Beating trial hears closing arguments Jurors could get L.A. case tonight

April 09, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

LOS ANGELES -- Colliding images of four police officers as "judge and executioners" versus "sacrificial lambs" were put before jurors by a federal prosecutor and defense lawyer as closing arguments began in the Rodney King police beating trial.

The federal civil rights case could go to the jury as early as tonight.

"The defendants tried Rodney King . . . for being disrespectful to police officers and found him guilty, with Koon as judge and Powell and Wind as executioner," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Clymer, referring to three of the defendants, police Sgt. Stacey Koon, Officer Laurence Powell and former officer Timothy Wind.

But defense lawyer Ira Salzman, who represents Sergeant Koon, argued yesterday that the force used the night of March 3, 1991, was appropriate and controlled. The officers were compelled to use their batons on Mr. King because they were prohibited from using a less-violent chokehold to subdue the black motorist who had led police on a high-speed chase, and whose arrest and beating was captured on an amateur videotape.

"These sacrificial lambs are foisted on the public altar of justice to pay for negligence," by police department management, Mr. Salzman said.

Sergeant Koon and Officers Koon, Powell, Wind and Theodore Briseno are charged with violating Mr. King's civil rights in the beating. If found guilty by the federal court jury, which must be convinced the defendants willfully used excessive force, they could face 10 years in prison. Deliberations may begin as early as tonight.

In a three-hour closing statement,Mr. Clymer, the prosecutor, told jurors yesterday the officers were out to teach Mr. King a lesson, contending that they went far beyond the force necessary to arrest him.

He accused Officer Powell of smashing Mr. King in the face and head with a baseball-style swing of his his metal baton; he said Officer Wind kicked Mr. King half a dozen times as he was on the ground; he contended Officer Briseno "cowardly" stomped Mr. King once "to become one of the boys."

Mr. Clymer charged that Sergeant Koon, as the senior officer who let it all happen, fabricated an account of the incident in which Mr. King was described as "a dangerous hulk ... with superhuman strength who needed to be beat into submission."

The prosecutor portrayed Mr. King as "drunk . . . scared and stupid" in his actions that night when he led a small posse of law enforcement officers on an eight-mile auto chase. He was a paroled ex-convict who broke the law in fleeing from police and he deserved arrest, Mr. Clymer told jurors.

"But Rodney King was not public enemy No. 1, " he said. "And he was not combative."

One of Mr. Clymer's most dramatic points was made when he pointed out to the federal court jurors that the beating stopped only when Mr. King, on his knees, pleaded with the officers to stop.

"That's what they wanted all along," Mr. Clymer said. "He didn't respect their authority . . . When Rodney King finally submitted, when he finally begged for mercy, they were finally willing to stop."

"Is this the way you want police officers to behave? Is this the way you want police officers to treat citizens in this country?" he asked.

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