Convict in King beating tries to cash in on crime

March 24, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

"Fellow American," the letter from Sgt. Stacey C. Koon begins. "Let me be blunt. If you are absolutely, positively convinced that I am guilty as charged in the so-called Rodney King affair, then throw this letter away right now. But if you have the courage to hear the truth and you care about justice being done, read on."

I happen to be absolutely, positively convinced that Sergeant Koon is guilty as charged in the "so-called Rodney King affair." But what the heck, I read on anyway.

"Officer Lawrence Powell and I are the political scapegoats of black radicals and self-serving liberal politicians who know that we are innocent," the letter continues. "In fact, I can guarantee that when you hear the whole story you will be shocked, stunned and convinced that my officers and I were sold out by weak politicians and a deceitful news media."

The letter ends by asking us to send money to his wife, Mary, who is "a fine Christian lady and the mother of our five wonderful children."

For $30 you can get a copy of his book, "Presumed Guilty: The Tragedy of the Rodney King Affair." For $1,000, the sergeant will "try" to autograph it for you.

I don't know how or why this letter came to me. I suspect a reader forwarded it to me, since I doubt my name appears on conservative groups' mailing lists.

But Sergeant Koon was right about my reaction to his story. After reading the letter, I indeed found myself feeling shocked and stunned. But not because he had convinced me that he and his fellow officers were "sold out by weak politicians."

I felt shocked and stunned because the letter provides graphic evidence of the absolute failure of our prison system to rehabilitate convicted felons. Hasn't he received any counseling or therapy at all?

Sergeant Koon is entering the fifth month of a 30-month sentence in a minimum security federal prison (dubbed "Club Fed") near Dublin, Calif., for violating the civil rights of motorist Rodney King in April 1991.

By now, everyone must be familiar with the case. Mr. King, on parole for armed robbery, led police on a high-speed chase one evening. When officers finally stopped him, Mr. King was severely beaten with nightclubs, kicked and repeatedly shocked with electric stun guns. A civilian videotaped the entire incident.

Thus began what has become known as the Rodney King Affair.

The incident led to two trials, a deadly riot and an upheaval in Los Angeles politics. The videotape inspired people throughout the country to re-examine -- albeit briefly -- the troubled relationship between blacks and urban police departments. The 1992 Los Angeles riot led President George Bush to develop an urban reconstruction policy, although the policy proved short-lived.

And the saga continues. Yesterday marked the beginning of Mr. King's civil suit against the city of Los Angeles. He reportedly is seeking $9.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages for the beating.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Koon continues to insist that Mr. King deserved the beating he received.

"Our use of force was unusually powerful," he writes. "But he [Mr. King] was alive and in custody. Neither were any officers injured. And that's what a cop's use of force is supposed to accomplish."

He is railing at the press, liberal politicians and black radicals. And he is soliciting donations from right-thinking Americans by warning that "neither you nor your family will be safe from the likes of hardened criminals like Rodney King," whom he describes as a "muscle-bound, 6-foot 4-inch, 240-pound brute."

Ironically, I was inclined to feel sorry for Sergeant Koon and Officer Powell. You could argue that they have been punished enough.

But Sergeant Koon's letter makes it clear he remains unrepentant. He is casting about for scapegoats. He is trying to cash in on his felonious acts. He is no better than one of the hardened criminals he says he despises.

With these things in mind, California's "Club Fed" is too good for him. I'd like to see him transferred to a place like the Maryland Penitentiary, a Gothic hellhole where he can meditate on his misdeeds with other felons who remain unrepentant and, therefore, unforgiven.

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