Rodney King found dead in his pool

11:32 AM, Jun 18, 2012   |    comments
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By Greg Toppo
USA TODAY

Rodney King, whose beating by police helped trigger the 1992 Los Angeles riots and whose "Can we all get along?" plea urged calm, died early Sunday, police said. He was 47.
He apparently drowned in the pool of his southern California home, police said.

Police in Rialto, Calif., an hour's drive east of Los Angeles, said they got a 911 call from King's fiancee around 5:25 a.m., after she found King at the bottom of the pool. Police spokesman David Shepherd said police don't suspect foul play.

King's 1991 beating by four white police officers following a car chase, was caught on videotape by an amateur cameraman, who gave a copy to a local TV station. The ferocity of the beating, replayed for a year, shocked viewers. King, then 25 and on parole for a robbery conviction, withstood more than 50 blows from police batons.

The grainy footage seemed incontrovertible evidence against the officers. But a year later, in April 1992, a jury in the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley acquitted three officers of assault and excessive force charges. A mistrial was declared for a fourth.

Rioting in South Central Los Angeles began less than two hours later. The neighborhood became a flash point as TV news cameras captured a mob pulling a white man, Reginald Denny, from his truck and nearly beating him to death. The riots lasted six days and left 63 people dead, despite King's plea for calm, a 2012 analysis by the Los Angeles Times found.

King's beating and the riots pushed Los Angeles and other cities to improve policing and relations with minority communities. "It was his beating that made America focus on the presence of profiling and police misconduct," civil rights activist Al Sharpton said Sunday.

The four officers -- Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Timothy Wind and Laurence Powell -- were indicted in the summer of 1992 on federal civil rights charges. Koon and Powell were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.

In April, King co-authored a memoir, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. "I think we are getting along better, but it's a slow process," King told USA TODAY in May. "It was a fight all the way, but I did get justice."

With the help of a $3.8 million settlement in the civil rights case, King bought a home in Rialto, a working-class suburb. He had planned to marry his fiancee, Cynthia Kelley, a juror in the case.
Since the riots, King had struggled with alcohol and spotty employment, and had been arrested several times, mostly for alcohol-related crimes. The latest arrest came last July in Riverside, Calif.

King served briefly as the head of his own record company and appeared on the cable TV reality show Celebrity Rehab. The Times reported in April that King had inlaid two dates in black tile around his pool: 3/3/91, the date of his arrest, and 4/29/92, the day rioting began.

USA TODAY

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