It's been just over a decade since we all saw--over and over--the
horrifying video images of three white Los Angeles Police Department
officers beating and kicking an African-American motorist, Rodney King.
Next spring will mark the tenth anniversary of the riots that followed
the verdict in the first King beating trial--riots that left much of
south central Los Angeles in ruins.
A decade is a long enough period to allow us to put the LAPD officers
trial in perspective. We can now see this American tragedy as one with
many victims: not just King, not just the fifty-four mostly Koreans and
Latinos who died in the L. A. riots, but also some of the police
officers whose law enforcement careers ended with their prosecution.
Sometimes when we pursue justice we achieve only its opposite; other
times when we pursue justice we fail to achieve it--but we learn
something about its nature.
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
It seemed like an open-and-shut case. The George
Holliday video, played on television so often that an executive at
CNN called it "wallpaper," showed three Los Angeles police officers--as
their supervisor watched-- kicking, stomping on, and beating with metal
batons a seemingly defenseless African-American named Rodney
King. Polls taken shortly after the incident showed that over
90% of Los Angeles residents who saw the videotape believed that the police
used excessive force in arresting King. Despite the videotape, a
jury in Simi Valley concluded a year later that the evidence was not sufficient
to convict the officers. Within hours of the jury's verdict, Los
Angeles erupted in riots. When it was over, fifty-four people had
lost their lives, over 7,000 people had been arrested, and hundreds of
millions of dollars worth of property had been destroyed.
On the night of March 2, 1991, Rodney Glen King watched a basketball
game and drank forty-ounce bottles of Olde English 800 at a friend's home
in suburban Los Angeles. After the game, King proposed a trip--possibly
to pick up some girls. King and two friends, "Pooh" Allen and Freddie
Helms, took off driving west down the 210 freeway.
At 12:30 A.M., a husband-and-wife team of the California Highway Patrol,
Tim and Melanie Singer, spotted King's Hyundai behind them driving at a
very high speed. The Singers exited at the Sunland
Boulevard off ramp and returned to the freeway to chase the speeding
car at speeds of up to 117 miles per hour. King ignored the flashing
lights and sped off an exit ramp. He ran a red light, nearly causing
an accident, before finally coming to a stop near the entrance to Hansen
Dam Park, at the intersection of Osborne Street and Foothill Boulevard.
Within seconds, three Los Angeles police cars and a police helicopter arrived
at the scene. Officers Laurence
Timothy Wind were in one car. Theodore
Briseno and Rolando Solano were in the second car, and Sergeant
Stacey Koon in the third.
Tim Singer ordered the occupants of the Hyundai to leave the vehicle
and lie face down on the ground. Allen and Helms complied, but King
remained in the car. Melanie Singer again shouted at King to get
out, which he did. Singer described King as "smiling" as he stood
by his car and waved at the police helicopter overhead. As Singer
ordered King to get his hands where she could see them, King--according
to Singer's testimony--"grabbed his right buttock with his right hand and
he shook it at me." King finally complied with Singer's order to
lie on the ground. As she drew close to King with her gun drawn to
make the arrest, Sergeant Koon shouted, "Stand back. Stand back.
We'll handle this." Koon would later say he intervened because he
thought the use of guns was "a lousy tactic" that would probably result
either in the death of King or the CHP officers.
King's bizarre behavior and his "spaced-out" look led Koon to suspect
that King was "dusted"--a user of the drug most feared by police departments,
PCP. Police believed that the drug made individuals impervious to
pain and gave them almost superhuman strength. King's "buffed out"
look added to his apprehensions. He concluded that King was probably
an ex-con who developed his muscles working out on prison weights.
(Although Koon's suspicions about the PCP would later prove unfounded,
he was right about King
being an ex-con. Earlier that winter, King had been paroled after
serving time for robbing a convenience store and assaulting the clerk.)
Koon grew even more concerned after King successfully repelled a swarming
maneuver by his officers and--more remarkably--managed to rise to his feet
after being hit twice by an electric
stun gun called a Taser.
The lights and noise awakened George Holliday, the manager of a plumbing
company, in his apartment. He walked to his bedroom terrace and pointed
his new video camera at the action unfolding ninety feet away. He
began recording as King rose to his feet and made a charge in the direction
of Powell, but the scene came into focus only as Officers Powell and Wind
began striking King with their metal batons. Before King is finally
handcuffed about a minute-and-a-half later, Holliday's camera records Powell
and Wind inflicting over fifty baton blows and several kicks. It
also records Officer Briseno stomping on King's shoulder, causing his head
to hit hard against the asphalt. One or more of the baton blows seem
to land, contrary to LAPD policy, on King's head. The violence is
too far from Holliday's bedroom to pick up the sound of King as he finally
says, "Please stop."
was handcuffed, Koon asked all officers who participated in the use
of force to raise their hands. Officers Powell and Wind both raised
their hands, but--remarkably--each learned for the first time that the
other officer had participated in the use of force. Powell and Wind
had, in the jargon of law enforcement, "tunneled in" on King.
Shortly before 1 A.M., Koon typed a message into his in-car computer:
"U just had a big time use of force. Tased and beat the suspect of
CHP pursuit." Powell also reported the incident on his computer--in
a seemingly boastful way that would come to haunt the defense. Powell
typed, "I haven't beaten anyone this bad in a long time." It wasn't
Powell's only controversial message that night. Later, investigators
would discover another message sent shortly before the King arrest in which
he described the scene of a domestic disturbance involving African-Americans
as right out of "Gorillas in the Mist."
King, taken in an ambulance to Pacifica Hospital, recalled little of
what happened after Powell's first blow. A grand jury would later hear
him testify: "I felt beat up and like a crushed can. That's what
I felt like, like a crushed can all over, and my spirits were down real
Demands for Justice
George Holliday thought his video camera had captured something important.
On March 4, Holliday took his film to Los Angeles television station KTLA.
News producers at KTLA found the tape shocking and played it on the evening
news. CNN picked up the tape the next day and soon it was everywhere.
CNN Vice President Ed Turner said "television used the tape like wallpaper."
Most viewers who saw the tape--which ran without the first fuzzy seconds
showing King's charge at Powell--as revealing the brutal and senseless
beating of a helpless drunk. A poll taken in Los Angeles after the tape
had been running showed that 92% of those polled believed that excessive
force was used against Rodney King. Those feelings seemed to extend even
to many within the LAPD itself. Police Chief Daryl Gates called the
use of force "very, very extreme": "For the LAPD, considered by many the
finest, most professional police department in the world, it was more than
extreme. It was impossible."
Soon prosecutorial wheels began turning--not for Rodney King, who was
released without charges, but for the four LAPD officers involved in his
arrest. Officers present at the arrest scene at the intersection
of Osborne and Foothill were suspended. On March 7, Chief Gates announced
that the officers would be prosecuted. The next day, District Attorney
Ira Reiner said that he would seek indictments from a grand jury.
Within a week, the grand jury--after watching the videotape and listening
to testimony from King and others--returned indictments against Officers
Koon, Powell, Briseno, and Wind.
Initially, few people considered race an issue in the King beating.
Even King's own attorney, Steven Lerman, agreed with that assessment .
But revelations concerning Powell's "Gorillas in the Mist" message changed
things. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared, "There
appears to be a dangerous trend of racially motivated incidents running
through at least some segments of the Police Department." Bradley
appointed a commission headed by Warren Christopher (later Secretary of
State under President Clinton) to investigate LAPD practices and make recommendations
for reform. The mayor also asked for the resignation of Chief Gates,
but Gates refused.
Attorneys for the four officers, meanwhile, focused their attention
on moving the upcoming trial out of Los Angeles County. Prosecutors
seemed relatively unconcerned about the defense motion for a change of
venue, content in the knowledge that such motions tended to fare poorly
in California courts. Indeed, on May 16, trial judge Bernard Kamins
denied the defense motion.
The key victory for the defense came in July when the California Court
of Appeals unanimously granted their change of venue motion and removed
Judge Kamins from the case on account of bias. The Court's removal
of the judge was based on an ex parte message he had sent to prosecutors.
"Don't panic," Kamins had said, "You can trust me." The case was
reassigned to Judge Stanley Weisberg. More good news for the defense
came in November when Judge Weisberg decided to schedule the trial in Simi
Valley, a conservative and predominantly white city set amidst the
rolling hills of Ventura County. Prosecutors immediately understood
the significance of the transfer to Simi Valley. Chief Deputy of
the Special Investigations Division in the District Attorney's Office,
Roger Gunson, said later about hearing the news: "I have never been so
horrified in my life."
The State Trial in Simi Valley
Both sides understood that jury selection could be critical to the trial
outcome. The prosecution would have loved to seat some blacks--who
tend to be skeptical of police practices--, but the jury pool of 260 people
included only a half dozen African Americans--and five of those had no
interest in serving on a jury in what they considered hostile territory.
Stone, attorney for Officer Powell, used a peremptory challenge to
strike the one black to make it to the jury box. Even more troubling
for the prosecution, all the potential jurors seemed to be very pro-law
enforcement. Two jurors were N.R.A. members. Two other jurors
were retired military veterans. Terry
White, chief prosecutor in the case and an African-American, complained
that "everyone seemed very pro-police; they all seemed to come from the
same background." White later recalled thinking "we were going to
lose this case." Jo-Ann Dimitrius, jury consultant for the defense, was
understandably delighted with the final twelve. She called it "a
gem of a jury."
The media underappreciated the importance of the composition of the
jury. Perhaps placing too much confidence in the ability of the videotape
to secure a conviction, the media failed to adequately prepare the public
for the verdict that would come weeks later.
During his opening statement for the prosecution on March 5, 1992, Deputy
District Attorney White played the entire Holliday videotape. Jurors
would see the same tape over and over again before the trial was over.
Opening statements by the four defense attorneys revealed a split in
defense strategy. Darryl
Mounger, attorney for Koon, and Michael Stone, portrayed King as to
blame for the beating. Mounger told jurors that "Rodney King alone was
in control of the situation." On the other hand, John Barnett, attorney
for Theodore Briseno, characterized Officer Powell as "out of control,"
and told jurors that the videotape would show his client tried to intervene
to stop the beating.
The prosecution saw CHP officer Melanie Singer, as its star witness.
(King would not testify. He was too drunk to remember much about
the beating, and putting him on the stand would open him up to cross-examination
about his prior criminal offenses. Moreover, prosecutors feared King
would lose his temper during cross-examination and antagonize jurors.)
testified, "Officer Powell came up to the right of [King] and in a
matter of seconds, he took out his baton, he had it in a power swing, and
he struck the driver across the top of his cheekbone, splitting the face
from the top of his ear to his chin." Asked by White whether "there
any reason for the strike to the head by Officer Powell at the time he
struck him," Singer answered, "In my opinion, no sir, there was no reason
for it." In cross-examination, Powell's attorney, Michael Stone, tried
to cast doubt upon Singer's account:
Stone: Well, you described
in your earlier testimony...the skin was split from the ear to the chin,
was that right?
Other prosecution witnesses focused their testimony on statements by
Powell that suggested his callousness--or worse. An LAPD communications
officer told jurors about Powell's typed message to another officer after
the beating. Two emergency room nurses testified concerning a conversation
at the hospital between Powell and King. Lawrence Davis said that
Powell compared the beating to "a good hardball game," and boasted that
he had hit "quite a few home runs." Carol Edwards claimed also to
have heard Powell's "hardball" remark, and added that he said, "'We won
and you lost' or something to that effect." On cross-examination,
Powell's attorneys suggested that the overheard remarks actually came from
Stone: Does that
[pointing to a hospital photo of King's face] appear to be sutured in that
Singer: No, sir.
Stone: Does that
appear to be split in that photograph?
Singer: No, sir.
Stone: Do you have
any explanation for that?
Singer: I saw what
I saw, sir.
The prosecution rested on March 17. Almost all of its evidence
(except the videotape) had concerned just two of the four officers, Koon
and--especially--Powell. The evidence against Wind was so close to
non-existent that Wind's attorney, Paul DePasquale, began rethinking his
original decision to put his client on the stand.
One of the first defense witnesses, LAPD Officer Susan Clemmer, developed
the defense story of a scary suspect and scared officers. Clemmer
said King spit blood at her and repeatedly laughed and said "fuck you"
to officers as he lay handcuffed on the road. She quoted Powell as telling
her at the time, "I was scared. The guy threw me off his back.
I thought I was going to have to shoot him." Clemmer testified that
later, at the emergency room, King had looked at Koon, smiled, and told
the sergeant, "I love you."
Koon was of three defendants to take the stand. He proved to
be an impressive witness. Koon testified that he had quickly identified
King as dangerous, believing him to be an ex-con on PCP. He said
he was "concerned" and "a little frightened" by King. He described
the use of escalating force--verbal commands, swarming, use of the electric
stun guns, and finally metal batons--and how they were used on the night
of March 3, 1991. Koon seemed to sincerely believe that the use of
force against King had been appropriate and controlled. The most
effective moment in his testimony came when he was asked by Mounger, what
he was "thinking at the time you saw Melanie Singer approaching with a
gun in her hand?" Koon fought back tears as he answered: "They show
you a picture when you are in the Academy [taken] at the morgue, and it
is four [highway patrol] officers in full uniform that are on a slab and
they are dead, and it is the Newhall shooting."
In a frame-by-frame analysis of the videotape, expert witness Sergeant
Charles Duke backed up Koon's contention that only reasonable force
was used against King. Duke, a critic of LAPD policy banning use
of chokeholds, suggested that the King incident showed the inevitable result
of a policy that left the police with few viable options short of deadly
force. Duke said it was sometimes necessary "to break a bone" and
that every one of the fifty-six baton swings shown on the videotape was
The defense, it would turn out, won its case with Koon and Duke.
After Duke left the stand, it was mostly downhill.
Laurence Powell nervously offered lengthy answers to the questions from
his attorney, Michael Stone. He told jurors, "I was completely in
fear for my life, scared to death that [if] this guy got back up, he was
going to take my gun away from me." On cross-examination, Terry White
sarcastically questioned Powell about his "Gorillas in the Mist" message:
White: Now this call that involved these African Americans,
was it in a jungle?
Powell: In a what?
White: A jungle?
White: Was it at the zoo?
White: Were there any gorillas around?
Powell: I didn't see any.
Later in the cross-examination, after Powell offered a "just-following-orders"
defense for this actions, White forced Powell to concede "Everybody out
there was responsible for their own actions."
Defendant Theodore Briseno turned out to be a better witness for the
prosecution than any witness called in their own case. He told jurors
that he thought Powell "was out of control" and had "a look I'd never seen
before." In Briseno's opinion, the beating was "excessive."
He said that he yelled to Powell to "get the hell off" King, but that Powell
ignored him. "It was like he moved, they hit him," Briseno testified.
"I just didn't understand what was going on out there....It didn't make
any sense to me."
The only use of force shown on the videotape involving Briseno was a
single stomp on King's shoulders at about the time Powell was reaching
for his handcuffs. Briseno testified that the stomp was an effort
to get King down so that the other officers would stop their clubbing.
He said he stomped on King--rather than put his knee on him, as LAPD policy
dictates--because he feared getting accidentally struck by a baton if he
lowered himself to his knees.
In his closing argument, Terry White argued that the videotape showed
Powell intentionally hitting King in the head and lying twenty-six times
in his police report or testimony. King held up Briseno's black boots
used to stomp King and told jurors Briseno "just got caught up in the frenzy."
Ridiculing Koon's description of the arrest and a "managed and controlled
use of force," White called the affair "a managed and controlled cover-up."
White saved his real theatrics for his rebuttal. Moving quickly
across the courtroom, White came within a few feet of a startled Laurence
Powell and pointed
a finger directly in his face. "This is the man," White shouted.
"Look at him." Judge
Stanley Weisberg ordered White back to his podium.
In his closing, Michael Stone described his client, Laurence Powell,
as a man who "stood his ground and did his duty." He suggested to
jurors that they try to put themselves in the police officers' place: "These
are not Robo-cops....There are no second-place ribbons in a street fight."
After summations by attorneys for Officers Wind and Briseno, Darryl
Mounger offered his defense of Sergeant Stacey Koon. Mounger again
placed all the blame for the incident on King. He reminded jurors
that Koon worked with three relatively inexperienced younger officers.
"He didn't have a platoon of Green Berets that were well trained...He is
playing the cards he is dealt."
The jury debated the officers' fate for seven days. Verdicts of
acquittal were easily reached for Wind and Briseno, and a little less so
for Koon. Most of the discussion focused on the actions of Powell.
Eight jurors wanted to acquit Powell of all charges, but in the end were
unable to persuade the others on one of the assault charges.
At 3:15 P.M. on April 29, 1992, the clerk announced the jury's verdicts.
Less than two hours later, Los Angeles was in flames.
All Hell Breaks Loose
Some people reacted with disbelief to the jury verdicts; others reacted
in anger. A crowd outside the Ventura County Courthouse shouted "Guilty!
Guilty!" as the defendants were escorted away by sheriff's deputies.
According to Rodney King's bodyguard, Tom Owens, King sat "absolutely motionless"
as he watched in "pure disbelief" the televised verdicts being read. A
visibly angry Mayor Tom Bradley publicly declared, "Today, the jury told
the world that what we all saw with our own eyes was not a crime."
Sixty-two minutes after the King verdict, five black male youths entered
a Korean-owned Pay-less Liquor and Deli at Florence and Dalton Avenues.
The youths each grabbed bottles of malt liquor and headed out the door,
where they were blocked by the son of the store's owner, David Lee.
One young man smashed Lee on the head with a bottle, while two others shattered
the storefront with their thrown bottles. One of the youths shouted,
"This is for Rodney King!" The deadly Los Angeles riots of 1992 were
Events grew increasingly ugly. Black youths with baseball bats battered
a car driven by a white. Another white driver was hit in the face
by a chunk of concrete thrown threw his car windshield. Police faced gangs
of rock and bottle-throwing youths. The taunting, missile-hurling crowds
grew in size, forcing the police to beat a hasty retreat out of the riot
area. The Florence-Neighborhood is left to the anarchy of the mob attacking
Perhaps the most horrific image of the riots involved mild-mannered
truck driver Reginald Denny. Denny was at the wheel of his eighteen-wheeler,
carrying a load of sand and listening to country music, when at 6:46 P.M.
he entered the intersection at Normandie and Florence. A helicopter
overhead captured on videotape what occurred next. Denny was pulled
from his truck into the street, where he was kicked and then beaten on
the head with a claw hammer. The most vicious attack came from Damian
Williams who smashed a block of concrete on Denny's head at point-blank
range, knocking him unconscious and fracturing his head in ninety-one places.
The helicopter camera recorded Williams doing a victory dance as he gleefully
pointed out Denny's bloodied figure.
When the rioting finally ended five days later, fifty-four people (mostly
Koreans and Latinos) were dead--the greatest death toll in any American
civil disturbance since the 1863 Draft Riots in New York City. Hundreds
of people (including sixty firefighters) were injured. Looting
and fires had resulted in more than one billion dollars in property
damage. Whole neighborhoods in south central Los Angeles, such as
Koreatown, looked like war zones. Over 7,000 persons were arrested.
Even as the rioting continued, President George Bush and Attorney General
William Barr began the process of bringing federal charges against the
four LAPD officers accused in the King case. On the day after the
Simi Valley verdict, Bush issued a statement declaring that the verdict
"has left us all with a deep sense of personal frustration and anguish."
In a May 1 televised address to the nation, Bush all but promised a federal
prosecution of the officers.
Prosecuting the officers on the federal charge of violating King's civil
rights accomplished two Bush Administration goals. The first goal
was to control the rage that had developed in black communities. The second
was to reduce demands from some in the civil rights community for sweeping
investigations into police misconduct.
On May 7, federal prosecutors began presenting evidence to a Los Angeles
grand jury. On August 4, the grand jury returned indictments against
the three officers for "willfully and intentionally using unreasonable
force" and against Koon for "willfully permitting and failing to take action
to stop the unlawful assault." on King.
The Federal Civil Rights Trial
The second trial of Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and
Theodore Briseno began on February 25, 1993 in the Los Angeles courtroom
Judge John G. Davies. The Department of Justice assembled a formidable
team of four prosecutors to try the closely watched case. Lead prosecutor
on the team was thirty-four-year old Steven
Clymer, considered the best trial lawyer in the U. S. Attorney's office
in Los Angeles.
Unlike the Simi Valley jury, the federal jury was racially mixed.
Although the defense made a considerable effort to exclude African-Americans,
two blacks were seated as jurors. One of the two, Marian Escobel
("Juror No. 7), sent an early signal of the difficulty she would cause
the defense when she was overheard strongly criticizing the defense's treatment
of other potential black jurors. In one of his most important trial
rulings, Judge Davies denied a defense motion to remove Escobel from the
jury--perhaps because he understood that the juror accurately perceived
the defense conduct. A second problem for the defense resulted from
their focus on excluding African-American jurors: they gave insufficient
attention to identifying and excluding white jurors who were especially
fearful of producing a verdict that would cause more rioting.
In addition to a more favorable jury, the prosecution had other advantages
in the second trial. Clymer noted later that the government "had
the advantage of seeing everything that had gone wrong in the first trial."
Clymer excluded from the witness list those witnesses who had backfired
in Simi Valley. He avoided juror suspicion that the prosecution was
hiding something by calling Rodney King to the stand. He came up with a
medical expert who would prove King's facial injury came from a baton blow,
not the asphalt. He identified a credible use-of-force expert, Mark
Conta, who countered the testimony of the defense's expert. He used
cross-examination to suggest that defense police witnesses were friends
seeking to bail the defendants out of a tight spot. Finally, he presented
new and potentially damaging facts to present to the jury, such as Powell
taking King on a ninety-minute detour to Foothill Station after leaving
Pacifica Hospital, rather than directly to the USC Medical Center, as Koon
had requested. Clymer hoped that the jury might conclude the detour
was made to show off their injured "trophy."
King may have been an ex-con who had given wildly different accounts
of his beating, but he came across on the stand as an uneducated man was
either too drunk or confused to remember events, not as a sophisticated
liar. Through King's testimony, the jurors saw a man who seemed to
have been in genuine fear of his life. He also raised the issue of
race. Although he at first had denied that race had anything to do with
his beating, he told the jury that as he was being hit, the officers "were
chanting either 'What's up killer? How do you feel killer? [or] What's
up nigger?" Asked whether the word used was "killer" or "nigger,"
King answered, "I'm not sure." Watching King testify, defense attorney
Stone worried. He saw King as "very polite and mild-mannered and
thoughtful" and that, he said, "spells credibility."
Changes in the defense strategy also worked to the prosecution's advantage.
Koon, in his testimony, revealed none of the inner fears that seemed to
impress the Simi Valley jury. To some jurors in the federal trial,
he came across as arrogant or cocky. Powell, afraid of Clymer's expected
rough cross-examination chose not to take the stand at all. Theodore Briseno
appeared as a witness only on videotape. Judge Davies granted the prosecution's
request to show the videotape as rebuttal evidence after Briseno's new
attorney, Harland Braun, announced that Briseno would not testify.
Braun's decision was based on his proposed a "unified defense" in which
the defendants would strive to keep their differences to a minimum.
(As he studied the case, Braun came to see Powell as a "scared kid" and
Koon as taking more responsibility for the beating than was due.
Braun believed all four officers deserved acquittal, and saw few benefits--and
much potential harm--to his client in putting Briseno on the stand where
he would be cross-examined about his criticisms of his fellow officers.)
The effect, however, of Briseno appearing only on videotape was to magnify
problems for Koon and Powell. Attorneys for those two officers had
no way of challenging the devastating criticisms of their clients made
on the edited videotape.
The closing arguments for the defense showed that they understood the
political pressures the jury faced. Harland Braun told jurors, "No
man should be condemned in this country because there is a threat of riot.
So in a sense, my client is on trial, but you are also on trial; it's your
courage that's on trial." Braun compared the LAPD officers' trial
to that of Jesus before Pontius Pilate:
When the prisoner was brought by the authorities
before the judge, Pontius Pilate asked a simple question, "What evil has
this man done?"...And the authorities really had no answer. But when
you read Matthew you find in it an eerie echo of this case, that the man
was condemned, the prisoner was condemned, because there were riots in
On April 10, the case was submitted to the jury. At first,
the jury leaned slightly toward acquittal for all the officers. Three
jurors, however, strongly favored conviction and they pressed their case
hard. At times, debates in the jury room became highly emotional.
One juror called another "an asshole." At another point in the discussions,
a juror broke into tears and ran crying from the room. Finally, six
days later, the jury concluded its work. There was an exchange of
high fives in the jury room.
Judge Davies decided to postpone the announcement of the verdict until
7 A.M. the next morning to minimize the danger of rioting. Court
clerk Jim Holmes read the verdict. The jury found two of the officers,
Koon and Powell, guilty. They acquitted Officers Wind and Briseno.
Prosecutors declared a victory. "This verdict provides justice" declared
Justice Department Attorney Barry Kowalski. The streets of Los Angeles
In August 1993, Judge Davies sentenced Koon and Powell to thirty months
in federal correctional camps. The government appealed, arguing that
the sentences were too light and violated federal sentencing guidelines.
In 1995, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the government's
position and sent the case back to Judge Davies for the imposition of a
tougher sentence. Koon and Powell appealed to the United States Supreme
Court. On June 13, 1996, the High
Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and upheld the sentence of Judge Davies
on all but two minor points. The original thirty-month sentence stood.
In October of 1993, Koon and Powell began serving their sentences in
separate federal camps. Near the end of Koon's sentence, an armed
African-American man broke into a halfway house in Rubidoux, California
where Koon had been staying. The man announced his intention to kill
Koon, but fortunately Koon had been released to his family for the Thanksgiving
holiday. The armed invader was killed by police in a shoot-out.
In December 1995, Koon and Powell were released.
Rodney King, meanwhile, won a $3.8 million verdict from the City of
Los Angeles. He used some of the money he received in damages to
found a rap record business, Alta-Pazz Recording Company.
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
For further information and documentation, see Professor Linder's Web site on The Trials of the Los Angeles Police Officers.
© 2001 by Douglas Linder. All rights reserved.