Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck credited Rodney King with bringing “immensely positive change” to the city and its police department.
King, whose beating at the hands of LAPD officers sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots, died at his Rialto home early Sunday at the age of 47. His death is being investigated as an accidental drowning.
King became a symbol for police brutality and the troubled relations between the LAPD and minority residents when he was pulled over for speeding by Los Angeles Police Department officers and beaten more than 20 years ago.
The incident was captured on video by a civilian bystander, and the recording became an instant international sensation. Four of the officers were tried for excessive force. Their acquittal on April 29, 1992, touched off one of the worst urban riots in U.S. history.
VIDEOS: Rodney King
"Rodney King has a unique spot in both the history of Los Angeles and the LAPD," Beck said in a statement released to The Times. "What happened on that cool March night over two decades ago forever changed me and the organization I love. His legacy should not be the struggles and troubles of his personal life but the immensely positive change his existence wrought on this city and its police department."
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice called King’s beating a “catalytic a point in time” and an event that marked the “beginning of the end of the old LAPD.” She said that over the course of the last two decades, the LAPD has moved closer and closer to “community” and “public trust” policing.
“You could see LAPD slowly changing,” Rice said.
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“We actually got police reform. And we couldn’t get it before.”
King’s fiancée found him at the bottom of his pool at his home in Rialto early Sunday, police said. Officers pulled him from the pool and began CPR until paramedics arrived and took King to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, where King was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m.
Preliminary information indicated King drowned and there were no immediate signs of foul play, police said, but an autopsy will be conducted.
Rodney King, dead at 47
Photos: Rodney King
Video: Rodney King beating
King found at bottom of pool by fiancee
King's death investigated as a drowning
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--Andrew Blankstein and Matt Stevens
Photo: Charlie Beck. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times