The Story of Rodney King


On the evening of March 3, 1991, officer Mary Singer spotted a car in her rear view mirror approaching at a fast pace.  Rodney King was driving the car containing him and two other passengers.  King was on parole for robbing a convenient store and had been drinking and smoking marijuana.  King knew if he were pulled over he would go to jail Officer Singer attempted to pull King over without success.  King exited the freeway and pulled over after an 8-mile chase.  Officer Singer continued to do the arrest.  The two passengers did exactly what they were told, and then there was Rodney King.  King refused to cooperate.  It was then that four other Los Angeles County officers took over.  The officers claimed that King appeared to be high on PCP.  The first officer, Officer Powel, tried to contain King on the ground in order to handcuff him, but King would not cooperate.  The officers continuously tried to detain King, but King was adamant to not oblige.  The officers then proceeded to use a taser gun to contain King.  A taser gun is an electric shock of 50,000 volts, which will usually send any man to his knees, but it did not work on King.  King was shot with the taser gun three times and still could not be subdued.  By this time, George Holiday was out testing a new camcorder on his apartment balcony.  Holiday saw the incident and began taping.  At this moment King was on the ground but suddenly leaped up and charged at officer Powel.  Officer Powel issued the first blow to King with a metal baton.  This blow instigated the other officers to lash out at King as well.  In less than 2 minutes, King was struck with 56 baton blows and kicked six times.  King suffered eleven skull fractures, brain damage, broken teeth and bones, and kidney damage.  Not to mention physical and emotional trauma.  Four officers, Officer Laurence Powell, Sgt. Stacey Koon, Officer Theodore Briseno, and Probationary Officer Timothy Wind, were charged with criminal offenses, including assault with a deadly weapon.


The Rodney King case has been one of great controversy.  It deals with issues such as police brutality, manipulation of the media, race and discrimination, and unfair trials. The Rodney King case also caused what was one of the worst race riots in United States history.  After the State Trial, the pronunciation of the officers being not guilty infuriated a population of the people in Los Angeles.  Riots broke out and lasted for six days.  During this time over 1,000 businesses were destroyed, there was approximately one billion dollars worth of damage, over 2,000 people were hospitalized, and 54 people lost their lives.  The media claimed the riots were due to tension between black and whites, but the Hispanic population was doing most of the rioting with the Korean Americans being the injured party.


The media played a large role in the Rodney King case.  What most of the public saw on the television was an edited version of the videotape recorded by Holiday.  The edited version started 15 seconds after the camera had been rolling.  It was within this first 15 seconds the King charged at Officer Powel and the first blow was given.  Any viewer examining this edited version sees what would appear to be four officers beating on King for no good reason.  The news media also covered the event as being a black/white issue, not only in the trial, but in the riots as well.  The majority of the people involved would agree that it was not an issue of race; it was an issue of civil rights.


There were three trials involved with the Rodney King case.  There was a State Criminal Trial, a Federal Criminal Trial, and a Civil Trial.  Instead of being held in Los Angeles, the State Trial was moved to nearby Simi Valley, a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles.  Defense attorneys argued that a fair trial in LA would not be possible because of extensive publicity.  Many people believe that fact that there were no blacks on the jury made the verdict of not guilty possible.  Due to the riots, the Justice Department held a Federal Trial.  The Federal government charged the four officers with violating the civil rights of Rodney King.  Most people think this trial was a mistake.  People felt that since the riots were over, in order to keep peace the Justice department should have left it alone.  During the State Trial, Rodney King and his lawyer said they did not feel the incident was cause because of racial issues, but during the Federal Trial, attorneys used such words as “nigger” to provoke racial tension.  Most people felt that fear was the 13th juror in this trial, and in order to avoid more riots, the officers were found guilty.  Officers Powel and Koon were the only ones who had to serve time…30 months.  Finally Rodney King sued the city of Los Angeles and the four officers in what was the civil trial.  King was suing for 56 million dollars…one million for each baton blow.  However, King was only awarded with 3.8 million, paid by the city of Los Angeles.  Most people felt like the city just wanted to shut people up.  They felt like if King were not given some type of settlement more riots would break out.


In the aftermath of the Rodney King case, many lives have been changed.  Officer Koons served his 30 months and survived a suicide attempt.  He has now come to terms with the incident and feels as if he was a scapegoat for the LAPD.  Officer Powel also served his 30 months and is now working in the computer industry.  Officer Briseno, who did not have to serve time, is said to be working for a private security firm. Officer Wind, also not serving time, has had a hard time finding work due to the occurrence.  He reluctant to be hired and has trouble supporting his wife and son.  Rodney King has been arrested over five times and served jail time since the incident.  King has been charged with driving under the influence and spousal abuse.



Kristi Peacock