L.A. ordered to pay King $3.8 million

April 20, 1994|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- A jury ordered the city of Los Angeles yesterday to pay Rodney King $3.8 million in damages in compensation for his beating by police officers in 1991.

In the next phase of Mr. King's civil suit, to begin immediately, the jury will hear additional testimony to determine whether any of 14 current and former police officers who were at the scene are liable for punitive damages in addition to yesterday's award.

The award yesterday -- $3,816,535.45 -- was more than double the $1.25 million the city had offered to pay Mr. King before the trial when it accepted liability for the beating. But it was far less than the $9.5 million Mr. King had sought.

In closing arguments last week, his lawyer raised the ante and asked for $15 million.

"We think that this is a satisfactory result," said City Attorney James K. Hahn yesterday, indicating that the city is unlikely to appeal the outcome. It had conceded liability in the beating in an effort to resolve the case and avoid a review of police procedures.

Mr. King's lawyer, Milton C. Grimes, said his client was "somewhat pleased" with the verdict. The lawyer said he would fight to win more money in the second phase of the trial.

Joseph Duff, who heads the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also said the award seemed fair. "I think that passes the test of reasonableness," he said. "It is a measure of the depth of pain and suffering, and the understanding that there is a permanent injury to him."

An unemployed construction worker at the time of the beating, Mr. King, 29, has not worked in three years, and experts at the trial estimated his lost earnings from his injuries at anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million over his lifetime.

The compensatory damages from the city are intended to cover lost earnings and expenses for the treatment of broken bones and neurological and psychological damage. Mr. King's lawyer said his client will never be able to work again.

Legal experts said Mr. Grimes might receive about one-third of the settlement. Mr. King's previous lawyer, Stephen Lerman, is reportedly also owed several hundred thousand dollars.

The defendants in the second phase of the trial include the four police officers who were tried twice for the beating, in which Mr. King was repeatedly struck with a police baton, kicked and shocked with a stun gun.

In a state trial in 1992, the officers' acquittal on assault charges sparked a riot that took more than 50 lives.

In a federal trial a year ago, two of the officers -- Stacey C. Koon and Laurence M. Powell -- were convicted of violating Mr. King's civil rights and are now serving 30-month prison terms.

After the verdict on compensatory damages, the city was quiet yesterday, with the April 1992 riot a fading memory.

Since the beating, Mr. King has been arrested several times on charges of drunken driving and spousal abuse and has been released each time.

Witnesses at the trial described him as still shaken by his beating and its aftermath, fearful in the streets and shying away from the police.

"I felt like I had been raped," Mr. King testified. "I felt like a cow that was waiting to be slaughtered, like a piece of meat."

In the second phase of his lawsuit, the legal travails resume for the police officers who were tried in the beating. Both Powell and Koon were dismissed from the force after their felony convictions and are serving their time in a prison camp in Dublin, Calif.

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