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People Top 5
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- January 25, 1993
- Vol. 39
- No. 3
His Videos of the L.A. Riots Left Timothy Goldman Trapped Between the Cops and the Gangs
The reason is three videotapes—central pieces of evidence that will be used this month in the trials of the first two of six defendants in the beating of truck driver Reginald Denny. Goldman, his younger half brother Terry Ellis, 31, and a friend shot the tapes at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues just as the riots ignited. Unlike the widely aired helicopter news footage of the near-fatal assault on Denny, Goldman's tapes, says his lawyer, Ronald Gregg, "provide almost positive identification of the suspects."
"I felt bad because no one deserves to be beat up like that," says Goldman, who reports he tried, unsuccessfully, to intervene. A former transport pilot and flight instructor who retired from the Air Force in August 1990, he had returned to the neighborhood 11 months earlier after an absence of 14 years. "Most of the people don't know me because I've lived away for so long," he says. "They wouldn't pay any attention."
After three hours of filming, Goldman and Ellis drilled back to the house where their mother, Alice Holston, a 51-year-old Head Start teacher, lives with several members of her extended family. Because power in the neighborhood was out, the brothers had no idea their tapes might be valuable until a few days later, when Goldman ran across a freelance newsman, Gregory Sandoval, who was looking for riot footage. Sandoval peddled the tapes to TV stations—they eventually aired on CNN, the three networks and on local station KTLA—and look a cut of the initial $20,000 collected. He also told a. Los Angeles Times reporter about the tapes.
Police learned of the tapes by reading the Times story and didn't take long to react. Just after midnight on Saturday, May 9, several dozen L.A. police officers and FBI agents armed with a wan-ant surrounded Holston's well-kept six-bedroom house, then streamed into her home, waking two children and four grandchildren. "All I could see was guns and badges," Ellis says. Frank Sundstedt, head of the district attorney's organized crime and antiterrorist division, explains that he felt "a show of force was necessary" because of the thousands of firearms that had been stolen during the rioting.
For all the manpower, the raiders had little success. Goldman was out on a date, and the original tapes were in a safe-deposit box. The officers handcuffed and detained Ellis, an unmarried father of four who says he has been trying to pull his life together after spending the better part of seven years in prison on theft and drug charges. After questioning, Ellis gave them the name of a friend to whom he had loaned a copy of one tape. When the friend delivered it two hours later, Ellis was released.
Meanwhile, Goldman had phoned home and, unnerved by the massive raid, decided to make himself scarce. The midnight sweep "was enough to start the rumors that I was cooperating to nail the rioters," he says. The very next day, Goldman says, a carload of gang members with Uzis pulled up to Holston's home looking for him. For two weeks he hid while negotiating with authorities concerning his safety. Ellis caught some heal too. Bui as a former Crips gang member who had done time with many of the locals, he was able to defuse the situation. "They know I ain't gonna do anything against them," he says.
It was different for Goldman, a divorced parent, who was forced to go underground with his son. He spent most of his Air Force mustering-out pay—with which he had hoped to start a small business—on moving to another county and on hiring an off-duty detective as a bodyguard. "He's not more than a witness in the most bare-bones sense," says Sundstedt, explaining why Goldman was denied police protection although he has testified under subpoena at six preliminary hearings. "He just says, 'Yes, I was out there, and that's my footage.' "
Goldman is eager for the trials to be over so that he can start a new life with his son. When his ordeal is finally finished, the possibilities he is weighing include using current and future proceeds from his videos to open either a flying school or a business his brother could operate while Goldman becomes a commercial pilot. But for now, he says, "I just keep looking over my shoulder."
DORIS BACON in Los Angeles
- Doris Bacon.
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