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MY TURN | Howard R. Price
Judges, Prosecutors to Blame for King Incident

From the vantage point of a criminal defense attorney with more than 23 years experience, I offer some so far unstated views about the Rodney King incident.
The real unindicted aiders and abettors are not the seven, 17, 21, or whatever the actual number of other police officers present while the indicted four savaged King (does anyone else wonder why so many police were there and were any other officers still on patrol guarding the public?).

Rather, the true uncharged conspirators are all of those U.S. attorneys, district attorneys, city attorneys and judges who have always condoned, and thereby fostered and institutionalized, false police reports and police perjury.
Most prosecutors, ignoring their primary obligation to see that the truth is developed and justice is done rather than simply getting convictions, repeatedly adduce false police testimony. They do this either knowingly or with deliberate indifference, even when the reports or testimony borders on the ludicrous or impossible.



Howard R. Price is a partner in Brodey and Price, Beverly Hills.
Most judges blindly accept, if not actually believe, this perjurious testimony, regardless of its incredulity, and especially if its only refutation comes from the defendant.

The reasons for the abdication of their responsibilities are, I suggest, the prosecutors’ fear of alienating the police, while being caught up in the pressured quest to win engendered by our adversarial system and the war on crime. The judges fear the wrath of both the police and the prosecutor, while succumbing to the political pressure of not wanting to appear anti-police. The “aberration” (to use the word for the moment) is the prosecutor who does have the integrity to tell an officer that the police report stinks or that the testimony is unbelievable, and even to seek a dismissal therefore if appropriate.

But the real “aberration” is the judge who disbelieves police testimony - and let alone says so on the record. All too often the well-intentioned judge will dissemble and state another reason to justify the decision, thereby missing the critical opportunity to deliver the correct message to the offending police officer and thereby to other police officers.
I try not to paint with too broad a brush.

Certainly not all prosecutors and judges fit this picture, just as not all Los Angeles Police Department officers are thuggish bullies. Yet ask any insider - judge, prosecutor or defense attorney - about the truth of these assertions and I confidently predict that, if candor prevails, most will concede the systematic nature of this problem. Ask any LAPD officer with more than one year of experience what “testilie” (their jargon) means and the response will be “to speak from the witness stand.”

The best proof probably is that the police fearlessly, wantonly and openly brutalized King in front of so many potential witnesses, both police and civilian. The police knew that their false testimony, as usual, probably would not be challenged by the prosecutor or the judge. They confidently thought they could get away with it, because they usually do - except this time they had the rotten luck to be videotaped (does anyone else wonder why the police do not videotape arrests, searched, field sobriety tests, interrogations, etc.?).

Let no one doubt that but for this videotape, King would have been prosecuted, probably successfully, and his excessive-force lawsuit would have been dubious, if filed at all.

Society gets the degree of crime it breeds and condones. It also received the brand of law enforcement it deserves. Our society is churned by its fear of crime, which often is quite justified. Yet in the name of this war on crime, we have tolerated police abuses and unjustifiable erosion of many of our rights, all in the belief that the end justifies the means. History and current experience demonstrates clearly the dangerous short sightedness of this view.

The good police, who are a majority, need our support more than ever. To get it, the police, especially the LAPD, need to abandon the Gatesian view that militarism equals professionalism. They must realize that “serving” is as important as “protecting,” that the chief of any organization sets and is responsible for the style and tone of its employees, that the perpetration of “street justice,” whether physical or verbal abuse, must cease, and finally that civilian involvement and oversight in police administration are not a threat to them, but ultimately their most valuable asset.



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