Both California officers charged in videotaped arrest of teenager in plead innocent

Thursday, July 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Two police officers charged in the videotaped arrest of a handcuffed teenager have pleaded innocent in a case that has reignited racial tensions and anti-police feelings in the Los Angeles area.

Inglewood Officer Jeremy Morse pleaded innocent to assault and his partner, Bijan Darvish, pleaded innocent to filing a false police report. Each faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

A video recorded by a bystander across the street shows Morse lifting Donovan Jackson, 16, to his feet and slamming him onto a squad car. Morse then strikes Jackson on the face with his fist.

The officers, who appeared in court in business suits, remained silent during the five-minute hearing except to enter their pleas. They were freed on $25,000 bail apiece posted by the Inglewood police union.

``This is a very, very sad day,'' said Neil Murray, president of the Inglewood Police Officers Association. ``We're not shocked. We're not surprised. We're just disappointed.''

The incident has sparked federal and local investigations, and demonstrations in Inglewood, a suburb southwest of Los Angeles that has a large black population. Morse and Darvish are white; Jackson is black.

Morse's attorney predicted outside court that the videotape, combined with a surveillance tape from the gas station that has not been released publicly, will clear his client of wrongdoing.

``It was proper, reasonable use of force,'' said defense attorney John D. Barnett.

District Attorney Steve Cooley praised a Los Angeles County grand jury for its ``unprecedented speed'' in indicting the two officers on Wednesday for the July 6 altercation that occurred during a traffic stop.

The altercation occurred after Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies approached Coby Chavez at a gas station, having noticed his car had expired vehicle license tags. Morse, 24, and Darvish, 25, were among Inglewood officers who arrived to provide backup support.

They said Jackson, who is Chavez's son, was handcuffed after he refused to follow orders and became combative. The boy's relatives have said he is developmentally disabled and does not quickly process commands.

Morse is charged with felony assault under the color of authority, which applies to law enforcement officials accused of assault. The three-year veteran has been suspended with pay.

Morse said in the police report that Jackson was arrested after he struggled with officers, scratched Morse above his ear and grabbed the officer's crotch after being handcuffed. Morse was in ``extreme pain'' and punched Jackson to make him let go, according to the report.