Rodney King's Death Leaves Questions

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By ANTHONY McCARTNEY and RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just a few months ago, Rodney King was once again the center of attention as the world checked back in on the man whose videotaped beating by police sparked one of the nation's worst race riots.

King had left Los Angeles behind, moving an hour east to a home where neighbors would often hear him splashing in the pool late at night.

The physical and emotional scars from the more than 50 baton blows remained, but King struck an upbeat note on his life.

[Read: Rodney King Seen as a Catalyst for Policing Change.]

"America's been good to me after I paid the price and stayed alive through it all," he told The Associated Press. "This part of my life is the easy part now."

But King was found around 5:30 a.m. Sunday at the bottom of the swimming pool at his Rialto, Calif. Home.

His death at age 47 is being treated as an apparent drowning and there are no signs of foul play, but Capt. Randy De Anda said autopsy results would be needed to determine whether drugs or alcohol were a factor.

The autopsy is set for Monday.

De Anda said King was only in the water three to four minutes between the time his fiancee called 911 and when officers arrived and pulled him from the water. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m.

It was a grim end for King, who symbolized the problem of police brutality and struggled with addiction and repeated arrests. Long after the $3.8 million he'd been awarded in a civil case was spent on record label and other failed ventures, King would periodically resurface, appearing on "Celebrity Rehab" or sparring in the occasional boxing match. He spent the last months of his life promoting a memoir he titled "The Riot Within: From Rebellion to Redemption."

Sandra Gardea, King's next-door neighbor said that around 3 a.m., she heard music and someone "really crying, like really deep emotions. ... Like tired or sad, you know?"

"I then heard someone say, 'OK, Please stop. Go inside the house.' ... We heard quiet for a few minutes Then after that we heard a splash in the back."

King was 25 years old and on parole for a robbery conviction when he led police on a high-speed chase in March 1991 that ended on a darkened Los Angeles street. He was finally stopped by four Los Angeles police officers who struck him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns. He was left with 11 skull fractures, a broken eye socket and facial nerve damage.

The violence was captured on videotape by a nearby resident, who turned it over to a TV station. It was played over and over for the following year, inflaming racial tensions across the country.

The images — preserved on an infamous grainy video — of the black driver curled up on the ground while four white officers clubbed him — became a national symbol of police brutality in 1991. More than a year later, when the officers' acquittals touched off one of the most destructive race riots in history, his scarred face and soft-spoken question — "Can we all get along?" — spurred the nation to confront its difficult racial history.

It seemed that the videotape would be the key evidence to a guilty verdict against the officers, whose felony assault trial was moved to the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley, Calif. Instead, on April 29, 1992, a jury with no black members acquitted three of the officers on state charges in the beating; a mistrial was declared for a fourth.

Rioting began immediately, starting in Los Angeles. It lasted for three days, killing 55 people, injuring more than 2,000 and setting swaths of Los Angeles aflame, causing $1 billion in damage. Police, seemingly caught off-guard, were quickly outnumbered by rioters and retreated. As the uprising spread to the city's Koreatown area, shop owners armed themselves and engaged in running gun battles with looters.

"Through all that he had gone through with his beating and his personal demons he was never one to not call for reconciliation and for people to overcome and forgive," Rev. Al Sharpton said Sunday. "History will record that it was Rodney King's beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement."