King in April 2012
|Born||Rodney Glen King III
April 2, 1965
Sacramento, California, U.S.
|Died||June 17, 2012
Colton, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Drowning-drug overdose|
(m. 1985–1988, divorced)
(m. 1989–1996, divorced)
|Partner(s)||Cynthia Kelley (2010–2012; his death)|
Rodney Glen King III (April 2, 1965 – June 17, 2012) was an American taxi driver who became nationally known after being beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed car chase while drunk on March 3, 1991. A witness, George Holliday, videotaped much of the beating from his balcony, and sent the footage to local news station KTLA. The footage shows four officers surrounding King, several of them striking him repeatedly, while other officers stood by. Parts of the footage were aired around the world, and raised public concern about police treatment of minorities in the United States.
Four officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. Three were acquitted of all charges. The jury acquitted the fourth of assault with a deadly weapon but failed to reach a verdict on the use of excessive force. The jury deadlocked at 8–4 in favor of acquittal at the state level. The acquittals are generally considered to have triggered the 1992 Los Angeles riots, in which 55 people were killed and over 2,000 were injured, ending only when the California national guard was called in.
The acquittals also led to the federal government's obtaining grand jury indictments for violations of King's civil rights. The trial of the four in a federal district court ended on April 16, 1993, with two of the officers being found guilty and subsequently imprisoned. The other two were acquitted again.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Incident
- 3 Post-arrest events
- 4 Los Angeles riots and the aftermath
- 5 Federal trial of officers
- 6 Later life
- 7 Death
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Notes
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
In November 1989, King robbed a store in Monterey Park, California. He threatened to hit the Korean store owner with an iron bar, then hit him with a pole. King stole two hundred dollars in cash during the robbery and was caught, convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment. He was released after serving one year of the sentence.
Early on the morning of March 3, 1991, King, with two passengers, Bryant Allen and Freddie Helms, were driving a 1987 Hyundai Excel or a Mitsubishi Precis west on the Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Prior to driving onto the Foothill Freeway, the three men had spent the night watching a basketball game and drinking at a friend's house in Los Angeles. Five hours after the incident, King's blood-alcohol level was found to be slightly below the legal limit. This suggests that his blood alcohol level may have fallen from 0.19% while he was driving, in which case it would have been more than twice the legal driving limit in California. At 12:30 am, officers Tim and Melanie Singer, husband-and-wife members of the California Highway Patrol, noticed King's car speeding on the freeway. The officers pursued King, and the pursuit attained high speeds, while King refused to pull over. King would later admit he attempted to outrun the police at dangerously high speeds because a charge of driving under the influence would violate his parole for a previous robbery conviction.
King exited the freeway near the Hansen Dam Recreation Center and the pursuit continued through residential surface streets, at speeds ranging from 55 to 80 miles per hour (89 to 129 km/h). By this point, several police cars and a police helicopter had joined in this pursuit. After approximately 8 miles (13 km), officers cornered King in his car at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Osborne Street ( ). The first five LAPD officers to arrive at the scene were Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano.
Officer Tim Singer ordered King and his two passengers to exit the vehicle and to lie face down on the ground. Bryant Allen was manhandled, kicked, stomped, taunted and threatened. Freddie Helms was hit in the head while lying on the ground. Helms was treated for a laceration on the top of his head. His bloody baseball cap was turned over to police. King remained in the car. When he finally did emerge, he was reported to have giggled, patted the ground, and waved to the police helicopter overhead. King then grabbed his buttocks which Officer Melanie Singer took to mean King reaching for a weapon. King was later found to be unarmed. She drew her pistol and pointed it at King, ordering him to lie on the ground. Singer approached, gun drawn, preparing to effect an arrest.
At that point LAPD Sergeant, Stacey Koon, the ranking officer at the scene, told Singer that the LAPD was taking tactical command of the situation. He ordered all officers to holster their weapons.
LAPD officers are taught to approach a suspect without his/her gun drawn, as there is a risk that any suspect may gain control of it if an officer gets too close. Koon then ordered the four other LAPD officers at the scene—Briseno, Powell, Solano, and Wind—to subdue and handcuff King using a technique called a "swarm." This involves multiple officers grabbing a suspect with empty hands, in order to quickly overcome potential resistance. As four officers attempted to restrain King, King resisted by standing to remove Officers Powell and Briseno from his back. The officers later testified that they believed King was under the influence of the dissociative drug phencyclidine (PCP), although King's toxicology tested negative for the drug.
Beating with batons: the Holliday video
King was twice Tasered by Koon. This marks the approximate start of the George Holliday videotape of the incident. In the tape, King is seen on the ground. He rises and rushes toward Powell—as argued in court, either to attack Powell or to flee—but regardless King and Powell both collided in the rush. Taser wire can be seen on King's body. Officer Powell strikes King with his baton, and King is knocked to the ground. Powell strikes King several more times with his baton. Briseno moves in, attempting to stop Powell from striking again, and Powell stands back. Koon reportedly said, "That's enough." King then rises again, to his knees; Powell and Wind are then seen hitting King with their batons.
Koon acknowledged ordering the continued use of batons, directing Powell and Wind to strike King with "power strokes." According to Koon, Powell and Wind used "bursts of power strokes, then backed off." In the videotape, King continues to try to stand again. Koon orders the officers to "hit his joints, hit the wrists, hit his elbows, hit his knees, hit his ankles." Officers Wind, Briseno, and Powell attempted numerous baton strikes on King resulting in some misses but with 33 blows hitting King, plus six kicks. The officers again "swarm" King but this time a total of eight officers are involved in the swarm. King is then placed in handcuffs and cordcuffs, restraining his arms and legs. King is dragged on his abdomen to the side of the road to await the arrival of emergency medical rescue.
George Holliday's videotape of the incident was shot from his apartment near the intersection of Foothill Blvd and Osborne St. in Lake View Terrace. Two days later Holliday contacted the police about his videotape of the incident, but they ignored him. He then went to KTLA television with his videotape, although the station edited out ten seconds of the video, before the image was in focus, that showed an extremely blurry shot of King charging at the officers; the cut footage would later be cited by members of the jury as essential to the acquittal of the officers. The footage as a whole became an instant media sensation. Portions of it were aired numerous times, and it "turned what would otherwise have been a violent, but soon forgotten, encounter between the Los Angeles police and an uncooperative suspect into one of the most widely watched and discussed incidents of its kind."
The Holliday video of the Rodney King arrest is a fairly early example of modern sousveillance, wherein private citizens, assisted by increasingly sophisticated, affordable video equipment, record significant, sometimes historic events. Several "copwatch" organizations subsequently appeared throughout the United States to safeguard against police abuse, including an umbrella group, October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.
King was taken to Pacifica Hospital after his arrest, where he was found to have suffered a fractured facial bone, a broken right ankle, and multiple bruises and lacerations. In a negligence claim filed with the city, King alleged he had suffered "11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken [bones and teeth], kidney failure [and] emotional and physical trauma". Blood and urine samples taken from King five hours after his arrest showed that he would have been intoxicated under California law at the time of his arrest. The tests also showed traces of marijuana (26 ng/ml). Pacifica Hospital nurses reported that the officers who accompanied King (including Wind) openly joked and bragged about the number of times King had been hit. Officers also obtained King's identification from his clothes pockets at that time. King sued the city and a jury awarded him $3.8 million as well as $1.7 million in attorney's fees. Charges against King for driving while intoxicated and evading arrest were never pursued. District Attorney Ira Reiner felt there was insufficient evidence for prosecution and successor Gil Garcetti felt that too much time had passed to charge King with evading arrest while also mentioning that the statute of limitations on drunk driving had passed.
Criminal charges against police officers
After four days of grand jury testimony, the Los Angeles district attorney charged officers Koon, Powell, Briseno and Wind with use of excessive force on March 14, 1991. Sergeant Koon, only having deployed the Taser was, as the supervisory officer at the scene, charged with "willfully permitting and failing to take action to stop the unlawful assault".
On August 22, 1991, the California Court of Appeals removed the initial judge, Bernard Kamins, after it was proved Kamins told prosecutors, "You can trust me." The Court also later granted a change of venue to the city of Simi Valley in neighboring Ventura County, citing potential contamination due to saturated media coverage.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley created the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, also known as the Christopher Commission, in April 1991. Led by attorney Warren Christopher, it was created to conduct 'a full and fair examination of the structure and operation of the LAPD,' including its recruitment and training practices, internal disciplinary system, and citizen complaint system."
Los Angeles riots and the aftermath
Though few people at first considered race an important factor in the case, including Rodney King's attorney, Steven Lerman, the sensitizing effect of the Holliday videotape was at the time stirring deep resentment in Los Angeles, as well as other major cities in the United States. The officers' jury consisted of Ventura County residents: ten white; one Latino; one Asian. Lead prosecutor Terry White was African American. On April 29, 1992, the jury acquitted three of the officers, but could not agree on one of the charges against Powell.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley said, "The jury's verdict will not blind us to what we saw on that videotape. The men who beat Rodney King do not deserve to wear the uniform of the LAPD." President George H. W. Bush said, "Viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video. Those civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I and so was Barbara and so were my kids."
The acquittals are considered to have triggered the Los Angeles riots of 1992. By the time the police, the U.S. Army, Marines and National Guard restored order, the riots had caused 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. Smaller riots occurred in other cities such as San Francisco, Las Vegas in neighboring Nevada and as far east as Atlanta, Georgia. A minor riot erupted on Yonge Street in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as a result of the acquittals.
During the riots, King made a television appearance in which he said "Can we all get along?" The widely quoted line has been often misquoted as, "Can we all just get along?" or "Can't we all just get along?"
Federal trial of officers
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After the acquittals and the riots, the United States Department of Justice sought indictments for violations of King's civil rights. On May 7, federal prosecutors began presenting evidence to a Los Angeles [federal] grand jury. On August 4, the grand jury returned indictments against the three officers for '...willfully and intentionally using unreasonable force...' and against Sergeant Koon for '...willfully permitting and failing to take action to stop the unlawful assault...' on King." Based on these indictments a trial of the four officers in the United States District Court for the Central District of California began on February 25, 1993. The federal trial focused more on the incident. On March 9 of the 1993 trial, King took the witness stand and described to the jury the events as he remembered them. The jury found Officer Laurence Powell and Sergeant Stacey Koon guilty, and they were subsequently sentenced to 32 months in prison, while Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were acquitted of all charges.
During the three-hour sentencing hearing, the Federal trial judge, John Davies, accepted much of the defense version of the beating. He strongly criticized King, who he said provoked the officers' initial actions. Judge Davies stated that only the final six or so baton blows by Powell were unlawful. The first 55 seconds of the videotaped portion of the incident, during which the vast majority of the blows were delivered, was within the law because the officers were attempting to subdue a suspect who was resisting efforts to take him into custody.
Davies found that King's provocative behavior began with his "remarkable consumption of alcoholic beverage" and continued through a high-speed chase, refusal to submit to police orders and an aggressive charge toward Powell. Davies made several findings in support of the officers' version of events. He concluded that Officer Powell never intentionally struck King in the head, and "Powell's baton blow that broke King's leg was not illegal because King was still resisting and rolling around on the ground, and breaking bones in resistant suspects is permissible under police policy."
Mitigation cited by the judge in determining the length of the prison sentence included the suffering the officers had undergone because of the extensive publicity their case had received, heavy legal bills that were still unpaid, the impending loss of their careers as police officers, their higher risks of abuse while in prison and their having already been subjected to two trials. The judge acknowledged that having two such trials did not legally constitute double jeopardy, but nonetheless it "raised the specter of unfairness."
These mitigations were critical to the validity of the sentences imposed, because Federal sentencing guidelines called for much longer prison terms in the range of 70 to 87 months. The low sentences were controversial, and were appealed. In a 1994 ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected all the grounds cited by Judge Davies and extended the terms. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both Mr. Koon and Mr. Powell were released from prison while they appealed the Ninth Circuit's ruling, having served their original 30-month sentences with time off for good behavior. On June 14, 1996, the high court reversed the lower court in a ruling, unanimous in its most important aspects, which gave a strong endorsement to judicial discretion, even under sentencing guidelines intended to produce uniformity.
King successfully sued the city and won $3.8 million. King invested a portion of his settlement in a record label, Straight Alta-Pazz Records, which went out of business. He later went on to write a book and make a movie about his life.
King was subject to further arrests and convictions for driving violations after the 1991 incident. On August 21, 1993, he crashed his car into a block wall in downtown Los Angeles. He was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, fined, entered a rehabilitation program and was placed on probation. In July 1995, he was arrested by Alhambra police after hitting his wife with his car and knocking her to the ground. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail after being convicted of hit and run. On August 27, 2003, King was arrested again for speeding and running a red light while under the influence of alcohol. He failed to yield to police officers and slammed his vehicle into a house, breaking his pelvis. On March 3, 2011, the 20th anniversary of the beating, the LAPD stopped King for driving erratically and issued him a citation for driving with an expired license. This arrest led to his February 2012 misdemeanor conviction for reckless driving.
On November 29, 2007, while riding home on his bicycle, King was shot in the face, arms, and back with pellets from a shotgun. He reported that the attackers were a man and a woman who demanded his bicycle and shot him when he rode away. Police described the wounds as looking as if they came from birdshot.
In May 2008, King checked into the Pasadena Recovery Center in Pasadena, California, where he filmed as a cast member of season 2 of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which premiered in October 2008. Dr. Drew Pinsky, who runs the facility, showed concern for King's lifestyle and said King would die unless his addiction was treated. He also appeared on Sober House, a Celebrity Rehab spin-off focusing on a sober living environment,
During his time on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, King worked on his addiction and what he said was lingering trauma of the beating. He and Pinsky physically retraced King's path from the night of his beating, eventually reaching the spot where it happened, the site of the Children's Museum of Los Angeles.
King won a celebrity boxing match against ex–Chester City (Delaware County, Pennsylvania) police officer Simon Aouad on Friday, September 11, 2009, at the Ramada Philadelphia Airport in Essington, Pennsylvania.
In 2009, King and other Celebrity Rehab alumni appeared as panel speakers to a new group of addicts at the Pasadena Recovery Center, marking 11 months of sobriety for him. His appearance was aired in the third season episode "Triggers".
The BBC quoted King commenting on his legacy. "Some people feel like I'm some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction, like I'm a fool for believing in peace."
On the morning of June 17, 2012, King's fiancée Cynthia Kelly found him lying at the bottom of his swimming pool. Police in Rialto received a 911 call from Kelly at about 5:25 a.m. (PDT). Responding officers found King at the bottom of the pool, removed him, and attempted to revive him. He was transferred by ambulance to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, California and was pronounced dead at the hospital at 6:11 a.m. (PDT) The Rialto Police Department began a standard drowning investigation and stated there did not appear to be any foul play. On August 23, 2012, King's autopsy results were released, stating he died of accidental drowning, and that a combination of alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and PCP found in his system were contributing factors. "The effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with the subject's heart condition, probably precipitated a cardiac arrhythmia and the subject, thus incapacitated in the water, was unable to save himself." King had been a user of PCP.
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- "Accused Policemen Freed: 4 Are Charged With Felonies". The Spokesman-Review. 1991-03-16. Retrieved 2015-06-06.
- "Judge Is Held Biased and Barred From Trial of Officers in Beating". The New York Times. 1991-08-22. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-06-06.
- "Shielded from Justice: Los Angeles: The Christopher Commission Report". www.hrw.org. Retrieved 2015-06-06.
- Mydans, Seth (April 30, 1992). This was largely thought to have helped inflame the riot. "The Police Verdict; Los Angeles Policemen Acquitted in Taped Beating". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
- Fiske, John (March 1, 1996). Media Matters: Race and Gender in U.S. Politics (paperback) (Paperback). Univ Of Minnesota Press; Revised edition. p. 188. ISBN 9780816624638.
Bush on LA, extracts from his speech to the nation
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- Greenhouse, Linda (1996-06-14). "THE SUPREME COURT: SENTENCING;Court Upholds Sentence in King Case". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
- Madison Gray (May 2007). "The L.A. Riots: 15 Years After Rodney King". Time.
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- Reston, Maeve (November 30, 2007). "Rodney King shot while riding bike". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
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- "Report: Rodney King Shot in the Face | Fox News". Retrieved 2015-10-05.
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- "Sober House will follow Celebrity Rehab cast, Andy Dick in sober living". reality blurred.
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- Jennifer Medina (June 17, 2012). "Police Beating Victim Who Asked 'Can We All Get Along?'". The New York Times.
- Wilson, Stan (August 23, 2012). "Autopsy attributes Rodney King's death to drowning". CNN. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- Furek, Maxim W. (February, 2015). The Painful Legacy of Rodney King. Counselor, the Magazine for Addictions and Behavioral health Professionals,16, (1), 13-16.
- Curwen, Thomas; Banks, Sandy (30 June 2012). "Mourners arrive for Rodney King service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 September 2014.
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- The "Rodney King Beating video" is under copyright. For authorization contact www.rodneykingvideo.com.ar
- Cannon, Lou (1999). Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the riots changed Los Angeles and the LAPD. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. ISBN 9780813337258. OCLC 42852365.
- King, Rodney; Lawrence J. Spagnola (2012). The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. New York: HarperOne. ISBN 9780062194435. OCLC 761856270. King's autobiography.
- Koon, Stacey C.; Robert Deitz (1992). Presumed Guilty: The Tragedy of the Rodney King Affair. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway. ISBN 9780895265074. OCLC 26553041.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rodney King.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Rodney King|
- News story including amateur video of beating incident with commentary Video on YouTube (Dead link)
- Rodney King collected news and commentary at The New York Times
- Rodney King collected news and commentary at The Guardian
- Rodney King's Arrest Record
- Rodney King[dead link] news and commentary at CNN
- Rodney King: 17 Years After The Riots", Laist.com
- Kavanagh, Jim. "Rodney King, 20 years later." CNN. March 3, 2011.
- Rodney King at the Internet Movie Database
- Rodney King at Find a Grave