Sergeant defends officers Says Rodney King was still a threat

March 23, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- An aggressive young prosecutor and a veteran Los Angeles police sergeant squared off in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial yesterday, dramatically disagreeing about how much force police officers were entitled to use in arresting Mr. King.

Sgt. Charles L. Duke testified for the police officers accused of violating Mr. King's rights, and he vigorously defended their actions.

He told jurors, for instance, that Mr. King continued to pose a threat even after he had been knocked to the pavement with a series of baton blows because his movements continued to suggest that he was defying police orders to stay down.

But Sergeant Duke's position came under attack from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D. Clymer, one of two lead prosecutors in the case, who challenged Sergeant Duke to produce documents backing his claims about police training.

In one particularly charged moment, he mocked Sergeant Duke's assertion that police officers have a right to beat a suspect into submission if that is what is required to take him into custody.

"Is there any document anywhere in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department that says officers can beat a suspect into submission?" Mr. Clymer asked.

Sergeant Duke conceded that he knew of no documents stating that position but said that officers are entitled to use force to overcome a suspect's resistance.

"You, in your mind as an expert, equate overcoming resistance with beating into submission?" Mr. Clymer asked, his tone reflecting his disbelief.

"If that's what it takes," Sergeant Duke responded. "If it takes one blow ... or if it takes 8,000 blows to overcome resistance, then that's what it takes."

Sergeant Duke took the stand last Friday, and his testimony has contradicted that of the prosecution's use-of-force expert, Sgt. Mark John Conta, in almost every respect. Sergeant Conta said that three officers -- Laurence M. Powell, Timothy E. Wind and Theodore J. Briseno -- violated police policy by hitting, kicking and stomping Mr. King after he had been knocked to the ground.

The fourth defendant, Stacey C. Koon, violated policy by allowing the beating to continue, Sergeant Conta testified.

Sergeant Duke vehemently disagreed, and lawyers for the officers believe his testimony will raise doubts in the jurors' minds about what the proper level of force should have been.

"If the experts can't agree on what the policy is, then how was Sergeant Koon supposed to know what the policy was?" Ira Salzman, Sergeant Koon's lawyer, asked.

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