This is a story about paths that cross. I’m not going to rehash the details of the 1992 Los Angeles riots that resulted from the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat Rodney King after a high-speed chase. There is plenty of information available online about these events.
From October 1968 until late 1971 I worked as an engineer/announcer at KDFM-FM in Walnut Creek, California. Each summer, the city of Walnut Creek held the Walnut Festival at the city park. It was a typical small town carnival with various booths and rides, and KDFM was broadcasting live from the festival each evening. On one of those evenings I had packed up the remote broadcast equipment and headed back to the downtown studio in the penthouse of the Hendricks Piano building. It was just after midnight and the parking lot was in the back of the building. To make unloading easier I backed my MG hatchback up to the front door, parking partially on the sidewalk. After taking one load upstairs, I returned for another load just as a Walnut Creek police car pulled up. Officer Michael P. Stone asked what I was doing, obviously concerned that I might be burglarizing the building! I explained the situation and he said, “OK, just be sure to move the car as quickly as possible.” I agreed to his courteous request and he drove off as I carried my next load upstairs.
Then I returned down to the street for the final load. When I reached the first floor I saw another police car, and an officer standing next to my car as he wrote a parking violation. I told him that the other officer was just here and gave me permission, but he continued angrily scribbling on the citation. He handed the ticket to me and I re-entered the building, mumbling a typical anti-cop statement of the time period. Finally finished, I moved the car to the parking lot.
The following Monday I went to the Walnut Creek Traffic Court where I pled “not guilty” and set a court date for a trial before a judge. Then I contacted WCPD to find out which officers were on duty on the night of the ‘violation’ and filed a subpoena to be served by the court on officer Michael Stone as a witness. As it turned out, the two officers were roommates.
Our day in court came two weeks later. Officer “John Doe” (memory fails as to his real name) was called to the stand to present his testimony. I asked two questions: “Do you recall issuing a citation to Marc Curtis on the night of –/–/—-?” He confirmed. “Do you recall that I explained at the time that officer Michael Stone had already investigated and gave permission for me to park on the sidewalk for a brief time?” He shyly answered, “yes.”
“No further questions, your honor. Now I’d like to call officer Michael P. Stone to the stand.”
“Officer Stone, do you recall giving me permission to park my car on the sidewalk so I could safely and quickly unload my radio broadcast equipment?” Officer Stone confirmed. My KDFM colleague, Ron Wolfe, whispered to me: “ask him if, as an officer of the law, if he was required to enforce all relevant laws.” I asked, officer Stone smiled and said “yes.” At that point, the judge banged the gavel and said, “case dismissed.” He wasn’t pleased and further stated that had he been the judge in the preliminary hearing he would have thrown the case out instead of wasting court time for such a minor infraction. He then told the bailiff to return my $35 deposit.
Fast-forward to July 29, 1992. I was hired as a cameraman for PBS’ McNeil-Lehrer Newshour to stand by at the Simi Valley courthouse and be ready for a verdict in the case against the four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King. I sat on a courtroom bench for 7 days while everyone waited for the verdict. During a break in the hallway, I somehow got into a conversation with an attorney. He mentioned that many years prior, he was a police officer in Walnut Creek, CA. I told him how I used to “cruise the Creek” on Friday and Saturday nights, and I began relaying the story of how I beat a parking ticket in court. That attorney, Michael P. Stone stood quietly for a moment when suddenly the attorneys were called into the judge’s chambers. Stone said, “we’ll have to continue this conversation later.”
Unfortunately, that conversation was never completed because the jury had reached a decision. Reporters entered the courtroom ready to write the story of four officers being convicted. But, all were proclaimed not guilty. We knew what would happen next. The PBS reporter shot several interviews outside the courthouse. The Washington DC headquarters called and told us to head to downtown LA as rioting had begun. We arrived near the Los Angeles Times newspaper building where we saw a standoff between cops in riot gear and hundreds of rioters screaming “No Justice, no peace.” As I crossed the police line, one sergeant told me if I go in he can’t guarantee I would get back out. I went into the middle of the two opponents, unsure which team might cause my death! After I captured some iconic footage of the rioters, I exited the tense zone, without a scratch.
Washington called again and told us a helicopter was waiting for us at Van Nuys airport. There was no camera mount available, so the rear door was removed and I sat on the edge of the seat with my feet dangling outside and a loose seatbelt around my waist, giving me enough flexibility to shoot outside the open door. We headed directly to the intersection of Florence and Normandie where the worst rioting was in progress. There were 18 helicopters circling the scene. On the intercom, I heard the police chopper say, “heads up everyone, they’re shooting at us.” I suddenly felt a sharp snap on my right leg. Was I shot? No, the loose end of the seatbelt got caught in the wind and slapped me painfully on the leg.
Twenty-plus years and 350 miles after an encounter with a police officer, our paths had crossed again during one of the chief news events in Los Angeles history. It really is a small world after all.
PS: Michael P. Stone is the founder and principal partner of StoneBusailah, LLP legal firm. He is an A-V rated lawyer who has practiced in law enforcement representation since 1979.
Rodney King led a troubled life before drowning in a swimming pool.