Officer Laurence Powell is off the hook, at least for now. Dealing a severe blow to the civil rights establishment and federal police power, the Supreme Court has overruled the Ninth Circuit Court’s motion to stiffen the sentence handed down in the federal trial of Powell and Stacey Koon, who were found guilty of violating the civil rights of “motorist” Rodney King. Having served out his original two-year sentence, Powell is a free man.

The Legal Affairs Council, which raised over $60,000 for Powell’s defense, has called upon President Clinton to sack his Attorney General, who led the campaign to send Powell back to jail for another four years. Janet Reno, in response to heavy pressures from the Congressional Black Caucus and to threats from blacks (as Paul Parker III, a relative of one of the thugs who assaulted Reginald Denny, put it, “If there is no justice for blacks, there will be no peace!”), swore that the racist cops would pay for their deeds. Accordingly, Reno complained loudly that Powell’s sentence was too light, pressured Judge Davies to revoke the bail he had granted Powell during the appellate process, and launched a crusade to force the judge to revise his 30-month sentence, thus venturing into the realm of triple jeopardy. (For a full account of this campaign, see Robert Deitz’s new book Willful Injustice.)

But clearly Powell was the victim of an attitude that went far beyond one vindictive public official. In those quarters where Powell should have received the strongest support—namely, the police department—he instead became a scapegoat for the sins attributed to law enforcement, a sacrificial lamb offered up at the altar of civil rights. Neither “conservatives” nor the LAPD were willing to stand behind the two officers, and police representatives took steps to distance themselves. In May 1991, two months after the “Rodney King incident,” Deitz recounts, Powell and Stacey Koon responded to a call about a violent domestic dispute. While breaking up the fight, Powell allegedly hit one of the participants with his flashlight, while Sergeant Koon said “F–k you” to a troublesome relative. These trivial charges were later denied by one of the witnesses. This little episode was completely forgotten—until Powell and Koon stood trial for civil rights infractions, whereupon LAPD Captain James McBride dredged up the incident as a pretext to issue Powell an official reprimand, charging him with misconduct of the gravest kind. Powell and Koon later came under fire for their racist attitudes and their handling of Saint Rodney, even though they had in no way deviated from normal police procedure. The LAPD apparently felt that by bringing in a new black police chief and cracking down on “racists” in its ranks, it could demonstrate to world opinion its good faith and sensitivity to liberal concerns.

Richard Delgaudio, president of the Legal Affairs Council, in a press release announcing the Court’s decision, lauds the Justices for uniformly recognizing that Rodney King had provoked and assaulted Sergeant Koon’s men. For once, the Court has acted as a disinterested interpreter of the law, instead of following Reno who sought, in Delgaudio’s words, to “appeas[e] a loud fringe group [in order to] help President Clinton’s reelection campaign.”

Of course, there is no guarantee that Powell’s ordeal is over—if the regime is willing to stoop to triple jeopardy, then why not quadruple and quintuple jeopardy? As survivors of the Waco holocaust know, Janet Reno does not take a cool and disinterested approach to cases involving the welfare of children or other designated victims. Alexander Cockburn, in The Golden Age Is in Us, writes about a case that does not get the attention given to Waco. While running for reelection as Dade County prosecutor in 1984, Reno used, let us say, extraconstitutional methods to push for the prosecution of a Cuban man her office had labeled a child abuser. Unable to secure solid evidence, Reno visited the man’s 17-year-old wife, imprisoned on lesser charges, and urged her to testify against her husband. “If outlined in a human rights report,” Cockburn writes, “the methods endorsed by Reno would justly be called brainwashing. They included isolation, quasi-hypnosis, conditioned response and kindred mind-bending techniques.” The girl insisted on her and her husband’s innocence, and “the case was becoming a political liability for Reno” during a heated election campaign. When the girl was brought out of solitary confinement for a polygraph test, she gave in and agreed to make depositions against her husband. She later made them with Reno holding her hand. In a statement to the judge, the girl admitted, “I am pleading guilty to get all of this over.”