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Two Former Va. Officers Charged With Violating Motorist's Civil Rights

By Zinie Chen Sampson, The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Two former Petersburg city police officers face federal civil rights charges in the severe beating of a black man who was pulled over during a traffic stop and ended up in a coma for more than two months.

Michael R. Perkins is charged with kicking and stomping Lamont C. Koonce, who was pulled over Oct. 13, 2003, as he drove home from work at the Boar's Head meat company. Michael A. Tweedy is charged with kicking Koonce and falsifying a police report to cover up his and other officers' role. Tweedy is black, and Perkins is white.

The beating, which involved at least four Petersburg police officers, left Koonce hospitalized with a fractured skull, collapsed lung and other injuries.

"This is a tragedy for two reasons: the injuries suffered by Koonce ... and it does affect the public's opinion of police," U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Petersburg Police Chief Morris Jones said that Perkins, Tweedy and two other officers involved in the incident were fired. McNulty said additional federal charges could be filed, but "we have to wait and see how this plays out."

Four officers initially faced state charges, but a grand jury only indicted Tweedy and another former officer, David House, on charges of aggravated malicious wounding, said Petersburg Commonwealth's Attorney Cassandra Burns.

Burns said the federal case will supersede the state case against Tweedy but the state charge against House will remain.

Koonce also faced a drug charge, which was dropped, said Burns, who declined to comment further.

Perkins made an initial appearance in federal court Tuesday and was released on his own recognizance. Arraignment was set for Monday before U.S. District Judge James Spencer. Perkins' lawyer, David Baugh, declined to comment on the case.

Jennifer Newman was Tweedy's lawyer in the state case. She said no decision has been made on whether she will handle the federal case, and she declined further comment.

Police accounts of the incident differ from that of Koonce and his family, and authorities said they aren't allowed to comment about it, citing the pending court cases.

"The truth of what actually happened has never come out," Burns said. "That's one of the main problems with this."

Family members claim that Petersburg police officers pulled over Koonce's older-model sedan after noticing a broken tail light. Koonce pulled up in the driveway of a pastor he knew and exchanged words with the officers, Koonce's family has said.

"The officers said one thing, and he said another, and they said he tried to run," said Alzena Mayfield, president of the Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, which investigated the incident at the family's request.

Family members allege that officers handcuffed, then severely assaulted Koonce. Koonce was rushed to the trauma center at a Richmond hospital, where he spent nearly three months recovering.

Officers claimed initially that Koonce was injured when he fell several times when he tried to flee after being pulled over, tripping over several fences.

"What I did was I went to the scene," Mayfield said of her actions after Koonce's cousin called her to report the incident. "I went and found patches of his hair, found where they pushed his face in the mud. I found no fences that he could have fallen over, as police allege."

Mayfield then called the FBI, alleging that the police violated Koonce's civil rights.

More than a year after the traffic stop, Koonce, 28, is unable to drive or work and remains "a bit depressed," Mayfield said. "He's still questioning why, and he has no answers."

A phone message left for Koonce was not immediately returned.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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