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Interview With California Governor Gray Davis

Aired July 29, 2003 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: It was an arrest that captured the country's attention because it was caught on tape. Well, today, a jury was trying to decide whether an ex-Inglewood, California, police officer Jeremy Morse used excessive force when arresting teenager Donovan Jackson just over one year ago. But the jury's decision or lack of decision leaves quite a few questions.

WILLIAM HOLLINGSWORTH JR., SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: Therefore, in count one, I'm going to declare the jury unable to reach a verdict and further deliberations would not resolve that problem. So I am declaring a hung jury as to count one.

JOHN BARNETT, ATTORNEY FOR MORSE: Well, my client is disappointed, as am I, that a verdict was not reached. But I remain convinced in his innocence. And I believe that no jury will convict him of the charges that have been made.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, as long as the jury is all white, they're not going to convict them.


ZAHN: Well, that was the reaction from Morse's attorneys and some members of the community in the background. Jackson's lawyer says he thinks the case needs to be retried. We should also note, the jury today found Morse's partner, Bijan Darvish, not guilty of filing a false police report.

For reaction to all of this, I'm joined now by California Governor Gray Davis.

Good of you to join us. Welcome, sir.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Good to talk to you, Paula.

ZAHN: First of all, your reaction to this verdict.

DAVIS: Well, I've been working all day on the budget. We just passed a budget in California. And so all I know are the news accounts on your program. And I hope that the jury made the right decision. And if the DA thinks they did not, then the DA should take the appropriate action.

ZAHN: You say you hope the jury made the right decision. Does that imply there is any question in your mind that perhaps this wasn't a fair trial?

DAVIS: Well, all I know is what I've been reading in the paper.

As you know, we passed a budget today and took a $38 billion problem down to an $18 billion problem. I was up until about 3:00 in the morning working on that and up first thing this morning. So all I know are the news accounts that preceded my interview here. I know that the jury reached its decisions. And I know the district attorney is going to review that matter. And now it's up to him to decide what the best course of action is.

ZAHN: As you know, there are many people who believe Donovan Jackson got a raw deal here, some of them claiming this could be the Rodney King fiasco all over again. Do you fear violence in the wake of this verdict?

DAVIS: I certainly hope not.

I've heard a lot of people on the radio on the way over here who objected to the jury's decision calling for calm and asking people to be peaceful and channel their opposition in constructive fashion. I add my voice to that. Surely, if people saw that initial videotape, you have to think there was some wrongdoing there. But there were other videotapes. And, for some reason, the jury came to a contrary conclusion.

So whatever your view on this decision, let's respect the process. Let's let the district attorney decide what he's going to do and channel your concern in a constructive, rather than in a destructive fashion.

ZAHN: Sir, you mentioned the videotape. And we're going to replay it now. What did you think when you saw this tape?

DAVIS: Well, you can't help but be upset over it. It looks like someone is being slammed against the car.

We don't know what preceded that. We don't know whether or not the person slammed against the car was actually trying to inflict some pain on the officer. That's what the officer claimed. There's apparently another videotape that the law enforcement had, as well as a videotape in a nearby store. I've not seen those. But we have a jury system in this society. And we have to trust that, in most cases, they make the right decision. If they didn't make the right decision here because there was a hung jury, then the district attorney of L.A. County has the full recourse to do what he thinks is right.

ZAHN: We are told that, during deliberations, one of the jurors, a black juror -- the only black on the jury -- was wearing, reportedly, a Kobe Bryant T-shirt. What kind of message do you think he might have been sending?

DAVIS: You're really getting above my pay grade here, Paula. I have a $38 billion problem that people have been hounding me about for over a year. We finally solved it today, about 15 minutes ago. And that's where my energies have been spent.

I'm obviously concerned if anything happens in this state that's not appropriate. I support law enforcement. I've been one of their biggest supporters. But when you wear the badge, that carries a lot of responsibility that you uphold your part of the bargain and don't do anything wrong. So the jury had more evidence than you and I had. They couldn't reach a conclusion.

And now it's up to the district attorney to decide if he wants to plea-bargain for a guilty plea to a lesser and included offense or to retry the case. And I have confidence in District Attorney Cooley. And I'm sure he'll make the best judgment based on the best evidence that he has available to him.

ZAHN: And, Governor, I know you say that you have been really in the budget world for many, many hours now. But you also have had to face another legal issue. And this is the issue of the upcoming recall vote. Do you think that whole process has been legal?

DAVIS: Well, that remains to be seen.

There was a decision in San Diego today brought by a law professor. I don't even know who he was. But he challenged part of the recall scheme. And the federal district judge threw it out down there. That had to do with the requirement that, if you're going to vote on the question of whether or not the governor should be recalled -- in other words, you had to vote on that issue before you could vote on the replacement candidates. And many registrars testified to the court in depositions that, in past recalls, people thought they had to vote yes on the recall, as opposed to just make a choice, yes or no.

Obviously, would I prefer they vote no before they go on to the next issue. So that I view as a positive sign for me. People now can vote yes or no or skip it entirely and go to the next issue.

ZAHN: I know you have told me in the past you feel that some of the problems your state has endured are a result of what you view as sort of the pitfalls of a weak national economy. But with polls showing that 20 percent of your constituents saying you're doing a good job, just, in closing tonight, give us your best argument why you think you should stay in office.

DAVIS: Well, the most recent poll had us at 23 percent. I'm towering over that 20 percent number now.


ZAHN: We missed that 3 percent, sir. Sorry. I know there are a bunch of different polls out there, yes.

DAVIS: Well, each of these percents matter.

But here's the number that matters: 43 percent of the people say that they are prepared to keep me in office; 51 percent say they are not. So all we have to do is change 5 percent of the vote. And I think, when they see we got this budget done -- it's not pretty, but it could be a lot uglier. And even the Republican leader of the Senate said, you can't close a $38 billion shortfall in one year. Getting it from 38 down to a balanced budget this year and an $8 billion shortfall in the budget year plus one is a very good beginning. And I agree with him.

And I think people will agree with him, on examination. We'll deal with the other issues people want me to deal with: worker compensation, providing more scholarships for people to go to college. And, at the end of the day, I think people are going to say to themselves, is it really fair that we, the taxpayers, have to spend $60 million to have a special election this fall, when all we have to do is move it to the March primary, the presidential primary, and it will only cost us a fraction of that?

I think they'll be upset at that cost and send a message to the people who wanted to put their hand in the pocketbook. This is not the way democratic institutions run in this society.

ZAHN: Governor Gray Davis, thank you for joining us at the end of your very busy budget deliberations.

DAVIS: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: We really appreciate your time tonight.

DAVIS: Take care.

ZAHN: We're going to turn our attention now to the verdict in the police beating trial in Inglewood. The question on many minds at this hour: What happens next?

To find out, let's turn to CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.



ZAHN: Let's review the videotape together. You are a former prosecutor. Tell me what you see.



ZAHN: Is there any doubt in your mind that excessive force was used here?

TOOBIN: It sure looks that way to me.

But the defense in this case, like the defense in the Rodney King case, broadened the inquiry to the entire altercation between Mr. Jackson and the police officer. And what the defense did was, second by second, even frame by frame of these films, went through them and said, this is the justification. You may not like it, but you can't find beyond a reasonable doubt that what the police officer did was wrong. He didn't persuade all the jurors, but he persuaded five of them that the cop didn't commit a crime there.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the racial makeup of this jury and what this hung jury verdict, you think, means.

TOOBIN: Well, we have one -- there was one African-American and 11 whites and Hispanics on that jury.

And Dan Lothian, who was our reporter on the scene, told me something really interesting. He said, during deliberations, which went on a long time, more than three days, for a case that is really not a very complicated case -- he said, during jury deliberations, one -- the black juror wore a Kobe Bryant jersey, which he took -- and I agree with Dan -- that he took that as a symbol of disquiet with the process, a symbol of solidarity with another accused young black man.

And he saw that, I think correctly, as a symbol of racial antagonism on that jury.

ZAHN: The governor just said, no matter how heated your reaction is to this verdict, you have to let the process work. What are the options of the district attorney right now?

TOOBIN: The district attorney has three options, basically. One is, he can simply retry the case. That's what can happen in any hung jury. Second, he can try to work out some sort of plea bargain. That happens in hung juries as well sometimes. The third option is, throw in the towel and say, if we couldn't get 12 jurors this time, we're not going to get 12 jurors any other time. And those are the choices. No. 3 is not going to happen.

ZAHN: How much political pressure is going to be brought to bear on this district attorney?

TOOBIN: Plenty.

ZAHN: So what are the chances that this will be retried, just based on that alone?

TOOBIN: I think, because of the political process, option one, retrying the case, is the most likely. But prosecutors don't like to lose cases. And make no mistake. This is a win for the defense and a loss for the prosecution today. They don't like to lose cases. A plea bargain certainly would meet that goal of not losing. But there may be too much political pressure for him to do it.

ZAHN: Well, we'll be counting on you in the days to come to keep us posted on all this.

TOOBIN: We'll see what happens.

ZAHN: Jeffrey Toobin, always good to see you. Thanks.

And as the jury began its fourth day of deliberations this morning, nearly 1,500 volunteers in yellow T-shirts were going door- to-door in Inglewood. The self-described peace ambassadors had a very simple goal, to prevent a repeat of the 1992 riots which followed the Rodney King verdicts.

Najee Ali is a community activist in Inglewood. He joins us tonight.

Thank you for joining us, sir.

First of all, help us understand how your community is reacting to this verdict, which Jeffrey Toobin described as basically a win for the defense.

NAJEE ALI, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, it's a slap in the face, Paula. We're shocked and outraged by this verdict. But we're not surprised.

Once we realized there was only one black juror on the jury, we knew the deck was stacked against us. And we're angry, very angry. And we have a right to be angry. But we're going to be angry, but make sure our anger is one that is constructive and not destructive.

ZAHN: And what would you describe as constructive anger? What do you mean by that?

ALI: Well, we're going to make sure that we let everyone know this is not over with. We're going to make sure we keep fighting for justice. And we're going to remind people that Steve Cooley, the district attorney, is up for reelection next year. And if he wants to get reelected, he's going to have to refile this case to make sure Morse gets what he deserves. And that's a jail sentence for beating a handcuffed child.

ZAHN: Now, Najee, I know that you obviously disagree with this verdict, but you're making it very clear to folks in your community that you would like to maintain a sense of calm. How confident are you that things will remain that way? Or are you fearful of what you predicted a couple of weeks ago would be a repeat of the Rodney King fallout?

ALI: Well, I'm very confident. And we have made sure our message of peace has gotten out into the community. Right now, everyone is calm, cool and collected. We've talked to gang members and at-risk youth over the last few days. And they have said that, no matter what happened, they would make sure they would protest, but it would be a peaceful protest. And right now, there is no type of violence in the streets.

ZAHN: And do you expect it to stay that way?

ALI: Without question.

I'm very confident in our leadership. We've also gotten calls from national leadership, such as Reverend Al Sharpton, who is expected to come out here to lead us in an upcoming protest and rally. But our main thing is, we want to protest, but make sure there is peace in the streets.

ZAHN: Najee Ali, thank you again for dropping by and spending a little time with us this evening.

ALI: Thank you, Paula.


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