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Police in King beating case sent to jail: Judge imposes light sentence because not all the blows were struck illegally

TWO white Los Angeles police officers convicted in the beating of the black motorist Rodney King, one of the most explosive incidents in the traumatic history of US race relations, were yesterday jailed for two and a half years.

The sentences were a quarter of the maximum 10-year prison terms which federal prosecutors had sought, and prompted an angry early response from some members of the inner city's black population.

But, although Los Angeles police were on full alert as the sentencing was passed, tension in the city was far lower than in April 1992, when a state court's acquittal of all four policemen in the King beating ignited some of the worst riots ever seen in the United States.

Announcing his decision, US District Judge John Davies surprised onlookers by observing that many of the worst blows inflicted on Mr King during his videotaped beating were legal - which seemed to endorse considerable use of force by the police.

He also took into account the conduct of Rodney King, who he said carried some blame for what occurred. A drunken Mr King, on parole after a robbery conviction, was accosted by police after a high-speed, late-night car chase in March 1991.

The judge said that the beating was legal when it began, as Mr King resisted arrest. It did not become a crime until the officers carried on with the beating after Mr King had stopped moving. By then he had already suffered most of his more severe injuries, which, the judge said, could therefore not be considered when sentencing.

Judge Davies, an Australian, characterised the officers as 'good family men', who were not a threat to society and had good service records. He was also mindful that the officers had, unusually, been put through two trials.

The first, before an almost entirely white jury in an out-of- town California state court in 1992, led to rioting when they were acquitted. The second, which followed a federal investigation ordered by George Bush, was in a Los Angeles federal court this year before a panel including two blacks.

In the second trial, the two officers, Sgt Stacey Koon, 43, and Laurence Powell, 30, were convicted of violating Mr King's civil rights. Koon was the senior officer, who 'supervised' the beating; Powell administered the bulk of the dozens of baton blows and kicks that Mr King suffered.

The officers, who have been ordered to surrender to the authorities on 27 September, could be sent to any one of four relatively low-security federal prison camps in southern California. They are likely to be segregated from other inmates, for their own protection.