August 30, 1995 in Nation/World

Detective’s Words Return To Haunt Him Fuhrman Tapes Made Public As Judge Ponders Admissibility

Mark Davis Knight-Ridder
 

The scratchy taped voice of former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman, slinging racial slurs at every opportunity, transfixed the courtroom in the O.J. Simpson murder trial - and television viewers nationwide - Tuesday.

He spoke approvingly of lying. Of pounding suspects into unconsciousness. Of falsifying police reports. Of stopping motorists based solely on the color of their skin - and laughing about all of it.

Fuhrman’s words came back to haunt him in a very public way as Simpson’s defense attorneys aired excerpts from a series of interviews conducted between the retired officer and a North Carolina screenwriter.

The attorneys want Judge Lance Ito to admit the taped conversations as evidence for the jury to review. Prosecutors oppose that tactic, arguing that the tapes aren’t central to the case against Simpson, who is charged with murder in the June 12, 1994, stabbing deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Ito, who reviewed the tapes over the weekend, did not make a decision Tuesday but is expected to rule on the tapes’ admissibility later this week.

Jurors don’t know about the tapes and had the day off, but the court was packed anyway to hear Fuhrman’s own statements.

His words, vicious and biting, spewed like acid from a ruptured pipe and stunned the standing-room-only crowd.

“How do you intellectualize when you punch the hell out of a nigger?” he asked in one portion of an interview he had with screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny, who spent nearly the entire day testifying. “He either deserves it, or he doesn’t.”

In another instance, Fuhrman bragged that he and a fellow officer had beaten four suspects so badly that the officers were covered with blood - so soaked, he recalled, that they even had to wipe blood off their badges.

Internal affairs investigators cleared police in that episode, Fuhrman said on the tape. Then he laughed. “I mean, we could have murdered people and got away with it,” he said.

And in a third interview, Fuhrman admitted falsifying reports to get a conviction: “That’s putting a criminal in jail,” he said. “That’s being a policeman.”

Then, in a final excerpt taken from the last interview McKinny conducted in July 1994, Fuhrman mentioned the bloody glove he said he found in Simpson’s back yard. It is vital to the prosecution’s case.

“The glove is everything,” Fuhrman said. “Without the glove, bye-bye.”

His words mesmerized court-goers in a hearing that lasted all day, and marked a sudden change of pace in the case, which has ground along for the past two weeks with lawyers arguing the finer points of scientific evidence. All that changed Tuesday morning. The tape excerpts, which have been leaked to the media in the last few weeks, lived up to their billing.

News of their contents sped like a fired bullet, and struck deeply at the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. For the police, the tapes’ contents may be the worst thing to happen since the Rodney King beating case three years ago set off riots here.

They prompted one police officer who’d worked with Fuhrman to disavow his former colleague, who retired earlier this year and now lives in Sandpoint.

“These (tapes) do not represent me at all,” Detective Phillip Vanatter said when court recessed for lunch.

District Attorney Gil Garcetti called a quick news conference to defend the department. Garcetti, who is in charge of Simpson’s prosecution, said he was angry and embarrassed over the Fuhrman tapes. “I’m angry that a police officer … has uttered such hateful words, and has apparently harbored some vile thoughts and feelings,” he said.

“I’m embarrassed for the city, and for the Los Angeles Police Department. I’m embarrassed because this is - these words, misconduct or apparent conduct by a police officer, is not, and I underline this, is not representative of the vast, vast majority of police officers in Los Angeles.”

Garcetti said he was also angry because the tapes had altered the focus of the trial from Simpson to Fuhrman.

“We are not in court to protect or defend Mark Fuhrman, we are here in court every day to seek justice.”

Justice is what Simpson wants, said defense attorney Gerald Uelmen, who argued that the tapes should be admitted as evidence. The tapes, he said, prove Fuhrman is a liar, a racist - and, Uelmen implied, someone who might plant a bloody glove in Simpson’s yard to bolster the case against the former football star.

“Fuhrman … is biased, (and) has hostility toward people of the African-American race,” Uelmen said in his closing argument to admit the tapes.

The tapes would divert attention from real evidence against Simpson, prosecutor Marcia Clark responded.

It would have been nearly impossible for Fuhrman to plant the bloody glove, said Clark, noting that other officers were present at the murder site when Fuhrman arrived to help in the investigation.

“I stand before the court, not in defense of Mark Fuhrman, but in defense of this case,” she said in her closing argument. “We need to keep our eyes focused on the information that is relevant to this case.”

The tapes are relevant, say Simp son’s attorneys, who discovered them about a month ago when they got a tip: A North Carolina screenwriter, they learned, had tapes of interviews with Fuhrman that would prove he was racially biased and not above breaking the law. It was a windfall for the defense.

McKinny, a former California resident teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., had a series of taped interviews between her and Fuhrman, conducted between 1985 and 1994. McKinny fought in North Carolina courts to have them kept out of court proceedings here. Those efforts failed, and McKinny had to bring the tapes back to Los Angeles.

McKinny testified Tuesday that she met Fuhrman in early 1985 as she was taking notes on a laptop computer in a suburban restaurant.

Laptops weren’t commonplace then, and Fuhrman, who wasn’t on duty, paused at her table and asked about it, she said. They began talking, and McKinny learned that her new acquaintance was a police officer. She asked for his help.

“I needed his words for dialogue purposes … to listen and be able to visualize” real-life police work, she said. That led to a series of about 15 interviews over nine years.

Those talks, though dated, apply to the present, Uelmen argued.

“We believe that any evidence collected by Fuhrman should not be trusted,” said Uelmen.

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: INSIDE Excerpts of detective Mark Fuhrman’s interviews with screenwriting professor Laura Hart McKinny appear in today’s Spokesman-Review. They are a small part of tapes played outside the jury’s presence at a hearing Tuesday in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. While the excerpts contain offensive language, the newspaper is running them so readers may understand more fully the seriousness of the allegations made against a key witness in the nation’s most prominent murder trial. See Page A6.

EXCERPTS OF FUHRMAN TAPES Excerpts of Detective Mark Fuhrman’s interviews with screenwriting professor Laura Hart McKinny that were played at a hearing in the O.J. Simpson murder case Tuesday. Fuhrman’s spokesman has said that when the detective made the comments, he was acting as a consultant for McKinny’s fictional project about the Los Angeles Police Department and that he embellished stories in an attempt to impress her.

Fuhrman: “Why don’t you give them the 77th lie detector test? You know, everybody - and a bunch of guys will laugh - old timers, you know. And then one kid will ask his partner, ‘What’s that?’ You keep choking him out until he tells you the truth. You know it is kind of funny. But a lot of policemen will get a kick out of it. Anyway, so you are in the shadows like that. Now you’re - when you are talking to somebody it is not like you are really listening into their words because you’ll key on what is the truth and what isn’t. First thing, anything out of a nigger’s mouth for the first five or six sentences is a (expletive) lie. That is just right out. There has got to be a reason why he is going to tell you the truth. He is just not gonna go …” “So we just got tired. We basically got impatient with him being so (expletive) stupid, which I thought he was. So we just handcuffed him and went the scenic route to the station. We searched him again and found the gun. Went over to the baseball diamond and talked to him. When I left, Dana goes, ‘No blood, Mark.’ “No problem, not even any marks, Dana. Just body shots. Did you ever try to find a bruise on a nigger? It is pretty tough, huh? …” , Fuhrman: “See, if you did the things that they teach you in the academy, you’d never get a (expletive) thing done. I’ll split up the people, that’s fine. You split up two suspects and you say, where’re you from? What’s his name? That’s great, but if he doesn’t tell you, you give him a shot in the stomach with your stick and say: ‘Listen boy, I’m talking to you, and you better give me some attention or I’m gonna (expletive) drop you like a bad habit.’ Now can you tell me a female you see doing that?” McKinny: “No.” Fuhrman: “Those are field interrogation techniques for (expletive).”

Fuhrman:”When I was working gang, we used to take people, you know. We’d get a murder. We’d have a murder. And sometimes two or three murders. And you’d know which gang did it. But they wouldn’t talk. So I would go and pick up three or four gang members and bring them to the station. Take one in the basement and beat the dog (expletive) out of him. And not even asking him a question. Bring him up and sit him down. He’s bleeding. Face is all puffed up, got hurt. Next guy, take him downstairs. ‘OK, who shot him?’ … That’s how you get information. What is this patty cake, patty cake (expletive) psychology? Well, we have to teach our officers some Spanish. This is America. We don’t speak Spanish here. Work Mexican gangs, and I don’t know how to speak any Spanish. How do they do that? When they speak Spanish. ‘No comprende.’ Slap them upside the head. Then they speak English. I’m an English teacher. Just like that. That’s police work, and that’s being able to pick out the people. That type of treatment is necessary. …”

Two sidebars appeared with the story: INSIDE Excerpts of detective Mark Fuhrman’s interviews with screenwriting professor Laura Hart McKinny appear in today’s Spokesman-Review. They are a small part of tapes played outside the jury’s presence at a hearing Tuesday in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. While the excerpts contain offensive language, the newspaper is running them so readers may understand more fully the seriousness of the allegations made against a key witness in the nation’s most prominent murder trial. See Page A6.

EXCERPTS OF FUHRMAN TAPES Excerpts of Detective Mark Fuhrman’s interviews with screenwriting professor Laura Hart McKinny that were played at a hearing in the O.J. Simpson murder case Tuesday. Fuhrman’s spokesman has said that when the detective made the comments, he was acting as a consultant for McKinny’s fictional project about the Los Angeles Police Department and that he embellished stories in an attempt to impress her.

Fuhrman: “Why don’t you give them the 77th lie detector test? You know, everybody - and a bunch of guys will laugh - old timers, you know. And then one kid will ask his partner, ‘What’s that?’ You keep choking him out until he tells you the truth. You know it is kind of funny. But a lot of policemen will get a kick out of it. Anyway, so you are in the shadows like that. Now you’re - when you are talking to somebody it is not like you are really listening into their words because you’ll key on what is the truth and what isn’t. First thing, anything out of a nigger’s mouth for the first five or six sentences is a (expletive) lie. That is just right out. There has got to be a reason why he is going to tell you the truth. He is just not gonna go …” “So we just got tired. We basically got impatient with him being so (expletive) stupid, which I thought he was. So we just handcuffed him and went the scenic route to the station. We searched him again and found the gun. Went over to the baseball diamond and talked to him. When I left, Dana goes, ‘No blood, Mark.’ “No problem, not even any marks, Dana. Just body shots. Did you ever try to find a bruise on a nigger? It is pretty tough, huh? …” , Fuhrman: “See, if you did the things that they teach you in the academy, you’d never get a (expletive) thing done. I’ll split up the people, that’s fine. You split up two suspects and you say, where’re you from? What’s his name? That’s great, but if he doesn’t tell you, you give him a shot in the stomach with your stick and say: ‘Listen boy, I’m talking to you, and you better give me some attention or I’m gonna (expletive) drop you like a bad habit.’ Now can you tell me a female you see doing that?” McKinny: “No.” Fuhrman: “Those are field interrogation techniques for (expletive).”

Fuhrman:”When I was working gang, we used to take people, you know. We’d get a murder. We’d have a murder. And sometimes two or three murders. And you’d know which gang did it. But they wouldn’t talk. So I would go and pick up three or four gang members and bring them to the station. Take one in the basement and beat the dog (expletive) out of him. And not even asking him a question. Bring him up and sit him down. He’s bleeding. Face is all puffed up, got hurt. Next guy, take him downstairs. ‘OK, who shot him?’ … That’s how you get information. What is this patty cake, patty cake (expletive) psychology? Well, we have to teach our officers some Spanish. This is America. We don’t speak Spanish here. Work Mexican gangs, and I don’t know how to speak any Spanish. How do they do that? When they speak Spanish. ‘No comprende.’ Slap them upside the head. Then they speak English. I’m an English teacher. Just like that. That’s police work, and that’s being able to pick out the people. That type of treatment is necessary. …”

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