A jury refused Wednesday to award Rodney King punitive damages from the police officers who were present during his beating in 1991, absolving them of individual responsibility for the kicks and baton blows that shocked the nation.
The same jury earlier ordered the city of Los Angeles to pay King $3.8 million in compensation for the beating.The city appeared quiet as the verdicts were announced, but the Los Angeles Police Department briefly went on tactical alert, holding officers over at the end of the day shift in case of violence.
The jury forewoman dabbed at
her eyes as the verdicts were read after 11 days of deliberation. When members of the six-woman, three-man panel were asked individually if they agreed with the verdicts, the only black juror, a middle-aged woman, appeared to struggle with her emotions before sighing and responding, "Yes."
Later, the juror, who did not give her name, said: "I'm not happy. I'm not happy at all, and when I feel it's time, I will let everyone know what I think was going on in that jury room."
The forewoman, a 48-year-old Philippine-American, said the panel struggled to reach a consensus, The Associated Press reported. "We had both extremes," she said. "Some thought the officers were just doing their duty. Others felt it was excessive force with malice."
King's lawyer, John Burris, said there was "a strong likelihood" that he would appeal. "It appears the jurors concluded enough is enough and the officers had suffered enough."
But, he added, "it sends the wrong message to police officers that they may not be held accountable for acts of misconduct if they blame it on the city."
Deputy City Attorney Don Vincent, who represented two of the officers, said: "I think it is just for everybody. It's a great day for law enforcement."
The jury also decided a counter-suit by one of the officers, Theodore J. Briseno, finding that King had battered him during the arrest. But it declined to assess punitive damages against King.
The racially mixed jury ruled that two former officers, Stacey C. Koon and Lawrence M. Powell, who are now serving 30-month prison terms for violating King's civil rights, acted with malice in the beating, which was captured on videotape.
It said the four other defendants, including Briseno, did not violate King's civil rights or act with malice.
Barring appeals, the verdicts are the last in the case, bringing to an end a tumultuous period in Los Angeles that included three trials and political and social upheaval, all spawned by 81 seconds of videotape of the March 3, 1991, beating of King, an unemployed con-struction worker.
In the first phase of King's civil suit, the city conceded its liability in his beating. The second phase originally sought punitive damages from 15 current and former police officers, including the officers who beat him, other officers who were at the scene, and their former Chief, Daryl F. Gates.
Judge John G. Davies of U.S. District Court dropped most of the defendants, including Gates, who retired nearly two years ago. The remaining six were the four officers who were defendants in two earlier criminal trials as well as two officers who had not been charged in the beating.