Jury Is Deadlocked in Inglewood Taped Beating

By Richard Marosi, Marisa Lagos and Nancy Wride
Times Staff Writers

5:19 PM PDT, July 29, 2003

A jury today declared it was deadlocked in the case against an Inglewood police officer who was charged with the use of excessive force for slamming 16-year-old Donovan Jackson onto a patrol car and striking him across the face last summer.

His former partner, officer Bijan Darvish, was found not guilty of falsifying a police report.

The jury deliberated for just over three days, but said it could not reach a verdict for Jeremy Morse, who was fired by the department after the videotaped incident. The jurors were split 7-5 for the assault under the color of authority charge.

Shortly before the verdict was read, prosecutors asked the judge to send the jury back for further deliberation.

"If they're hopelessly hung, there's no sense in sending them back," said Superior Court Judge William R. Hollingsworth. After briefly talking to the jurors, Hollingsworth returned to the courtroom and declared a mistrial.

The deadlock brought wildly different reactions in court.

Ronald Brower, Darvish's attorney, slammed both his fists in victory on the table. Darvish yelled "yes!"

But in the audience, some black activists stormed out of the courtroom in disgust.

"This is a joke," said community activist Najee Ali.

Another woman yelled "pig" at the officers before storming out.

The seven-day trial - which was closely monitored by civil rights activists, community members and federal officials - had previously been largely free of rancor. Some jurors did, however, complain that some audience members shot them angry looks during closing arguments.

And when the judge announced a mistrial, one onlooker shouted "There's no justice here."

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steven Cooley released a statement shortly after the decision expressing disappointment at both the deadlock and acquittal. He said his office would review the "entire proceedings" and decide whether to try the case again. The prosecution will appear in court on Sept. 22 with that decision, according to the Associated Press.

"We disagree and are disappointed the jurors did not see the same crime that we did," Cooley said. "Deputy District Attorneys Michael Pettersen and Max Huntsman presented a solid case at the just-completed trial and we believe we proved all elements of the crimes alleged beyond a reasonable doubt."

Sandi Gibbons, a spokesperson for the District Attorney's office, said the prosecution felt it proved the case against Darvish.

"We felt the evidence spoke for itself," he said "The tape showed one thing occurred and [Darvish] wrote down that another occurred."

Donovan Jackson appeared with his lawyer, Cameron Stewart, of Johnnie Cochran's law firm. Jackson stood silently by Stewart, who also expressed disappointment.

"We do think this was a case of excessive forced by Jeremy Morse ¼ we are hopeful the next time around justice will be served and we will proceed vigorously with a civil lawsuit," Stewart said.

"I can't say I'm surprised," said Nancy Goins of L.A., Donovan's paternal aunt and, as the eldest female on his father's side of the family, the matriarch. "No, uh-uh," she added heaving a sigh. "Not surprised."

Her nephew had been dodging the media for a few months after the gas station police fracas thrust him into an unwanted spotlight, and was back to his old routines before the criminal trial of the two Inglewood officers opened this month.

"He's been kind of staying close to home since the trial," Goins said. He wanted to get a summer job, but "he's become a little leery again" about the potential for unwanted attention and curiosity that would make him self-conscious at school or work.

Ethel Barns, Jonathan Reid Family Rights Coalition, community rights group that assists families with children in the court system, said both defendants should have been convicted.

"I look at all the split groups here from all the organizations, this movement here, this is a political movement," Barns said. "What we need to do is use the same concept they used to remove Gray Davis at the local level. We need to teach our people to organize, teach our people to move in the right direction. Until they do that they are still going to have cases like Donovan Jackson."

The verdict comes a little more than one year after the confrontation between Jackson and several officers at the Thrifty gasoline station on Century Boulevard. Jackson, then 16 years old, was watching his father being questioned for having an expired registration tag when a struggle ensued.

The teenager was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. Then Morse, with an amateur cameraman recording his moves from a nearby hotel, hoisted Jackson and threw him atop a police car. He then struck the teenager across the face with his closed fist.

The videotape, which aired nationally, sparked outrage. Hundreds of protesters marched on city hall. The U.S. Justice Department sent a civil rights investigative team. Within two weeks, a Los Angeles Grand jury returned indictments against Morse and Darvish.

These initial reactions sparked fear that the criminal trial verdicts could create a situation similar to the 1992 riots, spurred by Rodney King's trial. Community leaders in Inglewood began preparing for the verdict about a year ago, creating the Inglewood Peace and Fairness Coalition last summer. The "peace after the verdict" campaign, a combination of various community leaders and government agencies with over 1,000 volunteers, planned to fan out in and around Inglewood today in an attempt to quell any sort of unrest.

Today, though, things remained quiet at the Inglewood Civic Center, though increased police presence was visible as one of the streets to City Hall was blocked off.

At the Soul Food Kitchen near the Civic Center at the corner of Manchester and La Brea, a busy lunch spot, owner Adolf Dulan applauded the coalition of civic and religious leaders that helped prepare the city for the verdict.

"Most of my customers here, their attitude is 'Let's keep a cool head. Let's not have a repeat of the Rodney King blow out,'" he said. "People in the community and especially people who are invested in this community see that we cannot afford to have another incident like that. I've seen a few hot heads, but people who have a vested interest in the community want to keep it safe."

Dugan said he remembers the Watts riots in the mid-60s and the 1992 riots.

"I have learned that when you see things on TV and then they get into the court room, it doesn't always come out with what you think you have seen," Dugan said. "People who are closer to this case than I was made the decision and I respect that."

Before the jury verdict was read, Goins had urged the community to maintain the peace.

"Whatever the verdict, we hope people will remain calm, because doing something wrong isn't going to solve anything. One of the things the family hopes is for people to remain peaceful," she said.

During the trial, prosecutors focused their case on the three-seconds of video that shows Morse slamming Jackson on the trunk of a police cruiser. Jackson, while lifted, appeared lifeless, dangling like a "rag doll," prosecutors said, making the car-slam an unnecessary and excessive use of force.

Defense attorneys argued that the car-slam culminated a fierce and long struggle, during which Jackson grabbed, kicked and punched at the officers. Morse, having suffered neck and ear injuries, manhandled Jackson because he was "passively resisting" by going limp, they said. The teenager, they said, later grabbed Morse's testicles, which proved that the officer had not used enough force.

A highlight of the trial occurred when Jackson took the witness stand. Though obviously confused and at times offering conflicting statements, the 17-year-old stuck to the central argument of his original story: That he was unconscious and didn't remember the car-slam or the ensuing punch.

Prosecutors used that testimony to bolster their case that Jackson was not resisting. But the prosecution's case took a sudden turn when one of their use-of-force experts, Charles Heal, said he would not have filed charges against Morse.

Heal, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. commander, said Morse's actions were excessive, but that he should have only been disciplined. Heal admitted later that he had also treated suspects roughly in his long career.

Donovan Jackson's father, Coby Chavis, and numerous other relatives have told the Times that he was diagnosed in about fourth grade with an auditory condition that has no impact on his intelligence or hearing but slows his processing of information and response to it.

At least a dozen relatives on both sides of his family say they suspect Donovan's tendency to respond more slowly was aggravated by anxiety about the police that July 6, 2002, resulting in not a refusal to answer officers but simply a delay.

"He is the least likely kid in America" to confront police, said his uncle Ed McGrew.

Donovan, in fact, had wanted to be a policeman by the age of five, and often visited his Grandma Cora McGrew at her job at the Inglewood City Jail before she retired 12 years ago.

But Donovan Jackson had enough family lore about police harassment to be unnerved by the mere presence of numerous officers, said his aunt Nancy Goins, the much older sister of Coby and family matriarch.

The most frequently cited case of police encounter gone bad: on a Sunday afternoon many years ago, Donovan's now deceased paternal grandmother, dressed in her church finery, was ordered face down on her front lawn, her granddaughter laying beside her, for merely asking Inglewood officers why they were at her neighbor's.

Perhaps connected to the auditory condition was a stutter that had emerged when Donovan was a toddler, his father said, but which by his teen years grew into more of a hesitating speaking style, at worst a stammer. This also may have played a role in the police encounter, aunts and cousins said.

In the months after the media attention faded, Donovan was able to resume life as a teenager at Lauzinger High School in Lawndale. He attended the prom this spring, sporting a white tux and gold cummerbund, and "he and his little girlfriend ...looked real good," said Nancy Goins.

Last month he graduated high school, a joyous occasion, Goins said, adding: "He's doing as good as can be expected. So far so good."

Times staff writers Akilah Johnson, Jai-Rui Chong and Jean Merl contributed to this report.