From the Archives: Rodney King: ‘Truth will come out’

Rodney King shows the bruises he sustained at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers. A citizen with a video camera, George Holliday, had recorded from his balcony the prolonged beating of King by four white police officers.

Rodney King shows the bruises he sustained at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers. A citizen with a video camera, George Holliday, had recorded from his balcony the prolonged beating of King by four white police officers.

(KEVORK DJANSEZIAN / Associated Press)

In his first interview since his beating captured national attention, Rodney G. King told The Times on Friday he was outraged by the not guilty verdicts given to four Los Angeles officers charged in the attack, but remains confident that “the truth will win out and there will be another judgment day.”

The 26-year-old former construction worker had harsh words about the Simi Valley jury whose decision triggered widespread rioting, looting and killing in Los Angeles, finding it unbelievable that they were not swayed by a videotape taken of his March 3, 1991, beating.

“I’d hate to see them on someone else’s jury trial,” he said in the hourlong interview that preceded a brief public statement to other media. “They should be dismissed from any jury trial.”


He also spoke bitterly about the four officers in the case, accusing them of perjury on the stand and describing one, Sgt. Stacey C. Koon, as “very vicious.”

Speaking slowly and softly while nervously rubbing his fingers during the interview, King said he is extremely uncomfortable with his vaulted stature as a national symbol against police misconduct.

He shuddered when it was noted that his name has been chanted in street protests not only here, but across the nation. He cannot fathom that he has been constantly mentioned by the nation’s leaders, as it was Friday night in a televised address by President Bush.

“I feel paralyzed,” he said, describing sleepless nights and nightmares that cause him to burst from his bed confused and angry. “I feel paralyzed all over.”

He also said:

* This week’s civil unrest has made him more reclusive. King has been afraid to go outside since he was placed in seclusion after the beating in Lake View Terrace. “There’s no need for people to be going crazy like they are,” he said. “It bothers me. I stay in the house. I don’t leave the house anymore.”

* Police Chief Daryl F. Gates should hold to his pledge to retire next month because “he’s certainly not any good” for the Los Angeles Police Department or the city, and Chief-designate Willie L. Williams, because he is an outsider and a black, must rejuvenate a beleaguered department. “I’m not here to figure out their problems; let the new chief do that,” he said. “But he must serve the people the best way he can while we’re all still here on this Earth.”

* The four officers who stood trial “may have won the battle but the war’s not over.” He predicted that federal officials who have reactivated a civil rights case will bring them once again to trial, and that his federal civil rights lawsuit will prevail. “They will be judged,” he added, suggesting that the ultimate verdict lies in God’s hands. “We all have a report card waiting for us up there in the sky.”

* He hopes to become more involved in religion and to someday go to college, saying, “I want to get myself straightened out.” He wants to work rehabilitating other ex-convicts like himself. Describing himself as someone who loves open, green spaces, he said he wants to find them jobs as landscapers and lawn keepers.

The interview was conducted Friday afternoon in the second-floor office suite of his Beverly Hills attorney, Steven A. Lerman. Outside, hundreds of reporters were gathering to hear King make the public statement in which he deplored the street riots and urged calm.

Halfway through the interview, Lerman took a phone call from Mayor Tom Bradley’s staff, asking for assurances that King would not say or do anything that might be construed as furthering the racial and violent tensions that have spilled out on Los Angeles’ streets.

Afterward, wearing a blue sweater, blue shirt, blue tie and blue slacks, he stepped into the swarm of reporters. Nervous and barely audible, his voice lost at times to the blasting sounds of helicopter rotors overhead, King termed the rioting “not right. It’s not right and it’s not going to change anything.”

He sadly mentioned the tragic story of a security guard killed during the riots. “We can get along here,” he implored. “We’ve just got to, just got to. We’re all stuck here for awhile. . . . Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to work it out.”

With that, he was escorted back into the safety of his attorney’s office.

During The Times interview, he said the physical wounds he suffered in his beating, which included numerous broken bones in his face and leg, are almost healed. But he expressed continuing confusion and bewilderment over the events that have swept not only his life, but that of Los Angeles. And there was lingering anger about the four officers seen surrounding him with batons, black boots and an electric Taser gun on the 81-second videotape shot in Lake View Terrace.

He said Officer Laurence M. Powell--who may be retried on one count of excessive force--committed perjury when he testified that King was combative and resisted arrest.

“I feel hurt, hurt, very hurt,” King said. “He was saying they tried everything to keep this guy down. But Powell was lying. Ha! Powell lied from the time he stepped on the stand. Each one of them lied.”

Koon, the supervisor at the scene, “is very vicious, very vicious,” King said.

“He’s a killer. And the reason why he is a killer is because every time he would say, ‘Get down!’ he’d turn the Taser up. Every time he would say, ‘Get down!’ he’d turn the juice up.

“It felt like I had no control over myself. I tried to tighten up to take a little of the pain away, to tighten up my muscles.”

He accused Officer Timothy E. Wind, along with Powell, of hurling racial epithets. He said the name-calling is discernible on the videotape, although prosecutors have said they could not hear it. And he suggested that Wind refused to testify in the trial to avoid being asked about the racial slurs.

“I can’t speak for him because he didn’t take the stand,” King said of Wind. “I couldn’t hear him tell his lies. But if you get up close and play the tape, you can hear him calling me names.”

He said the fourth officer, Theodore J. Briseno, told the truth when he split from the other defendants and said the beating was wrong. But King said Briseno lied when he said he only kicked him once, as seen on the videotape, and suggested that Briseno assaulted him several times before the cameraman began filming.

“He only told half the story,” King said.

He said the four LAPD officers should not only have been found guilty, but should have drawn maximum prison sentences of four to eight years. And he lashed out at the hopes of some of them to keep their jobs as Los Angeles policemen. “It’s a shame they would even think about that,” King said. “They’re killers. They’re murderers. Why should they be allowed to go back?”

He said the force used on him should only apply to “murderers and child molesters,” not himself--a drunk driver that night who had recently been released from prison on a robbery-related conviction.

I thought I was going to die. I thought they were going to beat me to death.

— Rodney King

“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I thought they were going to beat me to death.”

He said that when he is seen rolling on the ground during the beating, he was merely trying to protect himself, and that he was not trying fleeing from custody. “I didn’t care about going to jail for a traffic ticket,” he said.

Why the jurors could not realize that, King did not know. “I just can’t believe that they would believe for one minute that what they saw on the videotape did not happen.”

He said prosecutors made a bad move by not calling him to the witness stand because he wanted to tell his side of the story. Nevertheless, he said, prosecutors “did what they could and I think they did a pretty good job.”

But he was not so kind to Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, who is up for reelection this year. “I don’t care about him one way or the other,” King said. “I could care less about his election.”

But he was gladdened by President Bush’s decision this week to rejuvenate the federal civil rights investigation of the case, and he was impressed by the President’s decision to send federal troops to calm the disturbances. “I really felt good about it because he felt the pain that I felt,” King said. “He’s not a dumb man, I’ll tell you that much.”

At times, he said, his emotional pain has been unbearable.

“If I don’t take my medication, I will have nightmares,” he said. “The other night I got up running . . . and I busted the screen off the sliding glass door and I was on the balcony.

“I mean, I feel real bad. I have headaches all the time. My sheets do not stay on the bed. I have twin mattresses and my wife doesn’t even sleep in the same bed with me.”

He said the beating and its aftermath have been equally painful for his wife, two daughters and two stepdaughters. “They go to school,” he said of his girls, “and everybody always says, ‘Your dad got beat up by the police.’ ”

But he has pleasant memories stemming from his fame, such as a time when a group of youngsters noticed him driving down the street and surrounded his car. “They gave me some hugs,” he said. “And I get letters from all over the world.”

But his fondest memory, and the only one that brought any laughter from King during the interview, was his recollection of an incident two months ago at a Los Angeles gas station. He unexpectedly noticed George Holliday, went up, shook his hand and thanked him for grabbing his video camera and recording the beating that night long ago.

“The guy’s a hero. He’s a real hero. He’s a real man. It took a lot of courage to do what he did,” King said. “And I told him no one would have believed me otherwise.”

Rodney King’s Statement

Here is the text of Rodney G. King’s public statement Friday in which be called for an end to the rioting touched off by the not guilty verdicts Wednesday in the trial of four Los Angeles police officers accused of beating him:

“People, I just want to say . . . can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids? . . . We’ve got enough smog here in Los Angeles, let alone to deal with the setting of these fires and things. It’s just not right. It’s not right, and it’s not going to change anything.

We’ll get our justice. They’ve won the battle but they haven’t won the war. We will have our day in court and that’s all we want. . . . I’m neutral. I love everybody. I love people of color. . . . I’m not like they’re . . . making me out to be.

We’ve got to quit. We’ve got to quit. . . I can understand the first upset in for the first two hours after the verdict, but to go on, to keep going on like this, and to see a the security guard shot on the ground, it’s just not right. It’s just not right because those people will never go home to their families again. And I mean, please, we can get along here. We all can get along. We’ve just got to, just got to. We’re all stuck here for awhile. . . . Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to work it out.”

From Rodney King

Here are excerpts from Rodney G. King’s interview with The Times:

“I just want to let the people know that there’ll be a higher court that this thing will go to. I’m pretty sure that (the four Los Angeles police officers that faced charges in his beating) will find justice, and there’s no need for people to go crazy like they are.” “When I think about what happened, it puts me way back, maybe 150 years even. I can tell you now what it feels like to live on someone’s plantation.” Before his March 3, 1991, beating, “I played sports and loved people. I was very happy.” Today, “I go out and people look at me like I’m some kind of freak or something.” “I used to dream a lot about the incident. But now it gets better, if I take this medication like I’m supposed to. Then it gets better.” “You know, (the officers) tried to beat me to death. So they should get whatever is coming. Whatever the judge would have given them.” “I would want to help people who had law enforcement problems. They’d get up and they’d have a job to go to every morning. All kinds of different jobs. I’d have some of them cleaning up the community. I do love green, seeing that green, seeing green yards. So I’d have some plant trees and clean lawns.”