NEWS

Rodney King, symbol of 1992 L.A. riots, dies

06/17/2012 12:28 EDT | Updated 08/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Rodney King, whose videotaped beating by police led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, has died, California police said Sunday. He was 47.

King's fiancée called 911 at 5:25 a.m. local time to report she found him at the bottom of the swimming pool at their home in Rialto, Calif., said police Lt. Dean Hardin.

Officers arrived to find King unresponsive in the water, Hardin said. He was transported to Arrowhead Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m.

There were no signs of foul play, Hardin said. The San Bernardino County coroner will perform an autopsy within 48 hours.

The Los Angeles riots erupted on April 29, 1992 when a mostly white jury acquitted three of the four officers accused of beating and kicking King and failed to convict the fourth.

A bystander with a video camera recorded the beating after King, a black motorist, was pulled over by the officers on March 3, 1991.

During the riots, there was another shocking scene, this time involving a white motorist. Reginal Denny was dragged from his truck and nearly murdered on live television. He was rescued by strangers and taken to hospital.

Fifty-five people were killed during the riots that followed the verdicts and King became a symbol of police brutality and racial tension in the city. Looting, vandalism and arson left an estimated $1 billion in damage.

Rev. Jesse Jackson called the incident a "wakeup call."

"It illuminated the darkness," said Jackson, speaking to CBC News from Washington D.C. on Sunday. "He showed us how ugly and unfair racial profiling is. We have not yet stopped it ... blacks remain the weak link in the justice chain."

Jackson said King moved on but "the beating lingered and the impact on his emotional and mental health, we'll never know."

At the time of the incident, the 25-year-old King was on parole after a robbery conviction. In a CNN interview in 2011, he recalled he had been drinking and was headed home when he saw a patrol car following him. He thought he would be sent back to prison, so he panicked after stopping the car.

Eventually, four LAPD officers — Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Stacey Koon — were indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer.

After a three-month trial in 1992, three of the officers were acquitted of all charges. The jury, which had mostly white members, were deadlocked on one charge of excessive force against Powell, and a mistrial was declared on that charge.

'Can we all get along?'

The result triggered rioting in LA that lasted for three days, leaving more than 2,000 injured and swaths of the city on fire. At the height of the violence, King pleaded on television: "Can we all get along?"

A year later, the four officers stood trial in federal court on civil rights charges. Koon and Powell were found guilty and sentenced to 30 months in prison, while Briseno and Wind were acquitted.

King also sued the city for damages and got $3.8 million US.

In 2008, he released a memoir, The Riot Within, chronicling his difficult upbringing and his reflections on the beating. In several interviews, King said he had forgiven the officers.

In an interview with The Associated Press this year, King was in relatively good spirits: "America's been good to me after I paid the price and stayed alive through it all. This part of my life is the easy part now."