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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Rodney King's Historic, Troubled Life

     On March 3, 1991, when 25-year-old Rodney King led Los Angeles Police officers on a high-speed chase through LA County, he was trying to avoid a DUI arrest, not become a key figure in the history of civil rights and police brutality. (King was on probation following an April 1990 robbery conviction.)

     Once pulled over, four police officers, with 17 looking on, hit King more than 50 times with their nightsticks. They also used a stun gun on the man lying on the ground in the fetal position. George Holliday, from the balcony of his apartment, caught the entire beating with his video camera.

     The King beating marked the beginning of the video camera/cellphone era of citizen police surveillance. Over the next two decades, officers all over the country would be visually recorded beating people. Cops hated citizen video cameras and cellphones, and in many cases seized them to avoid having their behavior exposed. Laws were passed to prevent this.

     The four officers seen on the video tape pounding Rodney King were indicted (the 17 who watched the assault were not), but a jury in Simi Valley found the defendants not guilty. The acquittals led to riots in April and May, 1992. The following year a federal jury found two of the officers guilty of violating King's civil rights. The other two officers were acquitted.

     In 1996, Rodney King sued the city of Los Angeles for $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The civil jury awarded him $3.8 million in compensatory damages, but nothing punitive. Eighteen years later, King published his autobiography. It was not a bestseller.

     In August 2003, Rodney King was spotted speeding and running a red light. When officers tried to pull him over, he crashed into a house, breaking his pelvis. At the time of the incident, King was under the influence of alcohol. He was fined and given probation.

     While riding his bicycle in November 2007, someone tried to steal King's bike by shooting him in the face, arms and back with birdshot. The shooters were never identified.

     In May 2008, Rodney King, suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, checked into the Pasadena Recovery Center in Pasadena, California.

     At 5:25 in the morning of Sunday, June 17, 2012, Cynthia Kelly, King's fiancee, called 911 from their home in Rialto, California. Responding officers found him on the bottom of his swimming pool. The 47-year-old was wearing swim trunks. A short time later, King was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Although there were no physical injuries on his body, and no other indications of foul play, his body was autopsied. The medical examiner ruled King's death as an accidental drowning influenced by drugs and alcohol.

     A next-door neighbor told officers that she heard a man crying in King's backyard from three to five that morning. The witness also heard Cynthia Kelly trying to coax the crying man back into the house. The neighbor said, "She was just saying, 'Get in the house. Get in the house.'" A few minutes later the witness heard a splash. 

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