RIALTO: Rodney King drowns in own pool; autopsy report pending
Rodney King, whose videotaped beating at the hands of Los Angeles police officers set in motion events that would lead to the deadly Los Angeles riots of 1992, died after an apparent drowning in the backyard swimming pool of his Rialto home. He was 47.
The encounter with LAPD officers in 1991 brought King his unwanted fame. And it was law enforcement officers who provided the coda to his life early Sunday, June 17, when they jumped into the pool wearing their uniforms and equipment in an effort to save him.
His death was not regarded as suspicious, police said. But neighbors said it followed a Saturday night party that led into a late-night and early-morning argument, or at least noisy exchanges, between King and his fiancée that were loud enough to cause some neighbors to shout out a request to stop the ruckus.
An autopsy was scheduled for Monday morning June 18, said San Bernardino County Sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller. She said toxicology tests were also being performed.
The results will take weeks to return, she said. The county coroner releases autopsy and toxicology results at the same time, she said.
Rialto police Capt. Randy De Anda said in a Sunday June 17 afternoon news conference that it was not unusual for King to go swimming at any hour, including the early morning.
He said that King's fiancée, Cynthia Kelley, discovered at about 5:25 a.m. that King was at the deep-end bottom of the pool. "She said she heard a splash in the rear yard … she found Mr. King … at the bottom of the pool. He was at the deep end," De Anda said earlier Sunday.
He said Kelley, whom he described as "not a strong swimmer," tried to pull King out, and called 911 when she could not.
Responding officers jumped in and retrieved King. They tried to give him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Rialto Fire Department paramedics also treated King at the scene. He was taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, and pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m.
"Last night I heard a commotion," said neighbor Bob Carlberg, 53, who lives two doors away. "It really wasn't like a fight-fight-fight, but it was like yelling back and forth," he said. "He had a little party yesterday."
"He had something going on all night … the neighbors that live behind him were kind of yelling over to be quiet … the people who actually live next door to him said it was really loud," Carlberg said.
Carlberg said the disturbances were uncharacteristic of King, who lived on East Jackson Street, which is lined with single-story ranch-style and tract homes with well-trimmed lawns and shade trees. "He really kept to himself. The last couple of weeks he had more people over because he was planning his marriage. That's only my theory."
A neighbor of King said that around 3 a.m. she heard music and people talking next door and what sounded like someone who was very emotional.
"It seemed like someone was really crying, like really deep emotions," said Sandra Gardea, 31, a dental hygienist instructor who recently moved in. "And it just got louder and louder. Everybody woke up. Even the kids woke up."
She described the sound as "like moaning, like in pain. Like tired or sad, you know?"
Gardea said this went on for some time and then stopped.
"I 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. And that's when a few minutes later we see the cops arrive and everyone arrive and we see him being taken in a gurney."
"You didn't see parties here or a lot of people. He was very withdrawn, and (kept) to himself," said neighbor Tondalaya Baker, 55, who lives around the corner from King's home. She said she most often saw him when he was working on his lawn or the front of his home.
De Anda said King was "poolside throughout the early morning, and he was in verbal contact with his fiancée throughout the morning. She was having a conversation through the rear sliding-glass door, and apparently when she heard the splash."
He said he did not know the content of the conversation. "At this time I do not know what Mr. King's toxicology was, or if he was intoxicated, or whether he was under the influence of any substances." He said detectives would try to determine what was going on at the moment King fell into the pool.
On Sunday afternoon, evidence was being carted away from King's home, including what looked like a marijuana plant. King had said in interviews last year that he had a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana. Medical marijuana users are permitted some legal cultivation.
De Anda said a coroner's investigation will include an autopsy and a toxicology report. He said there were no signs of drugs or alcohol near the pool when officers arrived, and that detectives had interviewed Kelley as a routine matter. Kelley had been one of the jurors who awarded King $3.8 million in his lawsuit against Los Angeles over the beating. King said recently he had spent most of the money.
Neighbors described King as friendly and willing to talk about anything except what happened in Los Angeles two decades ago. "The best neighbor in the neighborhood," said Baker, who said she spoke to him frequently.
Asked if King ever discussed his past, Baker said, "he never wanted to talk about that. He really just stayed to himself … he was extremely private." She said he often kept his drapes drawn at the home.
Carlberg said he liked to talk about cars with King.
"He was a pretty nice guy. Seemed like a real nice guy, I had no problems," Carlberg said.
Carlberg described the neighborhood "real quiet, peaceful, friendly. Everybody gets along. Everybody talks to everybody."
Two decades ago, King uttered five words that captured the sentiment of millions of Americans horrified by the scenes of death and destruction in the Los Angeles riots.
"I just want to say, you know, 'Can we all get along?'," King said in a quavering voice after rioters ravaged Southern California neighborhoods.
King was pulled over by LAPD officers in 1991 for speeding. He was drunk but unarmed. Officers responded to King's lack of cooperation by beating him with batons and kicking him repeatedly.
The beating was video-taped by a bystander, which elevated the case to international headlines.
Four of the officers, all white, went to trial. Their acquittal sparked the infamous Southern California riots on April 29, 1992. At least 53 people were killed, more than 2,000 were injured and more than $1 billion in property was damaged or destroyed.
King reflected in an interview with The Press-Enterprise in early April on how his lawyers handed him a four-page statement to read at a news conference. It was 1992, two days after the beginning of the disturbances that began when four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of beating him.
But instead of reading the statement, King improvised.
"I spoke from my heart, you know," King said. "I felt there was a need to say something from the heart."
King moved to Inland Southern California from Los Angeles County in 1999 to escape some of the continued attention.
"At the time, I felt a little too much heat," he said. "The smoke hadn't cleared in Los Angeles for me. I thought it would be more comfortable for me to be in the IE."
Recently, King said he supported himself in part by doing handyman and construction work. He's also made money on reality-TV appearances, including "Celebrity Rehab."
The headlines that followed King during his 13 years in the Inland area generally had not been complimentary. He wasn arrested several times, including for driving under the influence and domestic violence.
In the latest case, he pleaded guilty in February to reckless driving after he was pulled over in Moreno Valley.
King acknowledged his mistakes. He wrote about them in his book, "The Riot Within," which was released in April.
He said his days of drinking heavily were over — although he said he hadn't quit alcohol entirely.
"I sip now," said King, whose father was an alcoholic. "I'm not guzzling drinks anymore. No one knows the future, but I sure feel comfortable where I am today with myself."
Staff writer David Olson, firstname.lastname@example.org, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.