Policeman's story contradicts King's Senior officer at L.A. beating gives testimony

March 24, 1993|By Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Taking the witness stand to tell his dramati story, Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant Stacey Koon said that he did everything he could to use as little force as possible during the violent arrest of Rodney King.

Comparing the tense standoff between officers and Mr. King after an early-morning, high-speed chase to a chess game, Sergeant Koon -- the senior officer at the scene -- said yesterday that he carefully reviewed his options before ordering officers into action.

"What I wanted to do is use the lowest form of force that I could to take Mr. King into custody," Sergeant Koon said when asked by his attorney, Ira Salzman, what was going on his mind during the earliest stages of the March 3, 1991, incident.

"When I look at a tactical situation, you draw it up in your mind, it's kind of like a chess game . . . you think ahead like a chess game, and figure out where that move is going to end up at," the 16-year veteran said during the federal trial.

Sergeant Koon is charged with allowing the police assault against King to take place.

Officers Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell and former Officer Timothy Wind are charged with violating Mr. King's civil rights by willfully using excessive force.

All have pleaded not guilty.

Yesterday, Sergeant Koon got only halfway through his confident, matter-of-fact testimony before court adjourned.

Sergeant Koon stopped just after describing how Mr. King finally dropped to the pavement after a third, 50,000-volt jolt from an electronic stun gun called a Taser -- a point just before the infamous amateur videotape of the incident begins.

Outside court, Mr. Salzman said that he had no plans to lead Sergeant Koon frame by frame through the video as was done last year during the state trial, because of the "strong" testimony of use-of-force expert Sgt. Charles L. Duke Jr.

Sergeant Duke's defense of the officers' actions as entirely within LAPD policy ended early yesterday.

Sergeant Koon's testimony instead will culminate with a careful dissection of his report of the incident to "explode, destroy and put to rest" the government's claim that the sergeant was part of a conspiracy to cover up the beating, Mr. Salzman said.

Sergeant Koon was acquitted on all charges in last year's state trial in suburban Simi Valley.

Both jurors and federal prosecutors -- who took detailed notes as they sat on the edge of their leather chairs -- paid close attention to Sergeant Koon, dressed in a dark blue suit and red, white and blue striped tie.

Sergeant Koon, who authored a book on the King beating, is the first defendant to take the stand in the federal civil rights case.

Repeating the testimony he gave in last year's state trial -- sometimes almost word for word -- Sergeant Koon painted a far more menacing portrait of Mr. King than the suburban Altadena construction worker himself gave on the stand two weeks ago.

Mr. King told jurors he was "just trying to stay alive" as officers beat and taunted him. He denied behaving strangely when he stepped out of his Hyundai automobile, surrounded by officers with their guns drawn.

Questioned directly about Mr. King's testimony, Sergeant Koon denied the officers used any racial epithets, taunted Mr. King as "killer" or urged him to run.

As he did in Simi Valley, Sergeant Koon described Mr. King as speaking "gibberish," patting the ground as if he didn't know where it was, waving at a police helicopter, doing a little dance and grabbing his buttocks and gyrating -- "bizarre" behavior that led him to believe Mr. King was high on PCP, a powerful psychedelic drug.

Sergeant Koon already was wary, he testified, because Mr. King apparently had chosen to stop at Hansen Dam Park -- a dark, dangerous location into which he could flee -- after leading California Highway Patrol and LAPD officers on a high-speed chase.

"My experience is a suspect running from the police has a reason to run," he said. "I don't know whether it's murder, robbery, rape or whatever -- but I know he has a reason to run from the police."

Repeatedly asked by Mr. Salzman as to his intent at various stages of the confrontation, the sergeant emphasized he was always acting according to his training and LAPD policy governing pursuits and use-of-force situations.

According to those policies, the safest place for Mr. King was flat on the ground with his hands in the small of his back -- a position King failed to take after repeated commands from officers, the sergeant testified.

Sergeant Koon also assumed full responsibility for his actions and those of the officers at the scene, saying it was his duty to take charge of the situation when the pursuit ended at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street in the Los Angeles area of Lake View Terrace.

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