Rodney King is found dead in his swimming pool
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 was caught on camera and sparked riots after the acquittal of the four officers involved, was found dead in his swimming pool Sunday, authorities and his fiancee confirmed. He was 47.
Police in Rialto, California, received a 911 call from King’s fiancee, Cynthia Kelly, about 5:25 a.m., said Capt. Randy DeAnda. Responding officers found King at the bottom of the pool, removed him and attempted to revive him. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital, DeAnda said.
There were no preliminary signs of foul play, he said, and no obvious injuries on King’s body. Police are conducting a drowning investigation, DeAnda said, and King’s body would be autopsied.
“His fiancee heard him in the rear yard,” he said, and found King in the pool when she went outside.
King’s beating after a high-speed car chase and its aftermath forever changed Los Angeles, its police department and the dialogue on race in America.
King was 25 and on parole after a robbery conviction in April 1991. In an interview in 2011, he recalled he had been drinking and was headed home from a friend’s house when he saw a police car following him and panicked, thinking he would be sent back to prison. So he attempted to flee.
“I had a job to go to that Monday, and I knew I was on parole, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to be drinking, and I’m like ‘Oh, my God,’” he told CNN.
He realized he couldn’t outrun the police, but looked for a public place to stop. “I saw all those apartments over there, so I said, ‘I’m gonna stop right there,’” he said. “‘If it goes down, somebody will see it.’”
An amateur cameraman caught the scene as four white police officers struck King more than 50 times with their wooden batons and used a stun gun on him.
King said as the officers beat him, they yelled, “We are going to kill you, n***er,” although the officers denied using racial slurs.
The video shows King cowering on the ground and attempting to crawl away as he is surrounded by a crowd of police officers. Four of them used their nightsticks to strike him.
King was beaten nearly to death. Three surgeons operated on him for five hours.
The video of the beating appeared on national television two days later, focusing attention on the issue of racially-motivated police brutality.
“We finally caught the Loch Ness Monster with a camcorder,” King attorney Milton Grimes said.
Four LAPD officers — Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Sgt. Stacey Koon — were indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer.
But following a three-month trial in the predominantly white Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley, three of the officers were acquitted of all charges. The jury, which had no white members, deadlocked on one charge of excessive force against Powell, and a mistrial was declared on that charge.
Powell’s attorney, Michael Stone, said earlier this year the unedited video worked against King and helped prove the officers’ case.
“Most of the nation only saw a few snippets where it’s the most violent,” Stone said. “They didn’t see (King) get up and run at Powell.”
But African-Americans in Los Angeles exploded in outrage. Rioters ran through the streets — looting businesses, torching buildings and attacking those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The violence was responsible for more than 50 deaths and $1 billion in property damage.
On the third day of rioting, King emerged from seclusion to make a plea: “People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?”
The violence ceased, but the debate did not.
Nearly a year later, the four officers stood trial in federal court on civil rights charges. Two African-Americans were picked for the jury, and King testified. He hedged, however, on whether police used racial slurs during the beating. He told CNN in 2011 that slurs were used, but said he vacillated on the stand because his mother had told him to avoid talking about race.
Koon and Powell were found guilty and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Briseno and Wind were acquitted.
“It was like … I just hope we just get one,” King said. “I hope we just get one on that. If we get one, we’re good. So to get the two, I was really happy.”
King also sued the city of Los Angeles and was awarded $3.8 million in damages.
CNN’s Stan Wilson, Kara Devlin and Jim Kavanagh contributed to this report.