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Jurors began deliberations in the racially charged assault trial of four white police officers in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.

The six men and six women spent 21/2 hours deliberating Thursday before retiring to a nearby hotel, where they are being sequestered until verdicts are reached. They were to resume Friday.Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, meanwhile, discussed the trial in a videotaped message to officers Thursday.

He warned them the verdict may spark street disruptions and would be used by community leaders he didn't name to further their own goals. Gates urged the officers to act professionally.

On trial are Los Angeles police Sgt. Stacey Koon, 41, and officers Laurence Powell, 29, Timothy Wind, 31, and Theodore Briseno, 39. If convicted, they face between four and 71/2 years in prison.

The March 3, 1991, beating was videotaped by a neighborhood resident and broadcast nationwide, focusing attention on complaints of police brutality and straining race relations in Los Angeles. The case was moved to neighboring Ventura County to escape the political furor the beating caused.

Granting a request from Briseno's lawyer, the judge told jurors they must decide whether Briseno was trying to protect King from injury during the beating.

Briseno testified that when he stepped on King's neck, he was trying to help him by making him lie still so he wouldn't be clubbed again by police batons.

The officer said his co-defendants were "out of control," but prosecutors have said that Briseno stomped on King.

The special instruction said that to protect King, a person "may use all force and means which such person believes to be reasonably necessary . . . to prevent the injury which appears to be imminent."

In his jury instructions, Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg told the jurors an officer has the right to use "reasonable force" to make an arrest. But if an officer uses excessive force, the suspect can use reasonable force to protect himself, he said.

Some officers claimed they believed King was trying to get up to attack them as they pummeled him on the ground.

The jury got the case after a three-hour delay when attorney Michael Stone, who represents Powell, demanded a mistrial because prosecutor Terry White accused him of lying in closing arguments. Weisberg denied the request.