Friday, July 19, 2002
Inglewood Officer Pleads Not Guilty to Assault of Teenager
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A white Inglewood police officer yesterday pled not guilty in Los Angeles Superior Court on charges he assaulted a handcuffed black teenager during an arrest that was caught on tape by an onlooker and has sparked public outcry across the nation.
Officer Jeremy Morse pled not guilty to assault under the color of authority and his partner, Bijan Darvish, pled not guilty to filing a false police report he filed on the arrest. The two officers said nothing, other than entering their pleas, during the minutes-long hearing in front of Judge Dan Oki, supervising judge of the court’s criminal division.
“This is a very, very sad day for the Inglewood Police Officers’ Association,” Neil Murray, president of organization, said.
Murray described Morse as a “young man who has a real zeal and enthusiasm to go out and do proactive law enforcement.”
Both officers were freed on $25,000 bail each, provided for them by the police union. The officer’s association has set up a legal fund to help raise money to pay for the defenses of Morse and Darvish, who hired private lawyers instead of using one provided by the union.
A hearing was scheduled for Aug. 13 in Inglewood. Each officer could face up to three years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors filed a brief in court yesterday requesting that the case remain in Inglewood, rather than being transferred, because Inglewood is where the incident occurred and that is where the case should be decided.
Officers accused in the Rodney King beating, which occurred in the north San Fernando Valley, were tried in a Simi Valley courthouse after the case was transferred out of the county.
Mitchell Crooks videotaped the July 6 arrest of 16-year-old Donovan Jackson who, lawyers for the officers acknowledged, was thrown onto a patrol car while handcuffed and then punched in the face by Morse at an Inglewood gas station. Two sheriff’s deputies had stopped Jackson’s father, Coby Chavis, to investigate his car’s expired registration tags.
The Los Angeles Grand Jury indicted the two officers on Wednesday afternoon with what District Attorney Steve Cooley called “unprecedented speed,” just one week after the panel began hearing testimony from witnesses.
Before handing up the indictment, the panel heard testimony from 13 witnesses, including Jackson and Chavis. The two sheriff’s deputies who witnessed the incident also testified.
The grand jury handed up indictments on all charges sought by the District Attorney’s Office, Cooley said.
Crooks himself was arrested July 11 for outstanding warrants by District Attorney investigators in front of CNN’s Hollywood office after he failed to appear in front of a Los Angeles County grand jury investigating Jackson’s arrest. Crooks’ arrest was captured by a video surveillance camera.
Cooley congratulated his investigators for their hard work “to get the key piece of evidence in this case: the videotape.”
Investigators secured the original tape when they arrested Crooks.
Copies of the videotape and a copy of the gas station’s surveillance tape were handed over to the officer’s attorneys yesterday, along with copies of reports from all investigating agencies.
“I think when the videotape is carefully analyzed, along with all the other evidence, it will help my client,” John Barnett, Morse’s attorney, said. Barnett successfully defended LAPD Officer Theodore J. Briseno against charges in the Rodney King beating and has represented “dozens” of other officers in excessive force cases.
Morse had the absolute right to punch Jackson in the face because Jackson was grabbing the officer’s testicles during the scuffle, Barnett said.
“It was a proper and reasonable use of force given the circumstances,” he said.
Barnett went on to say that Morse made a conscious decision to handle Jackson in an “appropriate” manner by choosing to lift him on to the car rather than putting him on the ground after Jackson “consciously had his legs go limp.”
Ron Brower, Darvish’s attorney, said he assumed his client was being charged with filing the false report because of “about eight words” that reported Jackson was placed on the police car but leaves out how he ended up there, saying only that officers “assisted Jackson to his feet and had him stand facing the police vehicle.”
Brower said his client was looking down at his leg, which he said he hurt in the scuffle with Jackson, when Morse placed the boy on the car. He said Darvish only reported what he saw.
Darvish’s police report also indicated that he had punched Jackson twice in the face after Jackson resisted arrested, but the grand jury did not indict Darvish on assault charges.
Jackson filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking unspecified damages for misconduct and violation of his federal civil rights by the city of Inglewood and four of its officers, Los Angeles County and the two sheriff’s deputies who were on the scene.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company