Officer laughed, joked about King beating, tape shows

By ANNETTE HADDAD  |  March 11, 1992
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SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Jurors in the Rodney King police brutality trial heard audio tapes Wednesday of a Los Angeles police officer laughing and joking about the beating of the motorist just moments after the videotaped incident occurred.

The jury listened to conversations between Officer Laurence Powell and a department dispatcher from the time Powell and his partner, Officer Timothy Wind, joined in a chase of King's car to moments after King was arrested on a San Fernando Valley street.

Powell and three other white Los Angeles police officers are on trial for beating and kicking the black motorist during a March 3, 1991, traffic stop.

The 56 kicks and blows were recorded on a videotape that was broadcast repeatedly in news reports worldwide. The images shocked television viewers and unleashed a political upheaval in Los Angeles city government that resulted in the trial being moved to this eastern Ventura County suburb.

At one point in the audio tapes, Powell talks about the arrest, laughing and describing how King suffered 'numerous head wounds.' Powell was unaware at the time that the arrest was being videotaped by a resident across the street.

Powell's admission in the radio conversation contradicts his argument that he did not hit King in the head with his steel baton to subdue the resistant suspect. Although he is shown on the videotape striking King several times, he has maintained that few if any blows hit King's head.

It is against standard law enforcement procedures to strike a suspect on the head, sternum or groin because of the potential for severe or permanent injury.

In the audio tapes, Powell reports to a dispatcher that 'We need an R.A. (rescue ambulance) at Foothill and Osborne, victim of a ... ' and a second officer chimes in 'beating.' Powell laughs and says, 'yeah' and reports the man has 'numeroushead wounds.'

An L.A.P.D. dispatcher testified he thought it was 'unusual' for an officer to use the word 'beating' and then laugh when requesting an ambulance. But under cross-examination by Powell's attorney, Michael Stone, dispatcher Leshon Frierson admitted he did not think the officer had necessarily done anything wrong.

Powell's remarks and his laughter could prove damaging to his defense that he was forced to hit King because he was afraid of him.

Stone initially objected to prosecutors giving the jury a written transcript of the tapes prepared by Police Department technicians because some portions of the tape were difficult to understand.

However, Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg listened to the questionable passages five times out of the presence of the jury and decided to allow the transcripts because he could clearly understand what Powell was saying.

To prove to jurors that the voice on the tape was Powell's, prosecutors played a portion of the videotape in which Powell grabbed his portable police radio and held it to his lips just seconds after King was hog-tied and handcuffed in front of him.

Deputy District Attorney Alan Yochelson showed Weisberg that the time on the videotape was nearly identical to the time encoded on the audio tape.

The prosecution called the emergency room physician who treated King. Dr. Antonio Mancia said King suffered five facial cuts that required a total of 20 stitches. Mancia also said that based on the cuts and bruises on King's head, he requested a CAT scan be done to determine if there were internal head injuries.

Mancia testified the head injuries indicated to him that King had been 'hit with a blunt object.' Despite the police having told the nurses that King was on PCP, Mancia said 'my clinical impression was that he was not under the influence of any drug.'

Later Wednesday, the jury was expected to see transcripts of mobile digital transmissions made the night of the King beating. MDTs are computer messages sent between officers in patrol cars and their counterparts or superiors at the station.

If convicted of all charges, Powell, 29, and Sgt. Stacey Koon, 41, could be sentenced to up to seven years, eight months in prison. Wind, 31, faces up to seven years and Officer Theodore Briseno, 39, could be imprisoned for up to four years.

Wind, a department rookie, was fired as a result of the incident. The others have been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the trial.

Before Wednesday's proceedings, Weisberg said defense attorneys and prosecutors had 'voluntarily' agreed to stop holding impromptu news conferences during breaks in the trial.

A court spokeswoman said Weisberg has been concerned about the extensive media coverage of the trial, reading several newspaper stories about the case each day.

A cable channel and at least one local television station have been carrying gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial daily with commentary from legal experts. The judge was apparently concerned the jury could see or hear some of the daily coverage.

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