The rioting erupted at Florence and Normandie avenues while Gates was attending a Brentwood function to raise funds in opposition to a police-reform ballot measure. Several hours passed before he returned to take charge, and by then his officers were in full retreat. By the time order was restored two days later, with an assist from the National Guard, at least 53 people had died.
On June 28, 1992, Gates finally stepped down, ending weeks of suspense. His departure was engineered by City Council President John Ferraro, although Gates insisted the decision was his alone.
In the months that followed, King, who had been on parole for armed robbery and whose life continued to be plagued by run-ins with police for drug violations and other offenses, was awarded $3.8 million from the city as compensation.
The four officers acquitted in Simi Valley were retried in federal court on charges of violating King's civil rights. Two were convicted and served prison terms.
In his post-LAPD years, Gates had a 15-month stint as a talk-show host on KFI-AM (640), surprising former adversaries with his mild manner. He also worked as a security consultant and had a few cameo roles in films.
When the chief's job became available in 1997, he sent an electronic message to the city's executive search firm indicating his interest.
"I did it just to get their juices going," Gates later explained, adding: "I'm not sure I could get one vote."
He was probably right about that. His refusal to give up the job during the King episode ultimately led to new provisions in the City Charter that gave the mayor and the Police Commission the power to select -- and remove -- the chief, who now has a term limit.
Along with civilian oversight, the drive to overhaul the LAPD provided an ironic last chapter in his legacy. A department assailed for an insular culture that tolerated racist officers entered a new era of accountability. Of the four chiefs who followed him, two have been African American. Citizen complaints received more thorough review in a new system that, to the consternation of many officers, left few gripes unexamined. And the concept of policing in partnership with the community -- a concept fostered by Chief Davis, implemented by then-Assistant Chief Gates and later gutted by Chief Gates -- returned as a centerpiece of the department's operations.
Gates' survivors include a son, Scott; two daughters, Debby and Kathy; a brother, retired LAPD Capt. Stephen Gates; and a number of grandchildren. Memorial services are pending.
Times staff writer Hector Becerra contributed to this story.
Malnic is a former Times staff writer.