Monday, September 28, 2020

Rodney King


Rodney Glen King was born in Sacramento, California on April 2, 1965.  He was one of five children to Odessa and Ronald King, the latter of whom passed away when Rodney was just nineteen. 

By his early 20s, King was getting into trouble with the law.  In 1989, he robbed a store in Monterey Park, severely beating the owner with a wooden pole.  He netted $200 for the assault, but was sentenced to two years in prison.  He was released one year early, on December 27, 1990.  Had he served his full sentence, none of the following would have happened.

On March 3, 1991, shortly after midnight, King and two friends were driving home on Interstate 210 in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.  Police officers Tim and Melanie Singer, married, attempted to pull the car over for speeding, but King decided to make a break for it.  He would later explain that a DUI charge would violate the conditions of his parole and send him back to prison.

The chase continued, reaching a top speed of 117 MPH.  King got off the 210 and continued to flee through a residential area near the Hansen Dam Recreation Area.  By this point, several cars had joined the pursuit, as well as an LAPD chopper.  They managed to pull King over eight miles later.  Officers on the scene included the Singers, Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Rolando Solano.

Tim Singer ordered the three to exit the vehicle.  While the two passengers complied, King initially refused to come out.  When he finally did, he was observed reaching behind his back.  Although the officers interpreted this as a sign that he was reaching for a weapon, he was later found to be unarmed.

Koon, as the highest ranking officer on the scene, took charge, and ordered all officers to holster their weapons.  He tasered King, believing him to be under the influence of PCP, which toxicology tests would later disprove.

King started to rise towards Officer Powell, who began striking him with his baton.  Koon ordered him to stop, but as King began to rise again, the other officers pulled their batons, landing a total of 33 blows to the body, along with 7 kicks, before it was all over.  King was taken into custody.

Awakened by the alarms in his neighborhood, local plumber and self-proclaimed "budding videographer" George Holliday went to investigate, his video camera in tow.  He started recording just after King was tasered, filming the last eight minutes of the event.  

King was taken to Pacifica Hospital.  He had a broken right ankle and a fractured facial bone.  He was also found to be legally drunk under California law.  Tests also found the presence of marijuana in his system, which at the time, was illegal in California.

Holliday called the LAPD and told them about his video, but the police weren't interested.  He then decided to share it with the media, so he contacted KTLA in Los Angeles.  As a result, his footage was seen the world over and gave rise to the term "citizen journalist."  In case you've never seen it, you can watch the full eight minutes here.

As a result of Holliday's footage, the L.A. County District Attorney charged four of the officers with assault and excessive force.  After seven days of deliberation, the jury acquitted all four officers, citing footage from the Holliday tape that had not been presented to the general public.  The acquittal resulted in days of rioting and looting in Los Angeles, with more than 60 people killed.  KABC in Los Angeles covered much of the rioting and you can see a compilation video here.

King filed a lawsuit against the city and was ultimately awarded more than $5 million.  He invested much of it in a new record label called Straight Alta-Pazz Records.  It didn't last long however and soon went out of business.  

2011 mug shot.
King's legal troubles continued however.  In 1993, he crashed into a concrete wall in L.A. and was convicted of driving under the influence.  While drunk in 1995, he ran over his wife and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.  In 2003, he was arrested for speeding and running a red light while under the influence.  Fleeing police, he slammed his car into a house and shattered his pelvis.  Finally in 2011, he was arrested again for driving under the influence.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 2012, Father's Day, King's fiancee found him at the bottom of his swimming pool.  Authorities transported him to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, where he was pronounced dead at the age of 47.  An autopsy revealed King died of an accidental drowning, with cocaine, alcohol and PCP serving as contributing factors.

King's funeral was held on June 30 at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.  The Reverend Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy.

Inscription: Beloved Son, Brother, Father, Grandfather, Uncle, Cousin, Friend
Can't We All Get Along
Location: Exaltation Section, Map #J14, Lot #3160, Space #3

  • At the time of his passing, King was engaged to Cynthia Kelley, who had served as a juror in his lawsuit against the city.  

  • Just one month before he died, King released his life story.  You can pick up a copy of The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption from Amazon.

  • In an effort to promote the book, King gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network.  He didn't know it at the time, but it would be his last interview ever.  You can watch it here.

  • In 2008, King appeared on the reality series Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew as well as it's spin-off series Sober House.  During the former, series host Dr. Drew Pinsky told King he would die unless his addictions were treated.

  • King died 28 years to the day after his father drowned in a bathtub.

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