AS jurors in the Reginald Denny beating case begin their first full day of deliberations today, Los Angeles police and sheriff's deputies are already preparing for a tactical alert when verdicts are announced. Final arguments concluded Sept. 30 and deliberations are expected to take a minimum of one week.
Both law enforcement departments are mobilizing with the same plan employed earlier this year when verdicts were announced in the Rodney King civil-rights trial. The plan calls for deploying special forces in strategic locations and keeping more officers on the streets. Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk said Friday that after verdicts are reached, they will be held overnight to allow law enforcement officials to prepare.
Police have been meeting with community and neighborhood leaders to help offset the potential for violence, and several public officials have stated that rioting is unlikely. ``It is our belief that the overwhelming majority of the people in the community don't want to see a repeat of [riots],'' said Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block.
But many black leaders are concerned about what they call ``heightened interest'' in ethnic communities if the jury delivers a guilty verdict.
Joe Hicks, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, adds: ``There [also] will be an increased level of interest in whatever the sentencing will be in this particular case.''
In recent days, tempers flared when the two white officers convicted in the Rodney King case, Laurence Powell and Stacy Koon, were given a reprieve from serving their sentences until the Supreme Court decides if they can stay free on bail until their appeal is completed.
In addition to demonstrations and press conferences held by local leaders, an anonymous message was faxed to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). It declared that one white officer would be killed for each day that Mr. Koon and Mr. Powell delayed surrendering to prison officials. Two separate shootings of white officers followed, in Venice and Los Angeles, leaving one officer critically wounded. But Lt. John Dunkin, chief LAPD spokesman, said the shootings were not related to the threat. ``There's been a marked increase in random attacks on officers since the beginning of the year,'' Mr. Dunkin says.
NOW, black leaders say the potential for unrest lies with the 10-woman, two-man jury, made up of four African-Americans, four Latinos, three whites, and one Asian-American.
Damian Williams and Henry Watson are charged with premeditated attempted murder and robbery in the April 29, 1992, attack on Mr. Denny, who was pulled from his truck and beaten at Florence and Normandie Avenues, the flashpoint of the largest riots in recent US history.
Mr. Williams is also charged with aggravated mayhem - an allegation that he intentionally caused permanent disfigurement to Denny by striking him in the head with a brick.
``Because of having to prove specific intent to commit murder it will be difficult to bring back a guilty verdict on the first charge,'' says Robert Pugsley, a law professor at Southwestern University School of Law in L.A. who has been following the trial closely. ``But it is quite possible the charge of aggravated mayhem will bring [a guilty verdict].''
The five-week trial included 50 witnesses and three days of closing arguments. Forty hours of videotape from several sources were edited down to 40 minutes of both aerial and ground-level views of the scene. Today, one juror is scheduled to learn how to operate sophisticated video equipment for use in jury deliberations.
Mr. Pugsley says both the defense and prosecution argued articulately and well. Like the Rodney King case before it, the videotape of the beating is the most significant evidence, he says.
But unlike the Rodney King case, the tape is much longer, more complicated, and presents advantages to both sides.
``There is no doubt as to what is transpiring [in the tape],'' says Pugsley. ``But the defense was able to cast doubt on whether or not Williams was the man in the video.''
In challenging the charges, Edi M.O. Faal, attorney for Williams, also argued that the attack on Denny was random and without specific intent to kill.
``Throwing a rock could mean one of many things - anger, frustration, intent to harm,'' he said. ``People got caught up. We should have recognized it for what it was.''
In her rebuttal, Deputy District Attorney Janet Moore attacked Mr. Faal for taking ``an approach meant to deceive, to distract, to confuse. There's only one injury in that entire videotape that takes Denny down and that is when Damian Williams throws the brick into the side of Reginald Denny's head.''