Gates defends police role in man's beating


LOS ANGELES -- The South Los Angeles intersection where truck driver Reginald Denny was yanked form his vehicle and brutally beaten was "not the flash point" for last month's rioting and looting, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said yesterday.

Continuing to defend the Police Department's overall handling of the mayhem that left more than 50 people dead and hundreds of buildings burned, Chief Gates said an internal investigation has shown that "the riot was breaking out all over."

The corner of Florence and Normandie avenues, where Mr. Denny was viciously attacked in scenes broadcast live by airborne television news crews, "was one very bad location, but not the only one that existed at that particular time," Chief Gates told reporters at an informal news conference after the weekly Police Commission meeting.

The police department's analysis was not released by Chief Gates, but a tape of police radio broadcasts obtained by the Los Angeles Times shows that other trouble spots were developing simultaneously.

There were "many incidents that would suggest that the riot was moving before Florence and Normandie, before the assault on Denny," the chief said. "As bad as that was at Florence and Normandie, it was not the flash point."

Isolated disturbances began almost immediately after the not-guilty verdicts were announced in the Rodney G. King case, Chief Gates said.

At first, "they were not anything that would suggest we could not control them rather easily," Chief Gates said. But "that developed and continued to develop" until about 6:30 p.m. "and then it just exploded," Chief Gates said.

It was about 6:30 p.m. that the first motorists were being pulled outof cars and beaten at Florence and Normandie. Mr. Denny was attacked about 6:45 p.m.

The sequence of events is significant, Chief Gates said, because it indicates that unless the police department had been fully mobilized shortly after the verdicts, the ability to control the violence "would not [have been] much greater than what we . . . had.

"There isn't a police department in the country that has the personnel power to put down a civil unrest [of that magnitude] quickly," he said. "We did this in 36 hours. . . . That's far better than we did in Watts in 1965."

Much of the criticism of the department in recent days has centered on the pull-back of about 30 officers from Florence and Normandie about an hour before Mr. Denny was severely injured. The officers retreated from a rock-throwing mob and did not return to control the violence for hours, leaving unsuspecting motorists to enter the area.

Police Department tapes indicate trouble -- ranging from gangs congregating to window-smashing -- was breaking out at several diverse locations between 5:43 p.m. when the first police pull-back was ordered and 6:45 p.m. when Mr. Denny was assaulted.

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