Timothy Goldman was thinking nonstop about the verdicts in the Rodney G. King case last Wednesday when he gathered up his new video camera and headed for the intersection where rioting is said to have started.
The 32-year-old amateur photographer's dramatic footage taken at Florence and Normandie avenues caught Los Angeles police officers apparently fleeing in the face of an angry crowd, which then attacked and beat passing motorists, looted stores and set fires.
"I didn't know it would escalate like it did," Goldman said in an interview Tuesday. "I was just probably in the wrong place at the right time."
Goldman's tape, along with footage shot by two other South Los Angeles residents, may be the most complete record of the early frantic hours of the melee. The ABC television network purchased the combined tapes for an undisclosed sum and aired a portion of them on news programs Tuesday night.
Only Goldman agreed to speak about his experiences. The other two, he said, want to remain anonymous.
The South Los Angeles resident said he was dumbfounded by the behavior of LAPD officers he saw "literally running to their vehicles to get away" from the shouting, shoving crowd before the rioting began.
The often clumsily filmed tapes surfaced Monday. Goldman had ventured out with his camera again Thursday and met a USC student, Gregory Sandoval, who was writing a story for his school paper. Goldman told Sandoval about the tapes he and his friend had filmed, and later about the third tape. Sandoval became their agent to sell the footage.
A black man who spent much of his youth in South Los Angeles, Goldman said he had only returned to the area in the past year. Before that, he said, he had spent 8 1/2 years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of captain.
A graduate of Palisades High School and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., Goldman said he had been "taking a break" since leaving the Air Force, living on savings. Separated from his wife, he lives with his mother, who is a teacher, and his 6-year-old son. He hopes eventually to find work with an airline company.
Goldman was at first sympathetic to the anger voiced by the crowd, he said, and even to some of the violence he witnessed. But as time passed, Goldman said, he became dismayed and tried at one point to dissuade some people he recognized from looting, imploring them, "Be cool, it's not worth it."
Goldman taped several beatings, including that of Reginald O. Denny, who was yanked from the cab of his 18-wheeler and nearly killed.
Last Wednesday afternoon, he was riding in a friend's car, reacting to the news of the verdicts "in disbelief," he said.
The friend's car was equipped with a police scanner. "We heard on the police scanner, 'Officer needs assistance,' " Goldman said. Goldman had his RCA Camcorder with him, and so did his friend, so they headed for the corner of Florence and Normandie.
They arrived to find about 40 police officers near the Payless Liquor store, Goldman said. "I was able to see the police wrestling with an individual. It took three or four guys just to put one guy in a (police) car."
The arrest seemed to inflame the crowd of about 100 people, he said. "There were some bottles, cans and sticks being thrown. It wasn't fighting and punching, none of that. It was just a lot of angry people out there."
As he taped, Goldman recalled, "I was just watching what was going on, (thinking) the city had it coming with that verdict. I didn't have any regrets that some of it was taking place because I grew up with most of these people. I know how they feel. We're a bit tired of the LAPD."
Then a police official, using a megaphone, called out: "It's not worth it. Let's go!" Goldman said he was surprised. Goldman said he assumed the police would soon return, armed with riot gear. "But they never did come back."
Almost immediately, the crowd turned on Anglo and Latino motorists caught in the intersection. Goldman taped angry men and women throwing rocks and bottles at cars.
Finally, the effect of watching the violence drove him away. "I don't like to see bloody bodies, or people getting beat up," he said. After three hours at the scene, "I was walking westbound on Florence. I filmed another accident, and then I saw another guy laying on the street. I don't know how he got there. I was just too sick to go see anything else. I turned the camera off, and I just walked home."