Southern California’s record of police brutality has been well documented, with the Rodney King case and the ensuing 1992 riots in Los Angeles serving as a grim reminder. A little over a decade later, white officers in Inglewood were accused of assaulting Black special needs student Donovan Jackson while he was handcuffed on July 6, 2002. Although the incident was caught on videotape, the officers were never charged. They later won a $2.4 million discrimination lawsuit despite the damning evidence.
When Jackson, then 16, and his father, 41-year-old Coby Chavis, stopped at a local gas station Inglewood officers Jeremy Morse and Bijan Darvish approached Chavis as he exited the convenience store, questioning him about his expired car registration. Allegedly, Chavis’ son got too close to the cops and a scuffle ensued. Jackson was placed in handcuffs, picked up by Morse, slammed into the hood of his dad’s car and then punched in the face. A bystander recorded the entire ordeal on videotape, which was released to news outlets nationally.
Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Martin Luther King III and other community leaders collectively called for Morse’s firing. After months of protests, Morse was fired in October but Darvish was merely given a 10-day suspension. The case made its way to the desk of then-U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft for further investigation.
Experts at the time thought the government’s swift reaction to Jackson’s case was to stave off a potential race riot situation similar to the aforementioned Los Angeles riots in the wake of the King beating. During the trial, Morse claims Jackson tried to grab his private area, a claim disputed by lawyers for the family. Further, it was revealed that Jackson was much smaller than the two cops who tried to apprehend him. The District Attorney’s office of Los Angeles County tried to prosecute the officers in two separate trials, both ending in hung juries.
Jackson’s legal team requested a third trial, but was denied. Amazingly, Morse and Darvish sued the City of Inglewood in a discrimination lawsuit alleging that the media fervor surrounding the assault on Jackson because of race discriminated against them. A jury awarded the pair $2.4 million in 2005.
That same year, Jackson’s family settled a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Inglewood and the county for an unspecified amount.
The agreement was worded to absolve the city and Los Angeles County of any wrongdoing.