LOS ANGELES — Do you hear that? If you listen closely, you can hear the faint, far-off sounds of the No Justice, No Peace Hallelujah Chorus practicing their scales and limbering up the old vocal chords. That’s right, soprano Maxine Waters, baritone Al Sharpton, bass Jesse Jackson, and all their assembled multitudes may soon be, as is their wont, raising a ruckus. Though the story has been largely eclipsed by other events in the national media, the two Inglewood, Calif. police officers indicted in last July’s videotaped altercation with a teenager have been brought before the bar of justice. As the world knows, Los Angeles juries can be prone to irrationality at times, so predictions in such highly charged cases can be dicey, but I’m planning on working some overtime soon. Recall that Officers Jeremy Morse and Bijan Darvish were two of several officers involved in a July 6, 2002 fracas with 16-year-old Donovan Jackson, whose father had been stopped for driving a car with expired registration. The final moments of the incident were captured on a bystander’s videotape, and for days and weeks thereafter few in the civilized world could escape the image of Morse slamming the handcuffed Jackson onto a police car’s trunk and punching him in the mouth. Morse was charged with assault under the color of authority; Darvish, his partner that day, was charged with filing a false police report. The jury has now heard the prosecution’s evidence, and what thin gruel it turned out to be. When prosecutors rested their case on Tuesday, some observers were prompted to ask, “That’s it? That’s all you got?”
L.A. County Sheriff’s Commander Charles Heal, testifying for the prosecution as a use-of-force expert, told the jury on Monday that while he considered Morse’s treatment of Jackson excessive, it did not rise to the level that would warrant criminal charges. “If [Morse] would have been my deputy, he would have got his chain rattled in my office,” Heal testified under cross-examination. “Would I have filed [criminal charges] on him? No.” What, then, the jurors might have wondered, are we all doing here?
Prosecutors sought to rebound from this setback on Tuesday by calling Inglewood P.D. Chief Ronald Banks and LAPD Captain Greg Meyer, both of whom testified that Morse’s actions were excessive and inexcusable. But in relying on Heal, Banks, and Meyer as they have, prosecutors run the risk of seeing their testimony undercut by other use-of-force experts to be called when the defense presents their case. All three are high-ranking officers within their departments, and one doesn’t get to be a high-ranking officer in any police department by mixing it up in gas-station donnybrooks. I don’t care how many articles they’ve written or how many speeches they’ve given, I’ll bet a paycheck that neither Heal, Banks, or Meyer has gotten his uniform dirty in 20 years. The defense will surely present use-of-force authorities whose expertise is more practical than theoretical, and whose testimony will likely carry more weight with the jury.
As if resigned to defeat, some in the anti-cop crowd were quick to denounce the prosecution’s efforts. Max Huntsman and Michael Peterson, the two deputy district attorneys assigned to the case, came in for some colorful criticism from one Najee Ali, head of Project Islamic Hope. “What’s up, Steve [Cooley, the county D.A]?” said Ali. “Why did you send us Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis? We want to know how come their best people weren’t sent out instead of a comedy act.”
An even more enlightening reaction came from Leo Terrel, the seldom-tranquil Los Angeles attorney. Reacting to Cmdr. Heal’s admission that he did not believe Morse’s actions to be criminal, Terrel nearly blew a gasket. “Are you telling me,” he thundered, “that [prosecutors] couldn’t find, out of all the use-of-force experts in the state, in the nation, one person that would have been loyal to them, and been on the same page?” Interesting that Terrel, who on his local radio show bills himself as “the fair-minded civil-rights attorney,” should call for a witness to tailor his testimony so as to achieve some desired outcome.
We’ll be hearing a great deal from Terrel and all the better-known cop bashers if the trial continues on its present course. It will be pointed out ad nauseam that only one black was on the jury, so when the acquittals come there will be all the more reason for the usual suspects to condemn them. All that furniture heisted in the ‘92 Rodney King riots is bound to be a bit threadbare by now, so some people may be looking forward to a shopping spree, one for which the bill never comes.
The jury may get the case as soon as next week. Look for me at Florence and Normandie.
— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.