Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 11, 2002


Page 3


Federal Civil Rights Suit Filed Over Videotaped Beating




Attorneys for a minor and his father, allegedly beaten by Inglewood police officers and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, yesterday called the case “part of a larger national problem.”

The civil rights suit was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court Central District of California on behalf of Donovan Jackson, 16, and his father, Coby Chavis, 41. The suit names the city of Inglewood, Los Angeles County, four Inglewood police officers, three sheriff’s deputies and “20 unknown other named defendants.”

Pasadena attorney Joe C. Hopkins, who represents Jackson, told the MetNews the suit should “put cities [not taking action against police violence] on notice.

The suit seeks an undisclosed sum. It charges that, under pretense of law enforcement, Chavis and Jackson had their rights to due process, equal protection and freedom from illegal search and seizure breached.

Hopkins said his commitment in this case is not restricted to the practice of law, but extends to exposing the civil rights implications of the case. Hopkins is also the publisher of the Pasadena Journal, a weekly publication dedicated to the African American community, since 1989.

Specifically, he said he wanted to create “police abuse courts,” akin to drug courts, to deal with police brutality incidents and also hoped to ease the requirements for proving civil rights violations in court.

Beverly Hills attorney John E. Sweeney said that the suit was filed in federal court to expose the rights violations to a larger audience. Sweeney said that he not only seeks redress for Jackson and Chavis, but wanted rights abusers to know the world would be watching.

“We’re not going to rest until this matter has been redressed,” Sweeney said. “We want to make sure nothing like this happens again in this country.”

Though he would not disclose a dollar amount, saying that the costs of the damages were still unfolding, Sweeney called it “a seven-figure case.”

Both Hopkins and Sweeney have 20 years of experience in criminal defense, personal injury and civil rights violation cases, they said.

Sweeney joined the legal team Tuesday and will represent Chavis. He recently represented Charles Beatty, a victim of a police shooting, in a criminal case that sent ex-LAPD officer Ronald Orosco to state prison. The shooting was part of the Rampart scandal.

Sweeney again represents Beatty in the civil case that is due in court later this month.

The legal team also consists of Portasha R. Moore, from Sweeney’s office, and three other attorneys who have yet to be named.

The case gained wide-spread attention with the Sunday release of an amateur video recording of Jackson being slammed into a police car and struck by Inglewood Officer Jeremy Morse.

Sweeney and Hopkins maintain that the tape reveals less than half of what occurred and that Chavis was also beaten and Jackson’s beating is not completely shown.

The attorneys said that Chavis and Jackson were stopped at an Inglewood gas station on the corner of Century Boulevard and Freeman when sheriff’s deputies passed by, then made a U-turn and approached Chavis.

The Sheriff’s Department has said the deputies noticed Chavis’ car had expired tags and later discovered that he had a suspended license.

“There’s no way they saw the tags as they were passing by,” Sweeney said.

Possibly because of a radio call, Sweeney said, Inglewood officers became involved in the situation. The only black Inglewood officer present called Chavis by a racial epithet and threatened him, Sweeney said.

Jackson, who is a special education student according to family members, had gone into the gas station store, bought a snack and returned to the car when Chavis was being questioned. He stepped out of the vehicle and was told to “drop his potato chips” and step away from the car, Hopkins said.

“I guess we have a new crime,” Hopkins quipped at yesterday’s press conference. “Young, black man with potato chips.”

Jackson did not respond, his attorney said, and was attacked.

“The big guys started it and the big guys ended it,” Hopkins said, referring to the deputies and officers.

Officers had said that Jackson became combative. Chavis’ cousin, Talibah Shakir, who was also at the press conference, said that Jackson would not have reacted, violently or otherwise to the officers. She said she believed the attack was unprovoked and likened it to the infamous Rodney King beating.

“He’s slow to react,” Shakir said. “He doesn’t get agitated. He doesn’t get excited.”

The attorneys claimed that the video shows blood coming from Jackson’s mouth before he is slammed into the police car. They also said Jackson was unconscious by the time the video taping began and “came to” when his head hit the car.

Meanwhile, Chavis was being beaten off-camera because he tried to stop officers from hurting his son, Sweeney said.

Chavis and Jackson did not attend the press conference because they had doctor’s appointments for the injuries they sustained. Hopkins said he had no intention of having Jackson make any public appearances because he had been through a lot already.

Sweeney said that both Chavis and Jackson were severely injured and Jackson was hit with a flashlight.

“The physical injuries will eventually subside; the emotional scars that you can’t see ... never go away,” Sweeney said. Chavis and Jackson are both scheduled to see an Inglewood psychiatrist and a Westwood psychologist this week, he said.

Jackson is due in court in September on charges of assaulting an officer. Chavis was cited for driving with a suspended license. Their attorneys and other supporters are demanding that criminal charges be filed against the officers and dropped against Jackson.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company