Anxiety assumes many forms as jury weighs King case


April 14, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Death threats? Ira Salzman said he stopped counting at 25.

Telephone calls? Forget about it. He no longer answers the phone after his secretary logged 400 threating messages.

Escape route? He has one mapped out from the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building after the jury reaches a verdict in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial.

"It's like a Dali painting," said Mr. Salzman, an attorney for Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, one of four defendants.

"The whole thing, the whole case, is unprecedented," Mr. Salzman said. "You're asking a juror, 'If you vote not guilty and people die, will that inhibit you?' Never would I think about a jury verdict causing 53 deaths. Never."

At the new Los Angeles federal office building, there are pressure, angst and a growing circus, symbolizing a city that is feeling the consequences of weeks of uncertainty.

The red granite and glass tower is ringed by a dozen television satellite trucks and is blocked off from the main streets by newly erected concrete barricades.

Inside, lawyers pace, defendants wander the hallways, and a jury deliberates, failing yesterday for the fourth straight day to reach a verdict.

And outside, there is Waco II, a gathering of news people, opportunists and zealots.

"It's nuts here," said Michael P. Stone, the attorney for Officer Laurence M. Powell, another defendant. "It's crazy."

A man who identifies himself as Bobby Bible -- Prophet of L.A., holds up a banner that says, "Jesus Saves Sinners from Hell."

Nearby, a man who calls himself Gye DiCapua hands out cassette tapes of a recording, "City of Angels."

Followers of Louis T. Farrakhan hawk the Final Call newspaper with a front-page headline: "GANG TRUCE IN FULL EFFECT!"

Larry Green, who says he's running for mayor of Los Angeles, races in front of the 24 television cameras set up in the courtyard and shouts something about the Los Angeles Times kissing his backside.

The outburst goes untaped.

Refuse & Resist, a group of lawyers, holds a noon news conference as its leaders call on the citizens of Los Angeles to "demonstrate at the courthouse on the day of the verdict." The tapes roll. The reporters ask a lot of questions.

This in a city where 53 people were killed last April following the acquittal of the four defendants in a state trial.

Los Angeles is on edge.

"Everyone saw what happened last year, and that could be the tip of the iceberg," said Mack Calvin, a former professional basketball player who scouts for the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Clippers and plans to hit the streets to act as a mediator after the verdict.

"This whole city and the surrounding area is nervous and in a panic state," he said.

Capt. Pat Froehle, area commander for the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Division, in the heart of South Central, where last year's riots erupted, said his officers are anxious but prepared.

"Everyone feels nervous," he said. "That is only natural. I'd just as soon have the verdict come out as soon as possible. Let's resume normalcy."

But what's normal about a city awaiting a verdict in one celebrated case?

"You can't generalize how people feel," said Dr. David Feinberg, a psychiatrist at the Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital at the University of California Los Angeles. "Each person will experience feelings of a post-traumatic nature, and they will be driven by what happened last April.

"For the people of South Central, there will be a period of vulnerability, because they were hardest hit by the riots. But there can also be a numbing effect after seeing so much violence."

Then there are the rumors.

It's not just the usual stuff about gangs and guns. On Monday, a rumor swept the city that the jury had reached a verdict clearing the defendants.

"Those rumors you hear flying around can create a sense of panic," Dr. Feinberg said. "If people aren't careful, the media can vTC create a hysterical climate. I think it's a fine line that everyone is walking."

But for now, anxiety central is at the federal building. That is where the lawyers, the defendants and the journalists converge.

Officers Powell and Theodore J. Briseno, and former Officer Timothy E. Wind, the three men accused of stomping and beating Mr. King and depriving him of his constitutional right to be safe from the intentional use of force, are no longer grainy figures on a piece of videotape. They are flesh and blood men in suits, exchanging smiles and small talk, eating quick meals, heading for elevators.

Sergeant Koon, who was the senior police officer at the scene and is accused of allowing those under his supervision to administer an unreasonable beating, strides confidently around the corridors, looking a lot like a corporate lawyer.

"Sergeant Koon hasn't made a dime for two years," Mr. Salzman said. "The coverage of him has been unrelentingly hostile. If I were him, I wouldn't talk to anybody. And Briseno, he is picking up cans in the park, he is sitting there scavenging for cans" for the refund money.

Now, all try to fill time while awaiting the verdict.

Yesterday, Mr. Salzman filled out his tax forms. Sergeant Koon read. Officer Briseno read and napped. And Mr. Stone tried to concentrate on other cases.

But he couldn't.

"I have the same anxiety and tension I had waiting out the last verdict in the state trial at Simi Valley," Mr. Stone said.

"When the verdict came in then, I just about puked."

This time, Mr. Stone said, he will try to remain calm when the verdict comes in.

"When it's over," he said, "I'm going to go home and have a stiff drink."

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