Defense witness springs surprise at officers' trial King-beating jury gets insight

March 30, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

LOS ANGELES -- California Highway Patrol Officer Melanie Singer exited the witness stand something of a lone ranger among the law enforcement officers at Rodney King's beating two years ago.

Officer Singer, the only officer to testify that she saw King struck directly in the head, left jurors with an insight into police subculture amid testimony that was emotionally powerful.

As a badly beaten and bleeding Mr. King lay hogtied and dirty along a road, Officer Singer told of wanting to put on her emergency medical gloves to give him first aid. But fear of ridicule by fellow officers stopped her, she testified yesterday.

"I didn't want those guys to start heckling me," she told federal prosecutor Alan Tieger. Other officers were standing around "joking," she said. One of them told her an ambulance was on its way.

Officer Singer began the sixth week of the federal civil rights trial of three Los Angeles police officers and one former officer. She was actually called by the defense, whose lawyers expected her to corroborate testimony from other witnesses about Mr. King's bizarre behavior. That she did. Beyond that, she proved to be a loose cannon.

She and her partner-husband, Tim Singer, out of the CHP's Verdura Hills station, began the pursuit of Mr. King in the early morning hours of March 3, 1991, when they saw his 1988 white Hyundai traveling at speeds above 100 mph.

Under cross examination yesterday, she continued to bring another perspective to the beating, favorable to the prosecution in some aspects, and to the defense in others.

Officer Singer testified, for example, that when she looked at Mr. King just after the beating, he wasn't sweating profusely; wasn't struggling against his restraints; wasn't speaking gibberish, cursing, or saying bizarre things; and didn't smell of ether, the odor of which is associated with PCP use.

Defense lawyers have claimed that a sweating, gibberish-speaking Mr. King appeared to be on PCP, a powerful hallucinogen.

Instead, Mr. King smelled and acted like a drunk, she said, one who did not want to be handcuffed.

Mr. King was, she said, "like a wiseacre. He didn't want to go along with what we were telling him to do."

Officer Singer made another point for the defense when she said she heard none of the racial epithets Mr. King testified to hearing.

But the defense may have lost ground when she testified that she saw five more baton blows to Mr. King's head after the first one.

"There is no doubt in my mind that he [Officer Laurence Powell] struck him in the face," she testified, choking back sobs. "I will never forget it to the day I die."

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