How The Notorious Brick From The LA Riots Became Just A Paperweight
Cognitech’s CEO Dr. Lenny Rudin was interviewed by Kate Conger about the pioneering and novel computational forensic video identification method of the assailant’s ‘Rose Tattoo’ during the historic Los Angeles Riots Trial. Below you can find the original post from the Ratter.com article.
On April 29, 1992, Damian Monroe Williams lobbed a brick against Reginald Denny’s temple, fracturing his skull and sparking the riots that destroyed swaths of Los Angeles over several days. The live television broadcast of the attack made it clear that the police were not going to respond.
Today, the brick is sitting on a coffee table in Santa Monica.
The brick as it was known then was the weapon in the attack that bookended the police beating of Rodney King and earned the attacker the unfortunate nickname “Football.”
The brick as it is now is an unusual paperweight in the home of the journalist who helped film the infamous footage of the attack on Denny.
“I’ve had this little thing in my place now for years and I think it’s brought me a lot of bad luck,” Zoey Tur told me over Skype, holding a brick up to her camera. “I would actually love to get rid of it.”
Tur, an award-winning journalist, flew a helicopter over the intersection of Florence and Normandie while her then-wife, Marika Gerrard, captured Williams’ actions on tape. (Back then, Zoey was Bob Tur. She began her gender transition in 2013.)
Tur’s brick has black lettering inked on the side: People v. Williams, it says, and also, Reginald Denny Brick. It’s a hefty object, thicker and more menacing than the slim kind sometimes used to build suburban mailboxes. Tur said the Los Angeles district attorney who prosecuted Williams, Lawrence Morrison, gave the brick to her when the trial and subsequent appeals ended.
“He said, ‘I don’t want to see it on eBay,” Tur recalled.
But The Proof Was In The Pixels, Not The Brick
Although Williams was charged with attempted murder, his weapon did not play a central role in the case against him. The prosecution didn’t need a smoking gun because it had a videotape.
According to a Los Angeles Times account of the trial, Morrison acknowledged in his opening statements to the jury that the couple’s video would be crucial to the prosecution. “We saw vicious and horrible crimes broadcast into our living rooms,” he said, and projected a slideshow of the attack on Denny.
But the brick never made an appearance in court, according to the few records that remain at the LA courthouse (because the case is more than 20 years old, many of the records have been destroyed). Most of the evidence introduced at Williams’ trial consisted of photographs and videos, which were left unlabeled in the docket, but there were a few pieces of physical evidence — a blue bandana, a white t-shirt. No brick.
Dr. Leonid Rudin, the co-founder of the forensic video analysis firm Cognitech and an expert witness in the case, explained why the brick may not have been introduced in court.
“There was never a question about whether a brick was used or any other object was used. There were some pictures — the images were quite clear,” he said. “Various people attacked Reginald Denny. But those things were clear enough, it was clear enough that he was being attacked with objects. The identification became the issue; the rose tattoo became the rose tattoo. There was no brick examination from the point of view of the forensic video process.”
The footage from Tur’s helicopter was clear enough that the weapons lost importance; instead, Morrison hinged his case on proving that Williams was the man caught on video lobbing the brick. Williams’ bandana and t-shirt became more crucial than the weapon he chose, and his tattoo — a rose on his left arm — was the lynchpin.
Dr. Rudin’s task was to use the technique he pioneered, called segmentation, to prove that a dark mark on the arm of the man in the video was the same size and shape as Williams’ tattoo.
” It’s not about prosecution, it’s about the forensic truth,” Dr. Rudin explained. “Justice is blind. That is, we are just interested in pixels.”
Evidence Is “Not Just Handed Out, Though” So…
Tur also testified at Williams’ trial. (Gerrard didn’t testify, she said, because she was looking through her camera during the attack, which limited her view of the scene.) It makes sense that, somehow, Tur ended up with the brick — her testimony and the footage shot from her helicopter played key roles in the prosecution.
“It was the first time people were able to see the very spark of the worst rioting in modern US history, on live television,” Tur said of the footage. “And that changed the debate completely. It wasn’t a spun story. You saw it in real time. You saw what was happening. You saw the verdicts, and you saw the reaction.”
Tur has a way of becoming a character in the stories she’s covered. Part of what lands Tur at the center of important stories is that she’s good at locating unusual things — she was the first to broadcast the LA riots, the first to locate that white Bronco as O.J. Simpson fled his murder trial in 1994. Part of it is that she’s not cowed into neutrality, a quality she criticizes in other journalists. (“It takes a responsible journalist to realize that there aren’t two sides to every story; it’s not always he-said-she-said reporting. You’re a reporter, not a repeater,” she told me.) She’ll jump into a story if she wants to, as she did in 1988 when she rescued 54 tourists from a storm by airlifting them to safety in her helicopter. And sometimes she’s thrust into the headlines, as she was when TMZ began publishing stories about her gender transition in 2013.
Tur said she and Morrison still keep in touch, and Gerrard remembered receiving phone calls from Morrison over the years to update her on the criminal proceedings against Williams (Williams is currently imprisoned for his role in a 2000 murder).
When I called him in December, Morrison declined to discuss the brick or the Williams case. Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said she was unable to contact Morrison, who still works for the DA’s office, but that, as a general rule, evidence “is not just handed out; it’s not sold on eBay.”
- 1/20/15 2:30PM