for a videotaped beating in which his officers apparently kicked and clubbed an unarmed man, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates paid a visit to The Times on Thursday, hoping to correct what he believes are misconceptions about his department and his leadership.
Gates, a veteran of many controversies during his 13-year reign, has had to defend himself before. His "inelegant" speech, as he calls it, has led to numerous public-relations problems: his suggestion that some blacks may have been more susceptible to police chokeholds than "normal people"; his reference to local TV anchor Christine Lund as an "Aryan broad" at a closed dinner meeting; and his branding of the killer of Tina Kerbat, a female officer shot to death last month by a foreign national, as an "El Salvadoran drunk."
But in recent days, the chorus of critics calling for his resignation has intensified; he was booed at a Police Commission meeting; the ACLU placed a newspaper ad branding his department a "gang"; and a citizen's committee is forming to demand his ouster.
Gates, however, has vowed to stay put. In fact, he has launched a counteroffensive of his own, including a flurry of national TV appearances and news conferences, aimed at restoring his and the department's image.
Dressed in a brown suit with a powder-blue hanky and DARE pin on his lapel, the 64-year-old chief spend about an hour with The Times' publisher and editors, discussing the current crisis, his proposed remedies and past accomplishments.
Despite what he considers to be an adversarial relationship with The Times, he spoke calmly and cordially, never raising his voice, and doing far more talking than his questioners. Intensely private, Gates was so relaxed that he said his decision to resign would ultimately hinge on the advice of his wife of 21 years, Sima, who is urging him to stick it out.
Question: Could you talk a little about your impression of the police commission hearings this morning.
Answer: . . . . Clearly (it was) an opportunity for people to vent and that's what a lot of people did do today--vented . . . . I've been through it two or three times perhaps not that vehement each time but almost.
Of course, the rocks are all being aimed right at me, as if I created all this -- the entire problem -- and that my ouster will solve the problem. I don't feel that way and so therefore I have no plans to leave the department much to the unhappiness of many people I'm sure.
But I don't see that that would be in anyone's best interests. Certainly not mine. I didn't spend 42 years--and devote my life to this department--to slink away under a cloud of thunder. I'm not going to do that. If I leave, and when I leave, it'll be at a time when I can leave without slinking and without running away from something when it's not my nature to run away.
. . . . I read a lot of what has been printed--particularly on the editorial pages--and I wonder where you guys have been. I don't think you know the Los Angeles Police Department and that bothers me that you are not acquainted with what we've been doing . . . .
I hired the first department psychologist, the first police psychologist. I hired him back in 1968, before anyone in the police business ever thought it was a good thing to do. That's been our history: To be way ahead of policing in America, at the lead in policing in America. And I think we continue to do that.
. . . . You guys continue to refer to our female police officer who was shot as a "policewoman." That is a derogatory term. That's why I say you don't know much about our police department: It's a derogatory term within the Los Angeles Police Department among women officers. They don't like that. That connotes a time when they were just that: "policewomen." It said "policewomen" on their badges; they could not rise above the rank of Sergeant. All that's been changed. They are police officers . . . . And we did it before most departments in the country--they were still calling them policewomen . . . .
. . . . We've got a Hispanic in charge of the Academy. I bet no one knew that in this room--that a Hispanic has been running the police academy for some time. That blacks run the recruits through the academy. I bet you didn't know that Internal Affairs was run by a black captain--matter of fact, two black captains--for over a year.
I look at all these things and I say to myself, "I don't know how much more I can do in the Los Angeles Police Department to create an atmosphere of impartiality of atmosphere that produces a department that is sensitive to the community and that is that looks like the face of the community than I have done.
I've hired more blacks, I've hired more Hispanics, I've hired more women than any other chief in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. Some say, that, "Well, that's because there's a consent decree."
Well, that's baloney! Just because there's a consent decree doesn't mean you have to hire. To hire you have to go out and find them; you have to talk them into becoming police officer; you have to be enthusiastic, and you . . . have to make sure that they understand they have good opportunities within the department. So that means you have to create an environment in the department that says you have opportunity in the department. And we've created that environment. . . . .
The Urban League and the National Conference of Christians and Jews put out a report some years ago . . . . One of those recommendations was to do a job of human relations training at the Los Angeles police academy . . . .
I've implemented every single recommendation . . . . Yet you guys comment that we have to do something about our training. We gotta do something about our human relations . . . . I think, "Holy cow, I don't know what else to do with that department than what I have done.
Q: If you have all these programs and they work, how do you explain the outpouring at the police commission today? The ACLU is one thing, but John Mack and George Will, people like that, are another. If this is an aberration, then why is there this huge outpouring?
A: . . . . I can't explain anything. I can only tell you this that the complaints we've had in the last 3 years have been coming down . . . . Civil suits have been coming down the last 3 years. The highest year with some kind of complaints, claims that is, I think was back in 1985 . . . . They've been coming down since . . . .
Q: But it is not the George Wills or the John Macks but the bookkeepers in South L.A., the lawyers in Baldwin Hills. It's almost a joke among many blacks in Los Angeles--men particularly. What was the excuse this time--a flashing taillight? And everybody laughs at the dinner party because everyone has a story. I'm talking regular people who are not anti-police. Why do all these people have stories about their sons, their husbands, their cousins?
A: It's impossible to respond to the question because you have to deal with a case-by-case basis . . . . I can't answer those questions on a broad-based basis because there's no way to answer it in that fashion. I do know this: While your survey said one thing, the survey that you had in 1988 said another thing. (It) said that 80% of the people supported the Los Angeles Police Department. Now if it were that bad in any community, would we have that kind of support? From the survey we just did, the Proposition 1, the believability factor of the chief of police was higher than any other official in Southern California. Higher than the mayor's.
Q: There is a theory that when a institution has problems, what's needed is a fresh set of eyes. Los Angeles, because of our civil-service structure, promotes from within. But maybe we need someone from the outside. Do you think that would help?
A: . . . . I ask: Who you're going to get to come in that can do a better job. I don't think you can. You bring people in from the outside when you don't have the talent from the inside. It destroys you.
Ask any FBI agent how they feel. They go in the FBI and there's no way in the world they can reach the top unless they go into the law and become a judge and then become on the appellate bench and then they can become the head of the FBI. And they all feel that's why FBI agents, aside from the age problem they've got they're gone. Just at their time they're gone.
Q: Your example of the FBI--some thoughtful people argue that the FBI's a better institution
now than it was in the old days when it was insular. Do you see that risk with the LAPD.
A: I see the risk of not being able to provide leadership in the organization . . . . You gotta have people who have a lot of confidence in the top--particularly in law enforcement. Police officers could shine you on and say: "Sure, sure chief, yuk yuk yuk, we'll do it." . . . . But if you have leadership at the top, if you have people that, when they say, "Do it this way," they say, "You got it, chief." That's important. I don't think the FBI has that right now . . . .
Q: Can you rebuild the confidence of elected officials and black leadership now calling for you to step down?
A: I hope so. By taking very specific action. I'm hopeful that they're fair minded people and that they are willing to lead me part of the way and recognize that I am acting in good faith. And have acted in good faith over a long period of time. I also am very hopeful that many friends--as a matter of fact I had a couple of black officers come to me . . . and said, "chief, let me tell you, we are getting hundreds of calls from members of the black community who . . . are saying tell the chief to stay there, this will pass, we want him." I just think slowly but surely that will emerge . . . .
Q: Could you reflect a why you are being singled out. Are these old scores being settled? Is it just something about you?
A: . . . . I'm chief of police. This was a shocking thing, a horrible situation and so I think they're aiming it right at me. And I understand that. I really do. I'm a little resentful, but I understand it. I'm chief. And you said, "The buck stops here." And where in the hell do you think it stops? It never stopped with the commission. It never stopped with the mayor. Anybody else take any of the heat on any of these issues? No. Always been the chief of police. And that's the way it is . . . . It's just the nature of the job . . . .
Q: Can you envision any scenario where it would be better for the department or for the city if you would resign?
A: No. I'd listen to my wife first. And I asked her this morning how she felt about it . . . . I think it's hard on me--actually I can handle it, but it's really tough on her. Tough on my kids and tough on my grandkids. And so I asked her this morning, "Sima, would you rather I quit?" She said absolutely not. And absolutely not. You can't. And that's my answer.
Q: Is this controversy hurting the ability of patrol officers to do their jobs?
A: . . . . We're working. We're working very hard. But I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I think a lot of things . . . aren't done that need to be done.
That's the reason I made the speech yesterday. I want to get them out of that lethargy, I want to start building their pride. One reason I think I need to stay is because they will follow me . . . .
I still have the support of the members of this department and yesterday you saw I have the support, of all things, of the Protective League (the Police Officers Assn.)--that I beat over the head for 13 years. That's the kind of leadership I provide, I think that's the kind of leadership we need right now. That's the kind of leadership that will turn this around. If you want a department that's gonna build up the pride the morale, you need me. You can bring someone in from the outside and I guarantee you you won't have that. As a matter of fact, you'll have a malaise in his department. I think that'll last for a long period of time. A very unhappy department.
Q: About the mayor, do you think--
A: --No one's asking him to retire. He's been here longer than I have. No one's asking (L.A. County Sheriff) Sherm Block--he just had all his deputies, all that scandal. I don't hear anybody criticizing him. And they shouldn't . . . .
Q: Do you think Bradley thinks you're a political liability?
A: I would think so today.
Q: Has he told you that?
Q: The mayor hasn't asked you to resign?
A: No. He has not asked me to resign . . . .
Q: This one incident is on videotape. How many other incidents take place in a year that aren't videotaped. One thing that may be running through many people's minds is that this wasn't an isolated incident--just one where someone was there filming it.
A: I can't say. We have sustained excessive force complaints over the years we know that there have been other excessive force incidents. I say this is an aberration because I have never witnessed one or heard of one or investigated one or had an investigation done of this significance. Usually it's one of those disputable things. . . .
This there wasn't any question. Absolutely any question. We've had officers kick somebody that had their hands handcuffed. We've had them punch somebody that was handcuffed. We've had them use a club excessively. We've had those cases. To my best knowledge, we've done complete investigations and, where we have determined they were at fault, we have taken very very stringent action. I'm not an easy disciplinarian. They say you can't fire people in the civil-service system. You can. I fire them every year. I fire police officers every year . . . .
Q: In spite of training, do your inflammatory remarks send a different message. Does your remark that black people don't have normal veins send a different message? Or your remark that all casual drug users must be shot. What do your remarks say?
A: . . . . I would admit to being a little inelegant in my speech at times and didn't say it precisely the way I meant it. You never let me forget any of that . . . . Thirteen years of speaking without notes without prepared texts, speaking on the record, 13 years of that. I just tell you that anyone in this nation that can say that they've spoken that often and that long without making a few mistakes in the comments. Some of them I meant. And some of them I'm not the least bit ashamed of--and I pointed that out on the casual drug user issue.
Some of them I did not mean, some I think are a total distortion of what I meant and what I said. Total distortions. . . . .
I don't think they impact my police officers. I believe my police officers are far more intelligent than that and far more understanding. We say "casual drug users," they know they're not going to go out and shoot people who are casual drug users. To think that that is somehow going to incite police officers to take some special action is total nonsense. They know better. They don't go out and execute murderers even though the state says there is a death penalty. They know better.
. . . . You know we restrict our police officers from saying anything. They have to bite their tongues all the time and there's a certain sense of frustration that exists in their not being able to say certain things. . . . . Somebody needs to speak out. "Chief, speak out." I speak out.
And so 13 years of speaking out 13 years of being on the record and 13 years of never having a press agent to (make) press statements to the media. I do them without, maybe a note here or there, but I speak right from the top of my head and right from my heart in most cases. I just tell you that there's no one else in this country that could have done it for 13 years and not make an inelegant statement now and then.