Key issue of excessive force addressed in King trial

March 03, 1993|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- After three days of testimony setting the scene in the federal civil rights trial of four police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King, lawyers battled yesterday the central issue of the case: whether excessive force was used to subdue Mr. King.

The first person to take the stand for the prosecution yesterday led the way in what will be a crucial series of witnesses from both sides who will offer contrasting interpretations of the videotaped beating that occurred two years ago today.

Prosecutors say the officers intentionally used excessive force when they repeatedly clubbed, kicked and shocked Mr. King. The defense contends that Mr. King provoked the beating by refusing to obey orders after a high-speed police pursuit.

Prosecutors opened the door for debate in questioning the former partner of a defendant, Officer Theodore J. Briseno. The partner, Officer Rolando Solano, witnessed the confrontation and briefly grabbed Mr. King's leg before he was beaten.

Prosecutors scored a few points during questioning Monday when Officer Solano said Mr. King appeared at first to comply with officers' orders to assume a prone position. He also said officers never tried to search Mr. King, suggesting that they did not fear he was armed.

The defense has maintained that the beating was justified, in part because the officers believed Mr. King had a gun or other weapon.

Officer Solano also contradicted defense claims that Mr. King threw off officers who had grabbed his limbs to handcuff him.

But the prosecution gambled in calling Mr. Solano, who has been sympathetic to the defense and who testified for a defendant in the officers' trial on state charges in Simi Valley last year.

At times yesterday, prosecutors appeared to lose control of their witness as Officer Solano repeatedly bolstered defense contentions that the force used on Mr. King was reasonable and that no police misconduct occurred during the beating.

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