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Lawerys, Police Swear They Didn’t Leak Police Report in Video Beating

May 22, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Defense lawyers in the videotaped police beating of a black motorist swore Wednesday they did not leak a police report that the presiding judge had ordered kept secret.

A police commander also swore he didn’t leak the report published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper reporter who wrote the story did not appear in court.

Superior Court Judge Bernard Kamins said he wanted to know who released the 314-page document, but declared that the matter wouldn’t interfere with the scheduled June 19 trial for the officers.

″Somebody violated the public’s trust and broke the law,″ Kamins said of the leak, which went against his order that the material remain secret.

″This is not a leak to the press,″ he said. ″This is a tidal wave. I cannot call this story a leak.″

The reporter who wrote the story, Richard Serrano, didn’t appear at the hearing and Times lawyers said he was on assignment in Orange County. The judge ordered him to appear for a May 30 hearing to be questioned about who gave him the material.

In the wake of the story, attorneys for the four officers charged with beating Rodney King were also expected to renew their demands that the trial be moved out of Los Angeles because of heavy publicity.

The story quoted from the police report in which some of the officers accused of beating King said they feared for their lives because he was big and seemed impervious to the repeated blows he was taking.

A day before the story was published, Kamins had refused to give the report to a citizen commission investigating the case for fear it would be leaked to the media. Then it turned up in the Times.

Kamins, who was not in court Tuesday, issued subpoenas ordering Serrano and police Cmdr. Rick Dinse to appear before him so he could learn how the report was leaked. Dinse heads the Police Department’s investigation of the case.

Dinse swore Wednesday he didn’t leak the report and Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said it wasn’t leaked by his department.

″I have a good idea how it’s winding up (in the press), but it isn’t coming from us, no,″ Gates said, noting that defendants are all provided with copies of the department’s investigation.

But the four defense lawyers said they didn’t leak the report.

The case could become a showdown over California’s so-called shield law, which states that journalists cannot be ordered to identify their sources in gathering information for a story.

″This case is of enormous importance to Los Angeles, and the citizens of this city are served by publication of all relevant information,″ said Shelby Coffey III, Times editor and executive vice president.

″As the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, justice is best served by complete and unfettered reporting on criminal trials.″

He also said the story did ″absolutely nothing to prevent the choosing of an impartial jury among the millions of residents of this area.″

Attorneys for the four officers have argued that overwhelming publicity, including repeated broadcasts of a bystander’s videotape of King being kicked and clubbed, prevent the officers from receiving a fair trial in Los Angeles.

Kamins earlier this month heard such arguments but refused to move the trial, which is scheduled to begin June 19.

According to the report in the Times, one of the officers charged in the beating, Sgt. Stacey Koon, said he was ″flabbergasted″ that King didn’t respond to the repeated blows.

The officers said they believed King was under the influence of the hallucinogen PCP. Blood tests showed King had been drinking but had not taken PCP.

Koon and co-defendants Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind were interviewed by the police Internal Affairs Division. Officer Theodore Briseno, whose criminal involvement was said to have been limited to one kick, wasn’t interviewed.

The officers were told they had a constitutional right to refuse to answer questions, but Police Department policy states they would have been fired if they didn’t answer.

Prosecutors were blocked from seeing the report because the officers were compelled to speak. The judge likened that to ″holding someone down and forcing a confession out of them.″

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