The beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers sparked worst riots in a century: ID investigates

Rodney King attends a book singing event for his memoir
Rodney King was unarmed when LAPD officers excessively beat him. Pic credit: ©

As part of its Crimes That Changed Us series, Investigation Discovery is examing the case of Rodney King, who was a victim of police brutality at the hands of officers from the LAPD.

On March 3, 1991, King was excessively beaten by four officers following a high-speed chase in Los Angeles, California. The subsequent trial, which led to the acquittal of the four officers, lit the match that led to violent protests and riots across the city.

King had been a paroled convict who had led the LAPD in a chase through LA County, and when the officers finally caught up to him, they found him drunk and uncooperative. However, he was unarmed, and when the officers surrounded him, they unleashed a barbaric beating.

Police officers Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind began battering the Black man with their batons and kicking him while he lay on the highway. He was hit between 50 and 60 times.

Unbeknownst to the officers, the whole attack was caught by amateur cameraman George Holliday, who was filming from a nearby balcony. When the footage of the attack reached the media, it quickly spread worldwide, causing shock and horror.

Powell, Briseno, Wind, and their commanding officer Sergeant Stacey Koon were all indicted on using excessive force.

LAPD officers were initially acquitted in Rodney King beating

In April 1992, after a three-month trial, three officers were acquitted, and the predominantly white jury failed to reach a decision on the fourth. The verdicts caused outrage in the city, particularly among the minority communities, and within a few hours of the court decision, violent rioting erupted.

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The rioting began in South Central Los Angeles, and as the LAPD failed to control the situation, the violence radiated out into other areas of the city.

In one shocking incident, a white truck driver, Reginald Denny, was dragged from his vehicle by three black men and viciously beaten. The incident was recorded by a news helicopter hovering above.

The rioting caused traffic to be blocked, motorists attacked, and hundreds of fires were set across numerous neighborhoods. Store owners protected their businesses with rifles.

At the request of Mayor Tom Bradley, Governor Pete Wilson deployed the National Guard in an attempt to regain control.

However, the violence continued for six days until President George Bush Sr. sent in the US Army and the US Marine Corp to finally establish order. By the end of the rioting, 63 people were dead, and over 2000 were injured.

More than 7,000 people were arrested, and there was over $1 billion in property damaged, including over 3,000 burned buildings.

In 1993, the federal government brought a civil case against the officers; Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell were found guilty of violating King’s rights and were sentenced to 30 months in prison. Neither returned to the police force. Wind and Briseno were both fired by the LAPD.

After the civil trial, King was offered a settlement by the city. In April 2012, he published a memoir about his life. He tragically drowned in his swimming pool a few months later.

More from Investigation Discovery

Follow the links to read about more crimes that changed us profiled on ID.

Patty Hearst was a 19-year-old heiress to a vast fortune when she was abducted by the SLA, a radical left-wing terrorist organization engaged in violence, extortion, and bank robbery. After a few weeks, Hearst joined their ranks, and the sheltered rich kid started robbing banks.

In a murder that was called the crime of the century, the Menendez brothers gunned down their parents in their Beverley Hills mansion. They later accused their parents of a lifetime of mental and physical abuse.

Rodney King: The Crimes That Changed Us airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

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