You don't say

Jury hears nothing about racial rift before acquitting Henry in alleged pepper spray attack

By Andre Coleman 08/21/2008

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In the latest round in a bitter, years-long racially charged feud — one that is now the storyline of a major motion picture starring Samuel L. Jackson — a former LAPD officer was acquitted last week of using pepper spray against his Altadena neighbor.

A videotape made by Irsie Henry — who lost his job with the LAPD in 2006 over ongoing altercations between himself and other neighbors, including John Hamilton, the alleged victim in this case — shows Henry spraying an aerosol substance on Hamilton at one point in the Dec. 2, 2006, altercation.

Despite witness testimony to the contrary, the jury bought the claim by Henry’s lawyer Mike Shannon that the substance was really spray deodorant, which Henry turned on Hamilton after Hamilton sprayed Henry with a garden hose.

Hamilton and his wife Mellaine believe that’s because prior to trial, Shannon also convinced Judge Janice Croft to prevent prosecutors from presenting evidence of any of the nearly seven years of sometimes violent episodes between Henry, the Hamiltons and some of their neighbors.

The verdict shows that, “If you lie and stick to your lies and get a good lawyer that will stick to your lies, there is a good chance you will get off,” she said.

Although John Hamilton testified that the substance burned his skin and an Altadena sheriff’s sergeant testified Henry confessed to him that it was really pepper spray, jurors were not allowed to know that Henry was recently given a 10-day suspended sentence in relation to a separate vandalism incident involving the Hamiltons. Nor did jurors know that Henry’s behavior led to his dismissal from the LAPD two years ago.

The story about the racial rift, allegedly caused by the African-American Henry’s alleged dislike of mixed-race couples like the Hamiltons, has played out on the pages of this newspaper over the past several years and is now a substantial part of the plotline of a movie called “Lakeview Terrace,” due for release in September.

As the Web site describes the film’s plot, “An LAPD officer [Jackson] will stop at nothing to force out the interracial couple who just moved in next door.”

Henry declined to comment for this story.

A few days after the hearing, Henry’s sister strenuously defended him.

“My brother is not a racist,” said Aldra Henry Allison. “We have plenty of interracial couples in our family and in our heritage.”
In November 2001, the Hamiltons and several others living in the tree- lined suburban neighborhood wrote a letter to Henry’s LAPD supervisor detailing alleged insults hurled at them by Henry. After several months, LAPD Chief William Bratton responded with a letter claiming the allegations were baseless.

But in 2006, prior to the December incident on Hamilton’s driveway, numerous complaints about Henry led to his dismissal.
In the Dec. 2, 2006, incident, it was Henry who called sheriff’s deputies, who then cited Hamilton for spraying water. But after reviewing the tape, deputies arrested Henry outside of a Pasadena courtroom, where he was being accused of violating a separate restraining order filed against him by the Hamiltons.

In that case, Henry was given a 10-day suspended sentence for cutting a plastic tarp the couple placed over their fence to avoid contact with Henry. Henry was using the DVD from the spraying case to show Hamilton agitating him. But when deputies saw Henry whip out that aerosol can, he was handcuffed and arrested outside of Judge Coleman Swart’s courtroom.


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