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American Morning

Police and FBI Investigating Inglewood Police Beating Case

Aired July 10, 2002 - 09:05   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: On to that incendiary story out of Los Angeles. Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, are piling on in the investigation into the police beating in Inglewood, California. And the mayor is now calling for a police officer to be fired. Meanwhile, tension in the community is rising.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the very latest.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At city hall in Inglewood, California...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No justice, no peace!

GUTIERREZ: ... dozens of protesters stood together. They held signs and screamed for justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are outraged! We are mad and we are outraged at the behavior of this department!

GUTIERREZ: Their anger, the result of this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, you guys, do not resist them.

GUTIERREZ: A videotape showing 16-year-old Donovan Chavis, a special education student in handcuffs, being slammed on a car and hit on the face by an Inglewood police officer identified as Jeremy Morse, a three-year veteran of the force.

ROOSEVELT DORN, MAYOR, INGLEWOOD: I have had an opportunity to review the tape. I have studied it over and over. There isn't any question in my mind what occurred.

GUTIERREZ: Inglewood City Mayor Roosevelt Dorn told protesters the officer, now on paid administrative leave, committed a crime and should be fired, regardless of how the altercation began.

DORN: What I saw...


DORN: ... was, No. 1,...


DORN: ... felony assault; No. 2, an assault with a deadly weapon, the car being the deadly weapon and No. 3,...


DORN: ... battery.

GUTIERREZ: The FBI has lunched its own investigation at the request of the Justice Department.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: That's their responsibility to enforce those laws to ensure that people's civil rights are not violated.

GUTIERREZ: Koby Chavis, Donovan's father, says his son did not deserve this. He wasn't armed, he wasn't trying to run away and he was in handcuffs.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: So the question this morning is what happens next?

Joining us more to talk about that is former Los Angeles district attorney Ira Reiner. Thanks for joining us, Ira, good to see you again.


ZAHN: So, Ira, what did you think the first time you saw this videotape of this beating?

REINER: Well I know the question is is it deja vu all over again? Is it back to Rodney King? I think, I believe and I certainly hope that the answer is absolutely not. I don't think that this case, and it's distressing of course, is in the universe of Rodney King. Rodney King was a horrific beating by a number of officers with batons. They darn near beat him to death.

This was a case of an officer who lost his control. He had an arrestee who was handcuffed, who was restrained. There were other officers that were holding the arrestee, and for reasons that perhaps are left -- are left to be explained, he lost his control and with a closed fist he hit a handcuffed arrestee. Bad as that is, let's have some perspective here, it is not Rodney King.

ZAHN: I wanted to play something that Lieutenant Carl Deeley, who is a spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, had to say last night about the situation leading up to this beating. Here is not necessarily how he defended what happened, but here's how he explained the minutes preceding the beating.


LT. CARL DEELEY, LOS ANGELES SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: The deputy let go of him to put him in the back seat and the young man lunged at the deputy who then had to grab him. And they struggled with each other, went to the ground and that's when the Inglewood officers came to his aid to help him to handcuff the 16-year-old.


ZAHN: Now, Ira, apparently there's a piece of videotape that has been shown on local news out there that goes on a tight close-up of Officer Morse's face showing what appears to be some type of open wound suggesting that he was in fact hit. What kind of difference will that make?

REINER: Paula, here is the key to all of this, force may be used to restrain but it may not be used to punish. Now the officer was entitled to use reasonable force in order to effect the arrest, in order to restrain an arrestee, but at a certain point that was accomplished. He was handcuffed. There was a swarm, and that's the term that is used, a swarm of officers around him holding him down. At that point, force was not required. Force was not used then, that is the closed fist when he punched him was not used to restrain, it was used to punish.

What preceded it is simply not material. It would have been material if he had not yet been restrained. But you have to keep coming back to that one point, force is to be used to restrain -- when you're a police officer -- it is not used -- to be used for punishment.

ZAHN: So it sounds to me like if you were hired to be the defense counsel for Officer Morse you'd have a pretty weak case, that's what you're saying or no case at all?

REINER: Well I don't want to -- I don't want to adopt that kind of vocabulary as to whether I'm going to look at it in perspective of defense counsel or prosecutor other than just to assess what occurred.

There are two things that can be said here. One, as to possible criminal prosecution, that is a matter of being responsible. I think we need to hold back until there's more information. But on the discrete question of whether the officer conducted himself professionally, we have enough information to see that and he did not.

Look, in human terms I think we can all understand that when you've been in a fight it's very hard as soon as that fight is over to shut it down completely, but a police officer has to do that. That's the professionalism of a police officer, and they are involved in confrontations quite often. And quite frankly, on the scale of things, when you have at least six officers who are trying to restrain a very skinny 16-year-old kid and then he is handcuffed, that does not go very high on the scale of the types of confrontations that police officers have to have. And so professionally, and every police officer knows this and every police department instructs the officers as to that, once the threat is over, once the person has been restrained, at that point force has to stop.

ZAHN: So how do you explain, based on what we've seen on the videotape, the actions of these other officers on the scene?

REINER: Well what we've seen, and again, everything that we're talking about is limited to the few seconds that we saw at the very end. The one officer who is acting inappropriately and unprofessionally by hitting a restrained arrestee is the officer with the closed fist who throws the punch. The other officers are not doing that. In fact, it appears that as soon as that punch is thrown they are trying to intervene and get themselves between the arrestee and the other officer to prevent him from doing anything more.

ZAHN: I know you say more facts have to come forward before you start talking about potential prosecution here, but do you have any way of evaluating what kind of a case the Chavis family has here?

REINER: Well again, the family -- that's in terms of a civil lawsuit, and I think that that's inevitable. There's going to be a civil lawsuit against the city of Inglewood here. And since the sheriffs are involved, the county of L.A., they'll -- from the video that we've seen, the only officer who has done something that is apparently unprofessional is the one Inglewood Police Department officer who punched the arrestee with his fist.

ZAHN: Do you think the attack was racially motivated?

REINER: Well, look, you'd have to crawl inside the officer's mind to understand that. It may have been, of course it may have been, but need not necessarily have been. What happens so often, all too often, is that when police officers are involved in a confrontation, when the fight is over and the arrestee is restrained, it's very hard, as I said in human terms, to shut it off instantly. The adrenaline is still pumping out their ears and almost anything can cause them to then continue with some of the force. But as a police officer, they can't do that.

Now was that the motive or was it racially motivated or was it a combination of the two? You know that's something that just from what we've seen isn't possible to ascertain.

ZAHN: Ira Reiner, thanks for your perspective this morning. The former L.A. district attorney, enjoying your new life?

REINER: Indeed.

ZAHN: Yes, you don't have us...

REINER: We get up -- we get up much later here as Jack said.

ZAHN: ... snooping around in your office anymore. Take care, and thanks for getting up so early for us this morning on AMERICAN MORNING.