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5:19 PM / Wednesday February 21, 2024

25 Jun 2012

Rodney King, key figure in LA riots, dead at 47

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June 25, 2012 Category: Week In Review Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Rodney King poses for a portrait in Los Angeles. The acquittal of four police officers in the videotaped beating of King sparked rioting that spread across the city and into neighboring suburbs. King’s body was found by his fiancee at the bottom of their swimming pool, early Sunday morning. He was 47.

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

 

associated press

 

Rodney King, the black motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers was the touchstone for one of the most destructive race riots in the nation’s history, died Sunday. He was 47.

 

King’s fiancé called 911 at 5:25 AM to report that she found him at the bottom of the swimming pool at their home in Rialto, Calif., police Lt. Dean Hardin said.

 

Officers arrived to find King in the water and unresponsive, with no signs of foul play. He was transported to Arrowhead Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 AM, Hardin said.

 

The San Bernardino County coroner has performed an autopsy.

 

Gossip news website TMZ reported that two of Rodney King’s close friends aren’t buying his fiancée’s story about what happened leading up to his death and have gone to the police.

 

Cynthia Kelley, who was engaged to King, says she was awakened by the sound of him banging on the window of their home just after 5:00 AM on Sunday and then heard him fall in the pool. According to the TMZ report, she added that King had been drinking and smoking marijuana all-day on Saturday leading up to his death early Sunday morning.

 

But sources close to King say they heard Kelley tell the story several times to friends and each time it changed a little bit. Plus, it seemed to them that she was lying about something.

 

TMZ also reports that two of Kelley’s friends who spoke with her in the hours following King’s death have also gone to police. A detective took down their story and their information and said he would be in touch.

 

PHOTO: This March 31, 1991 image made from video shot by George Holliday shows police officers beating a man, later identified as Rodney King. King, the black motorist whose 1991 videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers was the touchstone for one of the most destructive race riots in the nation’s history, has died, his publicist said Sunday, June 17, 2012. He was 47.

(AP Photo/Courtesy of KTLA Los Angeles, George Holliday)

 

 

The 1992 riots, which were set off by the acquittals of the officers who beat King, lasted three days and left 55 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and swaths of Los Angeles on fire. At the height of the violence, King pleaded on television: “Can we all get along?”

 

King was stopped for speeding on a darkened street on March 3, 1991. Four Los Angeles police officers hit him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns.

 

A man who had quietly stepped outside his home to observe the commotion videotaped most of it and turned a copy over to a TV station. It was played over and over for the following year, inflaming racial tensions across the country.

 

It seemed that the videotape would be the key evidence to a guilty verdict against the officers, whose trial was moved to the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley, Calif. Instead, on April 29, 1992, a jury with no black members acquitted three of the officers; a mistrial was declared for a fourth.

 

Violence erupted immediately, starting in South Los Angeles.

 

Police, seemingly caught off-guard, were quickly outnumbered by rioters and retreated. As the uprising spread to the city’s Koreatown area, shop owners armed themselves and engaged in running gun battles with looters.

 

During the riots, a white truck driver named Reginald Denny was pulled by several black men from his cab and beaten almost to death. He required surgery to repair his shattered skull, reset his jaw and put one eye back into its socket.

 

The police chief, Daryl Gates, came under intense criticism from city officials who said officers were slow to respond to the riots. He was forced to retire. Gates died of cancer in 2010.

 

In the two decades after he became the central figure in the riots, King was arrested several times, mostly for alcohol-related crimes. He later became a record company executive and a reality TV star, appearing on shows such as “Celebrity Rehab.”

 

In an interview earlier this year with The Associated Press, King said he was a happy man.

 

“America’s been good to me after I paid the price and stayed alive through it all,” he says. “This part of my life is the easy part now.”

 

TMZ contributed to this article.

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