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Punitive phase of Rodney King damage trial starts

By ELKA WORNER

LOS ANGELES, April 22 -- An attorney for Rodney King told the jury deciding how much in punitive damages he should receive for being beaten by Los Angeles police that the department had a long-standing policy of 'punishing' people who tried to flee.

As the punitive damages phase of King's lawsuit against the city began Thursday, his attorney, Federico Sayre, said there are three groups of people involved in the King beating who should be assessed punitive damages designed to punish them for their actions. The same jury awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages Tuesday.

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The first group was the 'closest' to King during the beating: officers Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind, who actually administered the more than 50 baton blows and kicks, and Sgt. Stacy Koon, the ranking officer at the scene the night of March 3, 1991.

The second group was nine bystander officers, who 'stood around and did nothing to intervene.' The third faction were the top supervisors, former Chief Daryl Gates and Cmdr. John Mutz, the commander of the Foothill Station in whose jurisdiction the videotaped beating occurred.

He said Gates and Mutz failed to heed signs of needless violence among their officers, and did nothing to prevent the King incident, which began when King failed to stop for a Highway Patrol car and led several police cars on a high-speed chase.

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Deputy City Attorney Don Vincent, who represents the bystander officers and Gates and Mutz, said each of the officers will take the stand to describe the 'terror, fear and dangers they experienced on March 3, 1991.'

'These officers are needed as long as there are people like Rodney King who will prey on the weak,' he said.

Vincent said Gates was an honorable man who 'ran a department that is not racist' but 'very unified and well managed.'

But Sayre said there was a longtime practice in LAPD of 'officers to involve themselves in the punishment of a person who causes a pursuit.'

'This beating of Rodney King after a pursuit was a typical LAPD action,' Sayre said.

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