Rodney King, police beating victim, dies
LOS ANGELES -- His beating stunned the nation, left Los Angeles smoldering and helped reshape race relations and police tactics. And in a quavering voice on national television, Rodney King pleaded for peace while the city burned.
But peace never quite came for King -- not after the fires died down, after two of the officers who broke his skull multiple times were punished, after Los Angeles and its flawed police department moved forward. His life, which ended yesterday at age 47 after he was pulled from the bottom of his swimming pool, was a continuous struggle.
The images of the black driver curled up on the ground while four white officers clubbed him more than 50 times with batons, became a symbol of police brutality in 1991. He was left with 11 skull fractures, a broken eye socket and facial nerve damage.
More than a year later, when the officers' acquittals touched off one of the most destructive race riots in history, his scarred face and soft-spoken question -- "Can we all get along?" -- spurred the nation to confront its difficult racial history.
But while Los Angeles race relations and the city's police department made strides forward, King kept coming before police and courts, struggling with alcohol addiction and arrests, periodically reappearing for a stint on "Celebrity Rehab" or a boxing match. He spent the last months of his life promoting a memoir titled "The Riot Within: From Rebellion to Redemption."
King was declared dead at a hospital after his fiancee called 911 at 5:25 a.m. to say she found him submerged in the pool at his home in Rialto.
No alcohol or drug paraphernalia were found near the pool and police said foul play wasn't suspected.
King's death was a grim ending to a saga that began 21 years earlier when he fled from police after he was stopped for speeding. The 25-year-old, on parole from a robbery conviction, had been drinking, which he said later led him to try to evade police.
On April 29, 1992, a nonblack jury in Simi Valley acquitted three of the officers on state charges in the beating; a mistrial was declared for a fourth. Violence erupted immediately, and over three days, killed 55 people, injured more than 2,000 and set swaths of Los Angeles aflame.
Officers Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Timothy Wind and Laurence Powell were acquitted of state charges, but Koon and Powell were convicted of federal civil rights charges and were sentenced to more than two years in prison. King received a $3.8 million civil judgment; one of the jurors in the case, Cynthia Kelley, is his fiancee.