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Charges dropped against ex-officer taped arresting teenager

From Stan Wilson

A videotape of the July 6, 2002 arrest.
A videotape of the July 6, 2002 arrest.

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Officer indicted  July 17, 2002
Protests over case  July 12, 2002
• Indictment: People v. Morse, Darvish (FindLaw, PDF)external link
Justice and Rights

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- In the wake of two trials that ended in hung juries, a former police officer in Southern California will not face a third trial over the arrest of a handcuffed teenager captured on videotape, prosecutors said.

In reaching a decision to not prosecute former Inglewood police Officer Jeremy Morse a third time, local authorities pointed to the two previous trials that ended without a verdict as a signal that they would not be able to obtain a unanimous decision from a jury.

"The community ultimately decides what police conduct is proper and what is improper," said Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley in a written statement.

Morse, who is white, was videotaped in 2002 slamming Donovan Jackson, who is black and was 16 at the time, onto the trunk of a police car and punching him in the face. The incident, televised throughout the world, caused outrage and led to accusations of police brutality.

State prosecutors charged Morse with one count of assault and his partner, Bijan Darvish, with one count of filing a false police report about the incident. The videotaped incident caught the attention of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced a federal inquiry into possible civil rights violations.

"Jeremy and I are both relieved that the prosecution has decided not to pursue a third trial. I didn't think that they would," said John Barnett, Morse's attorney.

Last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Hollingsworth declared a second mistrial after jurors indicated they were hopelessly deadlocked. Darvish was found not guilty in the first trial.

Prosecutor Cooley pointed to the effort by jurors during the second trial to reach a decision, to no avail.

"Jurors told news reporters after the second trial that they studied the videotaped incident at least a dozen times in the jury room, at different speeds and even frame-to-frame," Cooley said. "They could not agree whether victim Donovan Jackson was conscious when Morse slammed him onto the back of a patrol car."

The confrontation between Jackson and the officers occurred at a service station on July 6, 2002. Jackson's father, Coby Chavis, was being questioned by police for driving with expired registration tags when his son, returning from a mini-mart, was ordered into the back of a squad car.

According to police, a struggle ensued, and Jackson was wrestled to the ground by officers and handcuffed. Morse then hoisted Jackson and threw him on top of a police car, and struck him repeatedly on the face with his clenched fist.

The videotape was presented as evidence in both trials, with state prosecutors contending that Jackson was unconscious and posed no threat to the officers, so Morse's actions were unnecessary and unreasonable.

Defense attorneys argued that the slam occurred because of a violent and long struggle, during which Jackson grabbed, kicked and punched at the officers before the videotape began.

"Prosecutions against police officers are difficult ones because of the positions that they hold as protectors of the community," Cooley said. "Our position has been, and remains, that when the handcuffs go on and resistance has stopped, use of force must also cease."

Many residents in the predominately black community of Inglewood said the beating was reminiscent of the 1992 beating of Rodney King and complained that the jury makeup, with just two black jurors, was unfair because the city of Inglewood's population is almost half African American.

Authorities reported no incidents of civil unrest throughout the case.

Morse, who was fired from the police department, is facing a civil lawsuit from Jackson while the city of Inglewood and Los Angeles County are being sued for civil rights abuses, according to Jackson attorney Cameron Stewart.

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