Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Rodney King 2006?

In a scenario that the TV station was comparing to the Rodney King video 15 years ago, KTLA on Monday secured exclusive tape of a San Bernardino sheriff's deputy who shot a car passenger even though the man apparently followed the officer's orders.

A Chino resident caught the exchange in a blurry video, which he then sold to the Tribune-owned station for $5,000 and simultaneously handed over to San Bernardino County sheriff's officials.

KTLA aired portions of the video on Monday night. After the county refused to release the tape to the public on Tuesday, the station decided to make the video available to both rival stations locally and to news organizations across the nation.

The station's explanation:

"My feeling, given the nature of the video, was that it was important for as many people to see what went on as possible," KTLA news director Jeff Wald said. "We were hoping the San Bernardino sheriff's department would make it available for everyone to see."

Instead, Wald said, the department decided to "stonewall."

"I think they realize they have a problem, but they don't realize they should have dealt with it in a more forthright manner," he said. "They would have been better to come clean."

Air Force senior airman Elio Carrion was a riding as a passenger in the car when it was pulled over by the unnamed deputy after a brief chase. The tape shows Carrion telling the deputy that he's in the military and that "I'm with you" as the deputy yells at him to "Get up!"

Carrion complies -- and the deputy fires his gun, telling him, "You don't get up!"

The L.A. Times reports that the FBI has opened an inquiry:

The incident, which took place Sunday night, began with the deputy's chasing a blue Corvette on a short pursuit that authorities said reached speeds of 100 mph. Officials said the deputy pursued the Corvette because the driver was speeding. Carrion was a passenger in the car.

The chase ended when the car crashed into a fence on a residential street in Chino about 10:30 p.m. The driver, Luis Fernando Escobedo, 21, was arrested on suspicion of felony evading. The district attorney's office has not filed charges against him, however, and he was scheduled to be released from jail Tuesday night, officials said.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said Tuesday evening that neither the driver nor Carrion was armed and that there was no indication Carrion would be arrested or charged with a crime.

Sheriff Gary Penrod has reviewed the videotape, as have several members of the department, Beavers said.

"The dialogue is difficult to understand," Beavers said. "We cannot make judgments on this shooting yet. It is not crystal clear, and if there's any question left open, we can't say whether Carrion or the deputy is wrong." The deputy's conversation with Carrion in the seconds before the shooting is "critical," she said.

Beavers said sheriff's officials hoped the federal investigation would include a forensic review of the video to help "clear up audio issues, to be exact in the dialogue between the deputy and the passenger."

KTLA reporter Marti Johnson first learned of the tape while reporting live Monday morning from Chino (where the event took place). She later made contact with the resident -- identified by the Los Angeles Times as Jose Luis Valdes, and fellow KTLA reporter Jamie Chambers successfully negotiated purchase of the tape.

KTLA took possession of the video midway through its 10 p.m. newscast Monday, and managed to get part of it, heavily bleeped, on the air before signing off at 11 p.m.

"Our two reporters on the story gained the trust of the individual who photographed the incident," Wald said. "Our reporters are very resourceful, and there's a predetermined trust with our station."

KTLA was the first station in 1991 to secure and air footage of video showing the Rodney King/LAPD beating; that footage was quickly relayed worldwide.

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