Rodney King (died June 2012) was an African American construction worker and resident of California. In 1991, he was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence and speeding. King was arrested by four Los Angeles Police Department officers: Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Sergeant Stacey Koon. A taser was used to subdue King, and he was repeatedly beaten.
The police were unaware that they were being videotaped from a nearby apartment, and when the cameraman publicly released the video it became an international sensation. The infamous footage strained race relations between the LAPD and the African American community, with many residents calling for charges. The four officers were charged with beating King, but a state court jury convicted only one. Subsequent to the acquittals in state court, a federal prosecution for civil rights violations was initiated; the federal jury convicted only two officers.
Announcement of the state court acquittal of three police officers (and a hung jury on the fourth) triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which caused more than 50 deaths, nearly 3,000 injuries, and perhaps billions of dollars in property damages to businesses. The LAPD failed to anticipate the riots, and responded poorly to the crisis that was of its own making. One white construction worker, Reginald Denny, was grabbed and pulled out of his car at an intersection, and beaten unconscious while on camera. He continued to suffer two decades later from his injuries caused by that beating.
King obtained a $3.8 million settlement from the City of Los Angeles. In June 2012, King passed away at the age of 47. While the autopsy blamed his death on accidental drowning, the coroner noted that a variety of illegal drugs consumed by Rodney contributed to his death.
Towards the end of his life, Rodney King observed:
|“||America's been good to me after I paid the price and stayed alive through it all.||”|
King authored a memoir, The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption.
The trial was moved to neighboring Ventura County because of excessive media coverage. The selected jury was composed of ten Caucasians, one Latino and one Asian. During the trial, the four officers involved, charged with use of excessive force, testified that they believed King was under the influence of PCP, and claimed that his continued resistance led to the amount of force used. The defense also claimed that the video didn't capture the moment accurately. The jury acquitted three of the officers, but could not agree about one of the charges for Powell. On April 29, 1992, only Powell was convicted.
When the jury verdict was announced, it triggered a week long riot in the Los Angeles area. In the end, the governor called for support from the federal government. With the assistance of the local and state police, the US Army, the Marines and the National Guard, order was eventually restored. After the violence subsided, 53 people were dead and 2,383 injured. Over 7,000 fires were set, damaging 3,100 businesses, and causing nearly $1 billion in damages. Smaller riots also occurred in Las Vegas and Atlanta. On the third day of the riots, King went before news camera to ask for peace, uttering the now famous phrase: "Can we all (just) get along?"
After the riots, the Department of Justice indicted the four officers again, charging them with violating King's civil rights. The new jury found Officer Laurence Powell and Sergeant Stacey Koon guilty and acquitted Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno of all charges. Officer Powell and Sergeant Koon were sentenced to 30 months of prison.
King filed a civil suit against the city of Los Angeles, and was awarded $3.8 million in damages. In subsequent years, King has been arrested several times for offenses including drunken driving, domestic abuse, and indecent exposure. In November 2007, King claimed he was shot by thieves attempting to steal his bicycle.
King was featured on a reality television show spotlighting celebrities recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.