Attorney - Punching teen justified

Friday, July 12, 2002

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- A police officer who was videotaped slamming a handcuffed teen-ager's head onto a patrol car and punching him in the face was justified and "restrained" in his use of force, his attorney said Thursday.

The attorney, John Barnett, said during an interview with CNN that the videotape of the arrest needs to be put into context.

"You cannot see what the subject is doing with his hands just prior to being hit in the face," Barnett said. "He took action which required that he be punched."

Barnett added: "the facts will show that the use of force was restrained given all of the circumstances."

The Inglewood officer, Jeremy Morse, is on paid leave as federal, state and local agencies investigate Saturday night's arrest of 16-year-old Donovan Jackson and his father at a gas station.

The amateur cameraman who videotaped the arrest was taken into custody Thursday on outstanding warrants. Mitchell Crooks, 27, was arrested outside CNN's television studio in Hollywood.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney, Sandi Gibbons, said Crooks was wanted in Placer County for petty theft and driving under the influence with a hit-and-run. Placer County sheriff's Capt. Rick Armstrong said he had no details about the warrants.

'Not normal practices'

At a news conference Thursday, Inglewood police chief Ronald Banks said he was "quite concerned" after watching the videotape.

"It was not reflective of our normal practices and way of doing business," Banks said.

Mayor Roosevelt Dorn has said the officer should be fired and charged with assault. But the police chief said Thursday it is too soon to determine whether Morse should be fired.

Before his arrest, Crooks had been subpoenaed to appear before a county grand jury investigating the arrest.

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

"I want to cooperate," Crooks replied, but he hung up when the prosecutor demanded that he tell investigators his whereabouts.

Two sheriff's deputies involved in the arrest testified before the grand jury, the sheriff's department confirmed.

Jackson and his father, Coby Chavis, were stopped at the gas station by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies because the car they were in had expired tags. Inglewood police arrived as backup.

Exactly what happened before Crooks began taping is in dispute.

Sheriff's deputies and police say Jackson was combative. Jackson's attorneys say he is developmentally disabled and that he cooperated with deputies.

However, Morse filled out a police report in which he acknowledged punching Jackson after the handcuffed youth grabbed his testicles, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

That report is "consistent with all of the evidence that we have seen and will be seeing," Barnett said.

Jackson and his father filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the county, three sheriff's deputies, the city of Inglewood and four of its officers.

The apparent assault by the white officer on the black youth has outraged civil rights activists and drawn comparisons to the videotaped beating of motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police.

Barnett defended Los Angeles police Officer Theodore Briseno, who was accused of assault in the March 3, 1991, beating of King.

Briseno was acquitted of those charges -- part of a verdict by an all-white jury that sparked three days of rioting that killed 52 people and caused nearly $1 billion damage in the Los Angeles area.

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