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Teen, father file suit over videotaped beating

Officer Jeremy Morse was suspended after being videotaped slamming a handcuffed teen against a police car.
Officer Jeremy Morse was suspended after being videotaped slamming a handcuffed teen against a police car.  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Attorneys for a black teen-ager and his father, whose altercation Saturday with police in suburban Inglewood was caught on videotape, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, alleging that their civil rights were violated.

The amateur tape showed a handcuffed Donovan Jackson, 16, being slammed onto a patrol car, then hit in the face by an Inglewood police officer.

Family attorneys Tuesday alleged that both Jackson and his father, Coby Chavis, were beaten and injured before the videotape began, by both officers from Inglewood and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The lawyer for the young man involved in an altercation with Inglewood police officers is filing a lawsuit against the city, the police officers and Los Angeles County. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez reports (July 11)

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The FBI launched a probe into a police beating of a black teen in Inglewood, California, while angry protesters take to the streets. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez reports. (July 10)

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"What you saw was the lesser of two beatings," said Joe Hopkins, Jackson's attorney.

The federal suit names as defendants the city of Inglewood, Los Angeles County, four Inglewood police officers and three sheriff's deputies, as well as unnamed officers from both departments who were at the scene.

The suit does not ask for a specific damage amount, but John Sweeney, Chavis' attorney, said, "We believe this is a seven-figure case."

Law enforcement officials have insisted that the altercation was started by Jackson, who they say was trying to interfere with a deputy trying to cite Chavis for having expired license plates and driving with a suspended license.

"The juvenile attacked our deputy, which started the scuffle in the first place," Lt. Carl Deeley, a Sheriff's Department spokesman, said. "The young man lunged at the deputy, who then had to grab him, and they struggled with each other."

Hopkins and Sweeney disputed that characterization, saying the incident was provoked by deputies and was racially motivated.

Sweeney said Chavis was pumping gas at a convenience store, and Jackson went inside and bought a bag of potato chips. A sheriff's deputy drove by and gave Chavis a "mean look," then turned around and came back to question him, the lawyer said.

When Jackson sat up in the car to see what was going on, deputies, and later Inglewood police officers who arrived on the scene, began to beat him and choke him with a chain, Sweeney said. Chavis was beaten when he tried to help his son, he said.

"That [videotape] was a small snippet of what actually transpired that day," Sweeney said. He said blood can be seen coming out of Jackson's mouth on the videotape before he was slammed onto the car.

Hopkins also alleged that one of the officers, who is black, directed racial epithets and threats toward Chavis.

Both Chavis and his son were "injured very, very badly," physically and psychologically, Sweeney said. The father sustained rib injuries and the son needed treatment from an oral surgeon because of a jaw injury. Both are receiving psychological care to deal with the emotional trauma, he said.

Jackson suffers from a disability that Sweeney termed "auditory processing delays," which makes it very difficult for him to follow instructions given to him orally, Sweeney said.

The attorneys called for criminal prosecution of the officers involved for assault and battery, assault with a deadly weapon and child abuse. The deadly weapons were the chain that officers allegedly used to choke Jackson and the car that he was slammed against in the videotape.

Officer Jeremy Morse, a three-year veteran of the Inglewood police who is seen striking the teen-ager on the videotape, has been suspended over the incident. No action has been taken against the other three Inglewood officers at the scene, nor the two sheriff's deputies who were there.

Surveillance video from the convenience store, which uses 10 different cameras to monitor store grounds, is being evaluated by the Sheriff's Department's crime lab, Deeley said.

"Hopefully, it will add some information," Deeley said. "There's been quite a few charges that'll probably be cleared up."

In Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft released a statement Wednesday saying the Inglewood incident "troubles me greatly." He has directed the FBI to begin an investigation, and a team from the Justice Department's community relations service was also sent to Inglewood.

Ashcroft also said that after speaking with Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn on Wednesday, he has sent Ralph Boyd, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, to the city.

Meanwhile, the Inglewood Police Department acknowledged Wednesday that it is investigating a second complaint of a police beating.

Neilson Williams, 32, the man who made the second complaint, alleges that in late June, Inglewood police beat him unconscious without provocation in a public park.

At a news conference, Williams said, "I was pretty much encountered by a fleet of Inglewood police officers who pretty much had, um, no respect for me (or) anything. I was trying to tell them and they just basically beat me to a pulp and almost beat me to death. That's about as blunt as I can put it."

A police report related to that incident lists Morse as a witness, but it is unclear from the document what role, if any, he might have had in the beating alleged by Williams.

Asked if he recognized the officer who is shown in the videotaped beating of Jackson, Williams said, "I can't say that I do or don't. I will say that when I seen the tape with the officer and his actions with the youngster, he, um, I knew pretty much -- a gut feeling, this is me saying this -- I knew he had something involved, you know, he had something involved with my scenario."

Inglewood Police Sgt. Ron Reagan told CNN that "on or about June 26" a formal "use of force complaint" was filed by Williams against one or more Inglewood police officers.

Reagan was unable to disclose the name of any officers named in the complaint. He characterized the matter as "an active Internal Affairs investigation that is not yet disposed of" and said such investigations can take up to two or three months.

While Reagan would offer no further details about the second complaint, a news release issued by the Police Department on June 26 said officers -- answering a call of a disturbance by a group at Ash Park, which they said had been the location of gang activity -- encountered Williams, who "became belligerent and uncooperative."

They said officers believed Williams was under the influence "of some type of drug and/or alcohol."

In attempting to arrest the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Williams, the statement said, "officers utilized a carotid restraint hold ... in order to overcome his resistance."

Police said that when Williams stopped fighting the hold was released. At that time they noticed "Williams was breathing but not conscious. The police officers immediately summoned paramedics and monitored his breathing. Within minutes suspect Williams was transported to nearby Centinela Hospital."


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