NEW ORLEANS – A 64-year-old retired teacher whose beating by city police was caught on videotape pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of being drunk and resisting arrest as the officers involved denied using excessive force.
A lawyer for Robert Davis (search) said charges of public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation were groundless and that they should be dropped. Joseph Bruno met briefly with city officials to discuss having the charges dismissed, and they agreed to continue their talks.
Davis was released on bond and a trial was set for Jan. 18 — a week after the scheduled start of the trial for the officers accused of beating him.
An attorney for the officers, Frank DeSalvo (search), said police were only trying to subdue Davis, and that their actions were justified because of Davis' resistance. Davis had stumbled into a police horse, had slurred speech and had been belligerent toward officers before his arrest, DeSalvo said.
"I see an incident of a man trying to be brought under control who doesn't want to be brought under control," DeSalvo said.
Davis says he had not been drinking before he was beaten by two police officers in a weekend confrontation taped by an Associated Press Television News (search) crew. Those officers and a third accused of grabbing and shoving an APTN producer have pleaded not guilty to battery charges.
DeSalvo said the APTN producer grabbed one of the accused officers, S.M. Smith, and spun him around before the officer responded by pushing the producer away from the arrest.
Rich Matthews, the APTN producer, in an interview strongly disputed the lawyer's account, and said he never touched the officer.
The video shows that when Matthews held up his credentials, the officer grabbed him, leaned him backward over a car, jabbed him in the stomach and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade. Matthews was not charged in the incident.
The beating has put another unwanted spotlight on the city's beleaguered police force following Hurricane Katrina. The Justice Department also has opened a civil rights investigation stemming from the incident.
Davis said earlier this week that he had wandered into the French Quarter in search of cigarettes before the confrontation. "I didn't do anything," said Davis, who said he had approached a mounted police officer to ask about the city's curfew.
Another officer on foot "interfered and I said he shouldn't," Davis said. As he crossed the street, Davis said, he was hit and eventually thrown to the pavement.
Davis suffered facial injuries when he was arrested, but DeSalvo said those occurred when an FBI agent brought him to the ground when Davis tried to flee. Officers struck Davis on the shoulders, neck and the back of the head to subdue him, but never in the face, DeSalvo said.
Davis insists that he has not had a drink in 25 years. He and his lawyer said no blood or breath tests for drunkenness were administered following Davis' arrest.
New Orleans police said they typically do not test people arrested for public intoxication. Spokesman Marlon Defillo said judges traditionally rely on an officer's expertise.
Davis said he had returned to New Orleans from Atlanta to inspect properties owned by family members. He said he was no longer sure he'll return permanently to the city he has called home for 28 years.
"That's up in the air. The chaos that's here — I don't know," he said Monday.
Davis and police officials have said they did not believe race was a factor. Davis is black; the three city police officers on the tape are white.
"I don't have time to be vindictive, but the good Lord is going to take care of everything," Davis said Tuesday in a televised interview.