Lightning-Rod Police Beating Cases

Two white Oklahoma City police officers, one wielding a police baton, try to subdue a black suspect lying on the ground in this video image from footage released July 10, 2002. Both officers faced a disciplinary investigation on Wednesday after the videotape showed them using batons, pepper spray and physical beating to subdue the suspect. The arrest was filmed by a Brian Bates, a self-described "video vigilante," who films men soliciting prostitutes and calls police to have them arrested.
A grand jury is investigating a violent arrest in which a white police officer was videotaped slamming a black teenager onto a car and punching him, a prosecutor revealed on a call-in talk show.

The surprise disclosure came as Donovan Jackson, 16, and his father, Coby Chavis, filed a federal civil rights suit against two law enforcement agencies and several officers Wednesday in the case, which has prompted an outcry reminiscent of the response to the Rodney King beating.

Among the officers sued was Jeremy Morse, the three-year Inglewood veteran caught on tape smashing the handcuffed, limp teen onto a car and striking him with a closed fist. Morse has been on leave with pay since Monday.

Chavis also claims he was beaten in the Saturday night incident at an Inglewood gas station, though that does not appear on the home video footage.

Meanwhile, authorities in Oklahoma City asked the FBI to look into the actions of two officers there who were videotaped striking an unarmed black suspect 27 times with tactical batons. Oklahoma City Police Chief M.T. Berry said the Inglewood incident prompted him to contact the FBI, but he does not believe the Oklahoma case rose to the same level of seriousness.

Prosecutors do not normally disclose the existence of grand jury probes while they are under way, but the Los Angeles investigation became public Wednesday when Mitchell Crooks, 27, who recorded the amateur video, was doing a phone interview on a KFI-AM radio show. A Los Angeles County prosecutor called the show and told Crooks on the air he was being subpoenaed to appear Thursday.

"We want you before the grand jury and we want that original tape," Chief Deputy District Attorney Curt Livesay said.

"I want to cooperate," Crooks replied, but said he feared for his life and hung up when Livesay asked him to tell investigators where he was.

Sandi Gibbons, a district attorney's spokeswoman, declined to comment Wednesday evening on the grand jury. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Inglewood Police Department and the FBI are also investigating, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has sent his top civil rights lawyer, Ralph Boyd, to look into the case directly.

Donovan Jackson's attorneys and supporters held an emotional press conference outside federal court in Los Angeles to announce the lawsuit. "It was Donovan today, it was Rodney King yesterday, it's untold people in the graveyard that cannot speak out that have been abused by police and it's time to stop," said Jackson's cousin, Talibah Shakir.

The federal lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and alleges negligence, misconduct and violation of constitutional rights to due process and against unreasonable search and seizure. It names Los Angeles County and three sheriff's deputies, and the city of Inglewood and four of its officers.

Officials with Inglewood police and the sheriff's department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The videotape has been played repeatedly on television since Saturday, sparking comparisons to the 1991 taped beating of King, which led to deadly riots when the Los Angeles police officers who beat him were acquitted of most charges.

Accounts vary drastically about what took place at the Inglewood gas station Saturday before Crooks started rolling tape. Sheriff's investigators are reviewing a surveillance video but have declined to discuss its contents.

Sheriff's deputies said Jackson grew violent as they questioned his father about driving with expired tags. In the videotape Morse appears to have blood dripping down his head.

In a written police report filed Saturday night, apparently before police became aware that a videotape existed, Morse acknowledged punching Jackson, The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. Morse said he punched the boy only after the handcuffed youth grabbed his testicles.

But Jackson's supporters say the teen cooperated. They claim sheriff's deputies and Inglewood police who arrived for backup attacked him and his father without provocation.

Jackson, who according to attorneys is developmentally disabled, was booked for investigation of battery on a police officer, and his father was cited for driving with a suspended license.

Morse has remained out of sight, but Inglewood's police union issued its first public statement Wednesday.

"The IPA would like to remind the media and the public that the U.S. constitution guarantees all Americans the right to due process in an atmosphere of impartiality," the group said.

In Oklahoma City, the police chief defended officers Greg Driskill and E.J. Dyer, whose tactics are under review by a police use of force committee.

"Our investigation into the use of force is ongoing," Berry said. "But the techniques I saw were those that our officers are taught at the academy. I did not observe strikes to areas of the body that are prohibited, such as the face or head."

Police were called to a parking lot west of downtown on Monday by a resident who routinely videotapes illegal sex acts and reports them to authorities. Self-proclaimed "video vigilante" Brian Bates recorded Driskill and Dyer repeatedly striking Donald Reed Pete, 50, who police alleged was soliciting prostitution. The officers say Pete resisted arrest.

Sean Baker, a local representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was "appalled" by the videotape.