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LA Policemen Enter 'Not Guilty' Plea in Assault Incident - 2002-07-18

The California policeman who was seen on videotape punching a black teenager has pleaded innocent to a charge of assault. A second officer has pleaded innocent to the charge of making a false police report.

Officer Jeremy Morse entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of assault under the color of authority. In a widely seen videotape, the 24-year-old policeman is seen slamming 16-year-old Donovan Jackson against a police car, then punching him.

Officer Bijan Darvish was charged with falsely describing the incident in his report. The judge set bail for both at $25,000.

Lawyer John Barnett said his client, Officer Morse, used appropriate force to subdue the young man, who the lawyer said had attacked the policeman before the events caught on tape.

"The resistance had not ended," he said. "His lack of cooperation in walking to the car continued the resistance, which began with my client being hit in the throat and in the ear. You can see the blood in the video and he had marks along his neck, where he was scratched by the subject, and this was a continuation of that. And it was wholly appropriate given the circumstances."

The lawyer said the officer punched the young man in the face only after the youngster grabbed his testicles.

Some community activists are comparing this incident to a notorious beating caught on tape in 1991, when police were seen hitting a black motorist named Rodney King. Four officers were charged and, initially, all were acquitted. Two were later convicted in a separate federal trial and served time in prison. But the initial verdicts of innocent sparked racial riots throughout Los Angeles that cost the lives of more than 50 people.

The recent incident has sparked peaceful community protests, including one last weekend that brought the Reverend Al Sharpton to town. The New York activist complained that political leaders had not criticized the incident loudly enough.

"Thank God Inglewood did not burn, but in the absence of burning do we get silence from the top," he said. "When we had the violence 10 years ago around Rodney King, everyone had something to say. If people speak now, it would encourage people to know that they're not being ignored, that they're not being marginalized, that they don't have to go into violence to have their needs addressed."

The current incident has sparked federal, state and local investigations.

The two officers worked for the police department of suburban Inglewood. The city's mayor and police chief, both of whom are black, reject the comparison with the Rodney King case and say this was an isolated incident. But the mayor was angered with what he saw on tape and said that as far as he is concerned, officer Morse is guilty. The police chief declined to comment until a department investigation has been completed.

A hearing is set for August 13 in the criminal case against the two officers.