At 12:45 a.m. on March 3, 1991, robbery parolee Rodney G. King stops his car after leading police on a nearly 8-mile pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles, California. The chase began after King, who was intoxicated, was caught speeding on a freeway by a California Highway Patrol cruiser but refused to pull over. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) cruisers and a police helicopter joined the pursuit, and when King was finally stopped by Hansen Dam Park, several police cars descended on his white Hyundai.
A group of LAPD officers led by Sergeant Stacey Koon ordered King and the other two occupants of the car to exit the vehicle and lie flat on the ground. King’s two friends complied, but King himself was slower to respond, getting on his hands and knees rather than lying flat. Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Ted Briseno, and Roland Solano tried to force King down, but he resisted, and the officers stepped back and shot King twice with an electric stun gun known as a Taser, which fires darts carrying a charge of 50,000 volts.
At this moment, civilian George Holliday, standing on a balcony in an apartment complex across the street, focused the lens of his new video camera on the commotion unfolding by Hansen Dam Park. In the first few seconds of what would become a very famous 89-second video, King is seen rising after the Taser shots and running in the direction of Officer Powell. The officers alleged that King was charging Powell, while King himself later claimed that an officer told him, “We’re going to kill you, n*****. Run!” and he tried to flee. All the arresting officers were white, along with all but one of the other two dozen or so law enforcement officers present at the scene. With the roar of a helicopter above, very few commands or remarks are audible in the video.
With King running in his direction, Powell swung his baton, hitting him on the side of the head and knocking him to the ground. This action was captured by the video, but the next 10 seconds were blurry as Holliday shifted the camera. From the 18- to 30-second mark in the video, King attempted to rise, and Powell and Wind attacked him with a torrent of baton blows that prevented him from doing so. From the 35- to 51-second mark, Powell administered repeated baton blows to King’s lower body. At 55 seconds, Powell struck King on the chest, and King rolled over and lay prone. At that point, the officers stepped back and observed King for about 10 seconds. Powell began to reach for his handcuffs.
At 65 seconds on the video, Officer Briseno stepped roughly on King’s upper back or neck, and King’s body writhed in response. Two seconds later, Powell and Wind again began to strike King with a series of baton blows, and Wind kicked him in the neck six times until 86 seconds into the video. At about 89 seconds, King put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed.
Sergeant Koon never made an effort to stop the beating, and only one of the many officers present briefly intervened, raising his left arm in front of a baton-swinging colleague in the opening moments of the videotape, to no discernible effect. An ambulance was called, and King was taken to the hospital. Struck as many as 56 times with the batons, he suffered a fractured leg, multiple facial fractures, and numerous bruises and contusions. Unaware that the arrest was videotaped, the officers downplayed the level of violence used to arrest King and filed official reports in which they claimed he suffered only cuts and bruises “of a minor nature.”
George Holliday sold his video of the beating to the local television station, KTLA, which broadcast the footage and sold it to the national Cable News Network (CNN). The widely broadcast video caused outrage around the country and triggered a national debate on police brutality. Rodney King was released without charges, and on March 15 Sergeant Koon and officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno were indicted by a Los Angeles grand jury in connection with the beating. All four were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. Though Koon did not actively participate in the beating, as the commanding officer he was charged with aiding and abetting it. Powell and Koon were also charged with filing false reports.
Because of the uproar in Los Angeles surrounding the incident, the judge, Stanley Weisberg, was persuaded to move the trial outside Los Angeles County to Simi Valley in Ventura County. On April 29, 1992, the 12-person jury issued its verdicts: not guilty on all counts, except for one assault charge against Powell that ended in a hung jury. The acquittals touched off the L.A. riots, and arson, looting, murder and assaults in the city grew into the most destructive U.S. civil disturbance of the 20th century. In three days of violence, more than 60 people were killed, more than 2,000 were injured, and nearly $1 billion in property was destroyed. On May 1, President George H.W. Bush ordered military troops and riot-trained federal officers to Los Angeles to quell the unrest.
Under federal law, the officers could also be prosecuted for violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights, and on April 17, 1993, a federal jury convicted Koon and Powell for violating King’s rights by their unreasonable use of force under color of law. Although Wind and Briseno were acquitted, most civil rights advocates considered the mixed verdict a victory. On August 4, Koon and Powell were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the beating of King. King received $3.8 million in a civil suit against the Los Angeles police department. On June 17, 2012, King died at his home in Rialto, California.
I filmed Rodney King being savagely beaten by cops and it sparked the LA riots – 30 years on not much has changed
It was March 3, 1991, and he was about to witness one of the most important events in American history.
Exactly 30 years ago today, Holliday, a plumber, grabbed his video camera and went out on to his balcony and filmed white LAPD officers savagely beating an unarmed black man, Rodney King.
His video tape of the incident would be shown endlessly on news channels around the world – and would become a crucial factor in the local community's sense of outrage when the officers were acquitted at trial in 1992.
The uproar sparked furious rioting in LA, which lasted six days and led to 63 deaths, 12,000 arrests, and over $1billion in damage.
Now 61, Holliday fears race relations in the US haven't come very far since from the fateful night – with George Floyd's death last year serving as a disturbing echo of what happened three decades ago.
"My overall feeling is sadness that people treat other people like that, and that’s the world that we live in," Holliday tells The Sun.
"It’s a pretty sad place that we’re leaving to our kids.”
After the Rodney King beating, LAPD’s Foothill Division was ordered to reinvent itself
It changed Los Angeles and forced a nation to again confront the issues of racism and police brutality. To African Americans, the videotaped images of police officers pummeling a black man was see-it-for-yourself proof of the street justice they had long complained about receiving at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department. For once, they weren’t ignored.
With outrage extending all the way to the White House, Los Angeles first reeled, and then demanded reform. Police Chief Daryl F. Gates was pushed out. Mayor Tom Bradley decided against seeking reelection.
But the most lasting institutional effects of the Rodney King beating reverberated within the LAPD, and the shock waves hit hardest in the division where the beating took place: Foothill.
The department--as proud as the Marine Corps but marred by charges of brutality and racism--was told to heal itself. The medicine didn’t go down easily, as much of the department closed ranks around the four officers criminally charged in the March 3, 1991, beating. At Foothill, the FBI dispatched scores of agents to interview officers about misconduct and racial bias. “It was pure hell around here,” recalls William Caughey, a station detective. “It’s a memory of an ugly time.”
Capt. Kenneth Garner, the station’s commander now, likens the situation to the LAPD’s latest headache: “Foothill back then was Rampart today.”
It was an unlikely place for the epicenter. Unlike 77th Street or Southeast, two of the city’s most violent police precincts, Foothill was a place of fewer crimes and fewer allegations of racism. But almost overnight, Foothill became the proving ground for a new kind of LAPD--one with a little less swagger, and one that promised to work in partnership with the public it serves.
Ten years after the beating, the changes wrought by it are evident here: A division once dominated by white males, many of them military veterans, is now headed by an African American and has more women and minority group members throughout its ranks. People who go to the station to report a crime will find officers at the front desk who are both polite and efficient, and a cop who speaks Spanish is never far away. Residents and business owners have a community police advisory board, a formal means to help set the division’s priorities.
Those measures may seem small to people accustomed to a friendly hometown police force, but for the LAPD--known best for its combat-ready SWAT teams, its “Blue Thunder” airships and its aggressive anti-gang units--the changes are significant.
And yet, some things haven’t changed. Young black men in Foothill say police still stop and question them on the street when they’ve done nothing wrong. And no matter how much the community clamors for crackdowns on everyday ills such as graffiti and truancy, violent crime remains the division’s priority. Today’s cops say, “Please” and “Thank you,” but they still carry guns and cruise the streets looking for trouble.
Shouldered along the mountains of the Northeast San Fernando Valley, the Foothill Division is a patchwork of distinct communities. There’s Pacoima, with the toughest precincts in the division. The store signs along the boulevards are mostly in Spanish, but African Americans retain key civic leadership roles. A few miles north, up Osborne Street, is Lake View Terrace, where old wood-frame homes with chicken coops adjoin new stucco apartments and where King had his fateful match with the LAPD at the junction of Foothill Boulevard and Osborne. West from there is Sylmar, which retains a few semirural pockets despite steady development. To the east, across the 1920s vintage bridge filmed in “Chinatown,” is Sunland-Tujunga, part middle-class suburb, eclectic mountain hideaway and rundown commercial strip dotted with biker hangouts. At the other end of the division is Mission Hills, straddling Sepulveda Boulevard with its thriving retail district and street prostitutes who linger near the motels like pilot fish.
It’s in Mission Hills, in the community room of a large medical clinic, that the Foothill Division Community Police Advisory Board is meeting on a recent rainy night. Nearly 60 people have packed into the room, filling paper plates from a buffet loaded with chocolate chip cookies, celery, meatballs, cheese, crackers and other snacks. Seated at one of the lunchroom-style tables near the front are Efren and Sylvia Hernandez of Pacoima. Efren, known as “Shorty,” is a retired auto worker renowned for fearlessly patrolling his neighborhood in his car as a kind of a mobile neighborhood watch. Also at the table is Betty Cooper, a white-haired African American woman wearing lavender-tinted glasses and an embroidered sweatshirt. And a table or two away is Joe Lozano, a retired carpenter for the studios, who lives in Mission Hills.
“We have a vested interest in our community,” he says. “I’ve been in my house for almost 40 years.”
Lozano and the others are on the front lines of community policing. The concept, embraced by the LAPD after King in an attempt to shed its image in many communities as an occupying army, is designed to give the public a greater say in law enforcement. The monthly meetings, co-chaired by Capt. Garner and Sylmar anti-graffiti activist Tom Weissbarth, are aimed at letting people tell police the problems they want addressed--which may differ from what the LAPD sees as a priority. Residents want police to stop kids from breaking into homes or spray-painting walls with gang signs--in addition to tackling the more serious issues. But questions of resources keep getting in the way tonight.
Residents pepper new Valley Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann about the senior lead officers, who are the link between neighborhoods and the police department. Police Chief Bernard C. Parks had ordered these officers to work patrol again, reducing the amount of time they have to spend with citizen concerns. Under pressure, Parks reversed his decision late last year--but it hasn’t been implemented quickly enough to satisfy residents.
Bergmann explains that the LAPD doesn’t have sufficient officers to do everything it used to, and that even popular special programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education are in danger.
“Obviously, roll calls are getting smaller and attrition is far above what we are hiring,” Bergmann says. The department, he adds, is doing its best to juggle competing demands--such as fielding patrol cars to respond to crimes in progress.
The group is not entirely satisfied by this answer, and one of the advisory board members complains that he can’t even get his calls returned anymore. Garner cuts in: “If you don’t get a return call, then your next call is to me. I’ve said that since I got here, and that seems to have worked for everyone who has done it.”
Garner, the first African American to run Foothill Division, sees policing in terms of customer service. “I treat this division as if it were a business, and treat the people like customers,” he says. “They’re coming in here because they have a problem--either their car was stolen, or they had a burglary--and the best we can do is be courteous. Treat it like a Nordstrom.”
But Weissbarth says the panel has less of a role today than when he was first named to it shortly after the King beating. Years ago, he says, the panel would be asked to weigh in on such minutiae as the deployment of vice officers. Today, he says, the panel is not consulted on such matters.
He believes Garner and Bergmann are strong supporters of community policing, but says residents and business owners must be prepared to press their demands. “I’ve always felt the most important thing is to remind the commanders of the things that matter to the people who live here,” Weissbarth says. “They spend their whole lives being promoted or demoted based on their record with serious crime. No one gets ahead for their actions on graffiti and truancy.”
Shane Coleman recalls the night LAPD metro officers, working a special assignment in Foothill, pulled his car over. He’s still not exactly sure why. “I guess it was because there were six black males in the car,” Coleman says. “They checked it out, went through the whole thing. The worst they did was make us kneel on the ground.”
Community policing or no, the LAPD remains a magnet for accusations of racism and mistreatment. Much of the criticism revolves around police stopping blacks for questioning, something that’s only supposed to happen when an officer has probable cause, but has happened enough across the United States to touch off a nationwide campaign against racial profiling.
“We are supposed to explain why they are stopped,” Bergmann says. “I suspect we may not always do that.”
Airto Smith, like other African American men in the community, says he has been stopped by police for no reason.
“When I moved out here from Cincinnati and found out that this was the place they beat Rodney King, my No. 1 concern was the police,” says Smith, 26, of Pacoima. “People worry more about police than the gangs. When the police pull you over, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Kevin Miller, 22, also says he has been stopped without cause.
“I think it’s all racial--most police are white, and they don’t like black people too much,” he says one day while shooting pool in Pacoima.
This March 31, 1991, image made from video shot by George Holliday shows police officers beating a man, later identified as Rodney King. The grainy video of him curled up on the ground became a national symbol of police brutality.
(George Holliday / ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Stacey Koon, Timothy E. Wind, Laurence Powell and Ted Briseno, the four Los Angles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.
Rodney King shows the bruises he sustained at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers. A citizen with a video camera, George Holliday, had recorded from his balcony the prolonged beating of King by four white police officers.
(KEVORK DJANSEZIAN / Associated Press)
Steven Lerman, attorney for Rodney King, displays a photo of his client during a press conference at his office in Beverly Hills on March 8, 1991. King’s doctor outlined the extent of the man’s injuries for reporters during the meeting.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)
Ted Briseno, one of the Los Angles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King, testifies during the four white officers’ trial in Simi Valley.
George Holliday, who captured the Rodney King beating on his video camera, in February 2006
(Michael Kelley / For the Times)
A California Highway Patrol officer stands guard at 9th Street and Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles as smoke rises from a fire farther down the street, on April 30, 1992. It was the second day of unrest in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the Rodney King beating case.
(DAVID LONGSTREATH / ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Fires burn out of control on the second day of rioting in Los Angeles following announcement of the Rodney King verdicts.
(Kirk Mckoy / Los Angeles Times)
An LAPD officer trains his weapon on men arrested for looting as a state police officer handciffs one of the suspects on May 1, 1992, on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Vermont Avenue.
(Robert Gabriel / Los Amgeles Times)
On the second day of rioting, a man runs past a burning Jon’s market with a shopping cart full of diapers.
Looters mill in the parking lot of the ABC Market in South Los Angeles on April 30, 1992, as violence and looting ensued on the first day of riots following the verdicts in the Rodney King assault case. On April 29, 1992, four white police officers were declared innocent in the beating of black motorist King, and Los Angeles erupted in the deadliest riots of the century. Three days later, 55 people were dead and more than 2,000 injured. Fires and looting had destroyed $1 billion worth of property.
(PAUL SAKUMA / ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Rodney King asks the now-famous question, “Can we all get along?” in a press conference outside his lawyer’s office in Beverly Hills. King asked that the killing, looting and destruction spurred by his case would stop.
(Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times)
Darryl Gates, former LAPD chief, arrives at the Roybal Federal Building and is surrounded by news media. Gates was chief during the King beating and subsequent rioting.
(Leffingwell, Randy / Los Angeles Times)
Warren Christopher hands a copy of the Christopher Commission report to Police Chief Daryl F. Gates in Gates’ office at Parker Center. The report examined the operation of the LAPD, especially its recruitment, hiring and training practices, internal disciplinary system and citizen complaint system in the wake of the King beating.
(Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times)
Rodney King looks at a picture of himself from May 1, 1992, the third day of the Los Angeles riots, which hangs in the living room of his home in Rialto, in 2012. At that press conference, King uttered the famous words, “Can we all get along?”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Rodney King at his home in Rialto in 2012. King, whose beating by police was caught on videotape and then sparked the L.A. riots when the accused police were acquitted, has a book coming out, timed with the 20th anniversary of the riots.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Rodney King at his home in Rialto in 2012.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Rodney King during a day of fishing at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino in 2012.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Rodney King at his home in Rialto in March 2012. King was found dead in the pool in June of that year.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Investigators from the Rialto Police Department at the swimming pool where Rodney King was found dead.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
A memorial service for Rodney King, whose videotaped beating by Los Angeles police officers led to the worst urban riots in a generation and spawned widespread reforms, at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills cemetery on June 30, 2012, some two weeks after he was found dead in his swimming pool.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
Rodney King’s coffin at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills cemetery June 30, 2012, some two weeks after he died in his swimming pool.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
Racism was never established as a factor in the King beating itself. But long-standing concerns that racist attitudes infected the department were given new currency following disclosures that Officer Laurence Powell, hours before he turned his baton on King, had sent out a squad-car computer message describing an unrelated spat among African Americans as “Gorillas in the Mist.”
Eager to deploy officers who more closely matched the makeup of the community, the LAPD’s senior brass began transferring Foothill’s white officers, replacing them with African Americans and Latinos. A black captain, Paul Jefferson, was brought in to oversee patrol.
“Out of crisis comes energy for change,” says retired LAPD Cmdr. Tim McBride, the Foothill Station captain at the time of the beating. McBride held on to his job by calling in some chits and championing what would become the LAPD’s new credo: community policing.
To give the station a homier feel, a fish tank and couches were placed in the lobby. (The tank was destroyed in the ’94 Northridge quake.) To give the community a voice, McBride established the civilian advisory board and launched a community relations team that crisscrossed the division. “We probably met with 70,000 people in a space of three, four months,” McBride says. “At the meetings, somewhere along the line I would say, ‘I’m ashamed, and I apologize.’ ”
The station is now younger and more diverse than it was in 1991, when blacks constituted 4% and Latinos 17% of the sworn personnel. Today, their numbers have nearly doubled--7% of those carrying badges are African Americans, and 32% are Latino, according to the LAPD. That’s closer to, though not on par with, the the division’s demographics, which city officials estimate at as much as 60% Latino and 10% to 15% African American.
Recently, a retired detective visited the station, looked around and remarked that the detective squad never had so many secretaries. The women, he was gently told, were detectives.
Police relations with African Americans, especially business people, are generally good today, says Tamika Bridgewater, president of the Sylmar-based San Fernando Valley Black Chamber of Commerce. But she and others say there is a continuing problem with relations with young black men. Others acknowledge that Foothill has its share of serious crime. Says 24-year-old Theo Covington: “It’s a rough neighborhood, so they [police] have to mind their Ps and Qs.”
Officer Don Boon saw it coming. Rushing to the aid of his wounded partner, he saw movement from a bush alongside the house where the sniper had taken cover. As Boon drew his handgun and squeezed off two errant rounds, a bullet fired from the gunman’s scoped AR-15 assault rifle tore into his hip. “It just absolutely spun me around, and it knocked me to the ground,” Boon said. “I tried to get up, but I couldn’t use my legs. I’m just waiting for the next round to hit, cause I know I’m wide open.”
Officer Nick Ramirez, like Boon, a Marine Corps veteran, raced to his side to pull him out of danger. “He kept saying, ‘Get up, Marine! Goddamn it, Marine, get up!’ ” Boon recalled.
Boon’s limp, which slows him even today, more than three years since the Jan. 15, 1998, shooting by a disturbed man on Kathyann Street in Lake View Terrace, is a reminder that police work also takes place in the street, not just in neighborhood watch meetings. Yet, Boon remains a believer in community policing.
“A big part of our job is finding out from the community what’s going on--who are the problem children causing trouble in the neighborhood. You’ve got to talk to people. You get it from the guy out watering his lawn. You can’t do police work without the community.
“You can go from radio call to radio call to radio call. That doesn’t do us any good if we don’t know what the residents are going through--kids breaking into houses, graffiti,” he says.
“If you are not community-minded at Foothill Division, you don’t stay there,” says Vicky Bass Edwards, a civilian who operates the police-supported Jeopardy program for troubled youths.
Foothill Sgt. Brian Wendling cruises the division and pauses near the site of the beating. Change has been rough, he says, but ultimately good. “Rodney King was not the problem. If the outcome of the arrest is that the video makes us look bad, then, OK, we have to change the way we do things. Going after someone with a stick--that’s a caveman weapon.”
Ten years ago, Sgt. Glenn Younger was one of the African American officers who volunteered to transfer to Foothill to help restore the department’s tarnished image. “Officers felt that everything that happened to Rodney King was justified,” says Younger, who now works in the LAPD’s community-relations department downtown. “I said, ‘How could you justify it?’
“It was something that woke up the whole department. It forced us to a higher accountability level. It opened up the eyes of a lot of individuals. It was a good thing for the department. Something that was overdue.
George Holliday, the man with the camera who shot Rodney King while police beat him, got burned, too
Rodney King would have lived and died a complete unknown, were it not for the most famous home video ever made.
Shot on a dark Los Angeles street the morning of March 2, 1991, it instantly turned King into a worldwide symbol of police abuse and racial conflict.
When a California jury later acquitted the four cops caught beating him on tape, Los Angeles erupted in our nation's deadliest race riot.
King, who died Sunday at the age of 47, was never the hero of his own saga. That title properly belongs to the little-known maker of the Rodney King video.
His name is George Holliday, and the film he made changed forever how news is collected and disseminated in our modern world.
I tell you this as someone who witnessed first-hand the looting and killing that engulfed Los Angeles, who covered the trials of the cops that beat King, and who heard Holliday's amazing story in his own words.
The filmmaker was just 31 and living with his wife in an apartment complex in suburban Lakeview Terrace when he accidentally stepped into history.
Tall, red-haired and muscular, Holliday had been born in Canada, raised in Argentina, and ran a small plumbing company.
Sometime after midnight, he was awakened by the sound of helicopters and police sirens in his neighborhood. He stepped out on his terrace and saw cops starting to beat a black man on the street.
So he pulled out the Sony camcorder he bought a few weeks earlier — it was still in its original box — and started filming.
"I've never been in a fight in my life," Holliday told me in 1993, "But I know I would have subdued that guy a lot sooner."
The next morning, he called police and tried to find out what the black guy had done to be beaten so badly. Cops refused to say anything.
Shaken by what he'd witnessed, Holliday felt someone should know about it.
That Monday morning, he called KTLA-TV. He told them what he had and he offered to bring the tape over that afternoon.
He was told to leave the tape and someone would call him later. Having no idea what his video was worth, he naively agreed.
Before the station paid him a cent, it aired the tape on its evening news show. From there, it went viral on the national cable and news networks and arguably became the most famous home video of all time.
Thus, the man who pioneered citizen journalism, who made it possible for Rodney King to win a $3.8 million settlement from the city of Los Angeles, made peanuts from his video.
One person later thanked him, however.
In late 1991, Holliday stopped at a gas station and a young black man in a new sports car pulled up at the same pump.
"Hey, George, George Holliday," the man said. "You don't recognize me, do you?"
LAPD officers beat Rodney King on camera - HISTORY
The Arrest Record of Rodney King Rodney King's criminal history played a large role in the high-speed chase that led to his arrest, in his controversial and violent arrest, and in the trials that followed. King explained his decision to flee--at a speed exceeding 110 mph--from CHP officers as resulting from a fear that his arrest for speeding would lead to a revocation of his parole and a return to prison: "I was scared of going back to prison and I just kind of thought the problem would just go away." Sergeant Stacey Koon, the supervising officer at King's arrest, concluded (correctly, it turned out) from King's "buffed out appearance" that he was most likely an ex-con who had been working out on prison weights--and assumed therefore that he was a dangerous character. Finally, it was King's criminal history that explained the decision of prosecutors to keep him off the witness stand. If King testified, defense attorneys would be allowed to present the jury with his record of arrests--a record that might influence their deliberations.
Many of King's problems with the law stem from his serious drinking problem. According to his parole officer, Tim Fowler, King "was a basically decent guy with borderline intelligence. His problem was alcoholism." (Cannon, p40.)
May 28, 1991: King picked up a transvestite prostitute in Hollywood who happened to be under surveillance by LAPD officers. King and the prostitute were observed in an alley engaging in sexual activity. When the prostitute spotted the officers, King sped away, nearly hitting one of them. King later explained that he thought the vice officers were robbers trying to kill him. No charges were filed.
June 26, 1992: King's second wife reported to police that King had hit her and she feared for her life. King was handcuffed and taken to a police station, but his wife then decided against pressing charges.
July 16, 1992: King was arrested at 1:40 A.M. for driving while intoxicated. No charges were filed.
August 21, 1993: King crashed into a wall near a downtown Los Angeles nightclub. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.19. King was charged with violating his parole and sent for sixty day to an alcohol treatment center. He was also convicted on the DUI charge and ordered to perform twenty days of community service.
May 21, 1995: King was arrested for DUI while on a trip to Pennsylvania. King failed field sobriety tests, but refused to submit to a blood test. He was tried and acquitted.
July 14, 1995: King got into an argument with his wife while he was driving, pulled off the freeway and ordered her out of the car. When she started to get out, King sped off, leaving her on the highway with a bruised arm. King was charged with assault with a deadly weapon (his car), reckless driving, spousal abuse, and hit-and-run. King was tried on all four charges, but found guilty only of hit-and-run driving.
March 3, 1999: King allegedly injured the sixteen-year-old girl that he had fathered out of wedlock when he was seventeen, as well as the girl's mother. King was arrested for injuring the woman, the girl, and for vandalizing property. King claimed that the incident was simply "a family misunderstanding."
After the beating of Rodney King
After the beating, the police called an ambulance, and King was taken to Pacifica Hospital with officers riding along. Doctors gave King several stitches, noting in his medical records that he suffered from a broken cheekbone and broken right ankle. Afterward, King was moved to a jail ward at County-USC Medical Center, where he was booked for evading and resisting arrest.
Alcohol and drug tests would later show that King had been over the legal limit while driving and had a trace amount of marijuana in his system, but not much else was noted by doctors at the time. Martha Esparza, a nurse who worked at the jail ward, would later testify that King was "calm and cooperative," while the officers who brought him in were bragging and joking about the number of times King had been hit.
After prosecutors were unable to find sufficient evidence to prosecute, King was released after having been held for four days. In the claim King later filed with the city, he reported having suffered multiple skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, kidney damage, brain damage, as well as physical and emotional trauma.
LAPD officers beat Rodney King on camera - HISTORY
The nine minutes of grainy video footage George Holliday captured of Los Angeles police beating Rodney King 20 years ago helped to spur dramatic reforms in a department that many felt operated with impunity. (George Holliday)
It was shortly after midnight, 20 years ago Thursday, when George Holliday awoke to the sounds of police sirens outside his Lake View Terrace apartment. Grabbing his clunky Sony Handycam, he stepped out on his balcony and changed the Los Angeles Police Department forever.
The nine minutes of grainy video footage he captured of Los Angeles police beating Rodney King helped to spur dramatic reforms in a department that many felt operated with impunity. The video played a central role in the criminal trial of four officers, whose not-guilty verdicts in 1992 triggered days of rioting in Los Angeles in which more than 50 people died.
The simple existence of the video was something unusual in itself. Relatively few people then had video cameras, Holliday did - and had the wherewithal to turn it on.
"It was just coincidence," Holliday reflected in an interview a decade ago. "Or luck."
Today, things are far different and the tape that so tainted the LAPD has a clear legacy in how officers think about their jobs. Police now work in a YouTube world in which cellphones double as cameras, news helicopters transmit close-up footage of unfolding police pursuits, and surveillance cameras capture arrests or shootings. Police officials are increasingly recording their officers. Compared to the cops who beat King, officers these days hit the streets with a new reality ingrained in their minds: Someone is always watching.
"Early on in their training, I always tell them, 'I don't care if you're in a bathroom taking care of your personal business. Whatever you do, assume it will be caught on video,' " said Sgt. Heather Fungaroli, who supervises recruits at the LAPD's academy. "We tell them if they're doing the right thing then they have no reason to worry."
The ubiquitous use of cameras by the public has helped serve as a deterrent to police abuse, said Geoff Alpert, a leading expert on police misconduct.
"At the time of King it was just fortuitous that someone had a camera," Alpert said. "Things are a whole lot more transparent now and if you're going to do something stupid, then you're going to pay for your stupidity."
Although some officers remain uncomfortable about people filming them, the culture shift has been particularly profound among younger officers who grew up in a world of mobile video and picture-sharing.
"We grew up with reality TV and smart phones. Everybody's life was on camera," said Joseph Stevens, a 26-year-old officer in the LAPD's West Bureau. "It's a given that everything I do could end up on television or YouTube. With the older era, they're still surprised at some of the technology. They have questions about it but are starting to adapt."
Several recent cases show the power of questionable officer behavior going viral on the Web.
The use of cameras by the LAPD has evolved considerably over the years. Putting cameras in patrol cars was a key reform proposed by the Christopher Commission, which studied the LAPD after the King beating. After years of delays, the department recently installed cameras in a quarter of its cars and plans to outfit the rest of its fleet in coming years. In addition to deterring misconduct, police officials believe that cameras can help exonerate officers from false accusations.
The LAPD also sends its own photographers and videographers out to record large street protests or other incidents that could get out of hand. During training scenarios, drill instructors at the academy present recruits with various situations in which they must respond to the presence of cameras.
Some officers still bristle at the notion of a bystander recording them. In June, an LAPD officer confronted and then detained a man, who refused his orders to stop taping a traffic stop. Others accept the reality of ever-present cameras but worry that bystander videos can show a distorted version of an incident, particularly in the eyes of an uninformed viewer.
To "someone who doesn't understand police tactics or why we use force," an arrest of a violent suspect or similar situation can appear unnecessarily brutal, said LAPD Sgt. Alex Vargas, a veteran anti-gang supervisor in South Los Angeles. Routinely, he said, on-lookers begin filming only when officers are compelled to use force, "but you don't see [the suspect] attacking the officers. That's common."
On 30-Year Anniversary Of The Rodney King Beating, LA Recalls One Of The Most Defining Moments Of Its History
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) &ndash It was three decades ago Wednesday that one of the most defining moments in Los Angeles history took place, changing the face of the city forever.
FILE — Rodney King after the acquittal of the four LAPD officers who striked him with their batons on March 3, 1991. (Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images)
On March 3, 1991, a plumber named George Holliday recorded four white LAPD officers using batons, Tasers, feet and fists to beat a Black man later identified as Rodney King.
Holliday had been asleep in his Lake View Terrace apartment when he was awakened by a commotion that prompted him to grab his Sony Handycam and record the attack outside his apartment building.
King, an unemployed construction worker who had been drinking and was on probation for a robbery conviction, was instructed to pull over for speeding on a Los Angeles freeway. He eventually stopped his car in front of Holliday’s apartment building, where the traffic stop devolved into a violent confrontation as officers trying to subdue King pounded on him repeatedly.
King was left with skull fractures, broken bones and teeth and permanent brain damage.
The videotape of officers repeatedly hitting King as he writhed on the ground shocked the world. Then-LAPD Chief Daryl Gates resigned and a commission headed by future U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was formed to oversee a major overhaul of tactics and policies within the LAPD, which was accused of fostering a culture of institutional racism and excessive force.
When the four officers involved in the King beating were acquitted a year later of excessive use of force by a jury in Ventura County, five days of rioting ensued in Los Angeles, resulting in 54 deaths, some 2,400 injuries, scores of destroyed buildings and other property damage, and more than 12,000 arrests. The acquitted police officers were later convicted of violating Rodney King’s civil rights in a federal court trial.
King was awarded $3.8 million as the result of a lawsuit stemming from the beating, and a judge ordered the city to provide an additional $1.6 million that he could use to pay his attorneys.
King, a Sacramento native, died in Rialto on June 17, 2012 at the age of 47 of what was described as an accidental drowning.
Holliday told The New York Times last year that he still works as a plumber, never profiting from the video, which was still in the possession of federal authorities.
He told the paper he had purchased the video camera about a month before the King beating, and he grabbed it instinctively when he and his wife were awakened by the police ruckus outside his window.
“You know how it is when you have a new piece of technology,” he told the Times. “You film anything and everything.”
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
Today in Depressing History
On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was badly beaten by four LAPD officers in an incident, caught on camera, that sparked a national controversy culminating in the 1992 Los Angeles riots. King, an African-American man, had been speeding on a freeway after a night of drinking with friends when a pair of highway patrol officers attempted to pull him over, he instead sped away, fearing a DUI would violate his parole. He finally pulled over after an eight-mile chase, during which time several LAPD cars and a helicopter had become involved. When he emerged from his car, visibly intoxicated, LAPD Sergeant Stacey Koon stopped the CHP officers from arresting King and &ldquotook command&rdquo of the situation. The four white officers&mdashKoon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno&mdashtasered King, beat him with batons, and kicked him, and later claimed to believe King was on PCP. George Holliday, a man who lived in close proximity to the beating, was awakened by the commotion and began videotaping the scene. He sent the tape to a local news station, and it was soon picked up by CNN and played across the country. The four officers involved were charged with excessive force, but were granted a change of venue to Simi Valley, a wealthy city in Ventura County, after claims that a fair trial was impossible in Los Angeles. The four officers were acquitted in 1992 by a mostly-white jury with no Black members despite the video evidence. Half an hour after the not-guilty verdict was announced, over 300 people had begun protesting at the Los Angeles County Courthouse. The protest grew, and developed into a riot lasting several days. In total, 53 people died in the riots, and the four officers were retried on federal charges of civil rights violations Powell and Koon were found guilty, and King was awarded damages from the City of Los Angeles.
Rodney King beating changed LAPD forever
LOS ANGELES — Twenty years ago Thursday, shortly after midnight, what should have been a routine traffic stop on a San Fernando Valley freeway escalated into an altercation that forever changed policing - and race relations - in Los Angeles.
Unaware they were being filmed by an amateur cameraman, four white LAPD officers beat an African-American motorist named Rodney King. The 12-minute video was aired that night by a local TV station, giving Angelenos and the rest of the world a glimpse of shocking behavior from those sworn to protect and serve.
"That day put in motion the forces that changed and dramatically transformed Los Angeles, the LAPD and many of our institutions," says Bernard Kinsey, who helped lead Rebuild Los Angeles, the economic redevelopment agency formed after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
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"The city would never be the same."
Those riots erupted April 29, 1992, hours after the four officers charged with the use of excessive force were acquitted by a predominantly white jury in Simi Valley.
"Ultimately, the (minority) community felt that it needed to get justice and sadly, people took it into their own hands," says Danny Bakewell Sr., a former civil rights activist who now is publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel.
"We don't condone that, but we certainly do understand that. You can only suppress and oppress a people for so long."
In three days of violence that spread from South Los Angeles to other parts of the city, 53 people were killed and nearly 2,400 were hurt. Looting, vandalism and arson resulted in an estimated $1 billion in damage.
In the midst of it, King made a public appearance and broadcast his now-famous plea: "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?"
Chase turns ugly
The incident began after King - who later admitted to driving drunk - refused to stop when California Highway Patrol officers tried to pull him over for erratic driving. The LAPD joined in the high-speed chase, which ended at Osborne Street and Foothill Boulevard in Lake View Terrace.
With a police helicopter hovering overhead, officers kicked, tasered and beat King, leaving him with crushed bones, shattered teeth, kidney damage and a fractured skull. The attack was captured by George Holliday, who lived nearby and grabbed his new video camera when he was awakened by police sirens.
"From the (minority) community perspective, the video validated years and years and years of complaints that this was the treatment that they were receiving and no one took action or believed that these things were going on," said Councilman Bernard Parks, a deputy chief of police at the time of the beating and later police chief.
Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton, said the videotape gave then-Mayor Tom Bradley the power he needed to reform the Police Department.
"The LAPD was a political entity unto itself," said Sonenshein, who has written three books on Los Angeles politics and government.
"Bradley sort of fought them to a draw up until the Rodney King beating, and it was the Rodney King beating . (that) gave him the political clout to finally win that battle."
In July 1991, in the wake of the beating, Bradley formed the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, headed by attorney Warren Christopher, who would later become U.S. secretary of state.
The blue-ribbon panel issued a blistering report that detailed a pattern of racism and excessive force within the LAPD.
The outgrowth of the Christopher Commission was Proposition F, passed by voters in 1992, which put the chief of police and the LAPD under civilian control.
The beating and its aftermath - the LAPD was later found to be woefully unprepared for the riots - forced the retirement of longtime Chief Daryl Gates, whose controversial tenure was marked by allegations of racism and arrogance.
"Police chiefs now are considered civilian leaders of the city . having to maintain the support of the mayor," Sonenshein said. "Two consecutive chiefs lost their jobs because they didn't have the support of the mayor. That would have been unheard of."
No one appears to be more aware of those changes than the current chief, Charlie Beck, a career law enforcement officer named to the position by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in late 2009.
"I don't think there's any other incident in modern times that certainly changed the Police Department and changed the city to the extent that the King incident did," Beck said.
"We're still responding to things that were put in place by the Christopher Commission, their recommendations, the Inspector General, the role of the Police Commission, even to the way I act as chief trying to be a nonpolitical chief. All that traces its way back to Rodney King."
The changes wrought by the King beating have been substantive, not only in the upper echelons of the LAPD but in the police culture seen on the streets, according to San Fernando Valley anti-gang advocate William "Blinky" Rodriguez.
"It's a completely different type of relationship that communities now have with the police," Rodriguez said. "I think law enforcement realizes that the community has to play its role.
"Sometimes it's just co-existing because there's an open dialogue, and you have to say that the leadership of the LAPD has played a tremendous role in making this happen."
King: `Memories still there'
Now 45, King says he still has nightmares about the beating, according to an interview with CNN set to air Friday night.
"I wake up like tossing and turning and sometimes even hearing the voices that went on that night," he says in the interview. "You know, `Hands behind your back. Lay down. Get down! Get down! Get down' .
"I have to wake up. It's a nightmare, all right. I have to look outside. It's all green, blue. That time has passed on, but the nightmares and memories is still there."
Two of the four officers who were acquitted in Simi Valley, Sgt. Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, were convicted of federal civil rights violations and served 30 months in prison.
The other two officers, Theodore Briseno and rookie Timothy Wind, were acquitted in the federal civil rights trial.
The city of Los Angeles paid King $3.8 million to settle a civil suit.
Now reportedly living in the suburb of Rialto, King has had numerous run-ins with the law. According to reports, he started a rap music label with the settlement money, but it failed and he now works in construction.
Holliday, the plumbing company manager who videotaped the King beating, sold his footage to a local television station. Now living in seclusion in the San Fernando Valley, he works as a self-employed plumber.
He licenses the use of the video and interviews with himself through his website, www.rodneykingvideo.com .ar.
Rebuilding from the ashes
Today, on the once-vacant piece of land where the beating took place sits the Lakeview Terrace Library, though there is no marker designating the site of dubious distinction.
In South Los Angeles, African-American business leaders like Kinsey point to a historic revitalization of the area that at the time of the 1992 riots had not fully recovered from the urban violence of the 1960s.
"I knew every address destroyed and every business that was burned, and I knew the ones that were rebuilt," Kinsey said of South Los Angeles, where 1,172 buildings were destroyed by the riots.
"Not in the history of this country . did we have any kind of rebuilding effort like we had take place in Los Angeles. Over the past 20 years, there has been over $2.2 billion invested in South Los Angeles.
"I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would say that the city is not better than it was in 1992."
When Beck was named chief in 2009, the mayor pronounced him the embodiment of the changes that had taken place in the LAPD.
Beck, a 32-year veteran, came to office with the joint support of what once might have been two unlikely allies - the police union and civil rights activists such as lawyer Connie Rice.
"I think that if the King incident hadn't happened, there would have been some other catalyst for change," Beck said. "I think that the Los Angeles Police Department had to change. It was not adapting to the world that it lived in and the people that it served.
"I think it would have happened in some other way anyway."
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