SENTENCES // 2 1/2 years for each // City divided over fairness of sentences
Haya El Nasser; Sally Ann Stewart
LOS ANGELES - The Rodney King beating case still has the power to divide
"It's very troubling, very troubling," said Joe Hicks, executive director of the
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, after a judge handed down light
sentences to two white police officers who beat black motorist Rodney King.
"There'll be quite a national outrage from minorities."
The city stayed calm after U.S. District Judge John Davies sentenced suspended
Los Angeles Police Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell to 30 months
in prison - well below the maximum 10-year prison term and $250,000 fines they
faced for violating King's civil rights.
But debate - a mixture of praise and denunciations similar to what was heard
after the first two trials - returned to street corners, TV and radio, offices and
Many people fear the sentences would add pressure to the ongoing trial of two
black men accused of beating trucker Reginald Denny in last year's riots.
"I think this case will affect our case," said Karen Ackerson, lawyer for one of
the accused, Henry Watson. "I hope it has a good effect."
Jury selection in the Denny case resumes Friday.
The Denny case has been widely compared with the King case. Both were
videotaped: black men beating a white motorist in one; white officers beating a
black motorist in the other. Verdicts - and possible sentences - will be closely
Said Shellie Johnson, 23, a service worker: "What are they going to say to those
Denny guys? I know them and they're going to get convicted and that's not fair.
The cops should get more time. I didn't like that Koon guy having that smirk on
his face, like he's getting off with something. Like he'd do it again."
Reading faces was about the only way to gauge feelings in the courtroom
Wednesday. Koon and Powell declined to make statements before the bench.
They showed no emotion while Davies read the sentences. Powell's fiancee,
mother and sister wept openly in the visitor's gallery.
Koon, widely perceived as arrogant while on trial, was his usual stoic self during
the hearing. Powell appeared drained, his voice cracking as he declined to make
Security was tight around the Edward R. Roybal federal courthouse with scores
of uniformed marshals patroling the grounds. Within minutes of the sentencing,
sheriff's patrol cars whizzed toward south central Los Angeles. The police
department was on tactical alert.
Mayor Richard Riordan, elected in the wake of the 1992 violence, pleaded for
calm on live television.
"Our judicial system worked, maybe not the way many of us would like to have
it work, but it did work," he said. "Let the world know that diversity is a positive
function in the city of Los Angeles and that together, people of every race, creed
and color can come together as one community."
As the hours went by, it was clear that the sentences carried neither the shock nor
the drama of the first acquittals in 1992.
"No one's been upset all day," said Darnell Hendrick, 40, owner of Clara Mae's
Restaurant in south central. "The anger was for the first trial. The second trial
was not on TV. It's basically over. No fallout, no riots. It's just not that big a
deal. But I was surprised they got convicted in the first place, so I expected the
sentences to be light. It shows that there is some justice because they are getting
some time and it's progress."
At Moby's, a south central diner, patrons seemed more concerned with President
Clinton's budget than the sentencing.
Other south central residents, hoping to close the book on the case that has
ripped the city apart since March 3, 1991, flocked to churches to await the
People like nurse Gerald Chestnut, who brought her daughter, Shawntya, to First
African Methodist Episcopal for a candlelight vigil: "I was hoping she would see
justice prevail, that she could believe in her police force. That didn't happen."
George Bullock, 33, is black and said, "I'm the son of an LAPD officer that gave
his entire life to the force and I can't help but wonder what sentence he would've
To Bullock, the lenient sentence "sends a message to the rest of the law
enforcement community that they can go around and beat people up, hopefully
not get caught and if they do, get a light sentence. . . . I really don't know what
Ashtonell Smith, a 60-year-old registered nurse, said, "I came here with high
hopes and it didn't happen. Black Americans are treated as three-fifths of a
But there were those with different views.
Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Southern California, said, "It has been a long time since a Los Angeles Police
Department officer has gone to prison for beating a civilian." She said the
sentences "send a message to police officers: If you use unnecessary force, you're
going to do time."
Rod Moser, 50, a computer executive, backed the sentences. "Losing all your life
savings, losing your job, the last two years they've been through, including two
trials, and now they're facing two years in prison," he said. "And cops in prison
especially, that's got to be worse. I think this punishment is more than adequate."
But civil rights leaders across the city lashed out at Davies' criticism of King,
who has become a national symbol of the mistreatment of minorities by the
criminal justice system.
Davies said guidelines allowed him to reduce prison time partly because King
provoked much of the attack. He cited King's "remarkable consumption of
alcoholic beverages," his "intent to escape" during the chase and refusal to obey
Davies also said he took into consideration that the officers lost their careers and
were tried twice.
"Judge Davies' comments and his rationale are very disturbing," said John Mack,
president of the Los Angeles Urban League. "He defended the indefensible."
King has brought a $50 million civil suit against the city which may go forward
now that the sentencing is over.
Timothy Wind, who was in the back of the courtroom while his fellow
defendants were sentenced, said, "I'm just here today to experience some closure.
But it will never be over."
Contributing: Jonathan T. Lovitt
PHOTO,color,Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY ; PHOTO,color,AP;
PHOTO,color,Reuters; PHOTO,color,Kevork Djansezian,AP