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Race and Rage: The Beating of Rodney King

Aired March 4, 2011 - 20:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think when you see it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay alive. I know that I had to survive this. I went like that with my hands up, no threat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a lynching on video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendants --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the verdicts lit a match. It was already in place and very dry.

LEMON: Are you able to forgive those guys? Have you let those demons go? Did you hang on to that money, or did you throw it away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we all get along? Can we get along?


LEMON: March 3, 1991, 25-year-old Rodney King is thrust from obscurity to a national symbol of police brutality. The brutal beating that took place here along Foothill Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, would reverberate across the country.


LEMON (voice-over): A city in flames. Entire neighborhood burned to the ground. Now two decades later, what's it like to be the man whose beating seen around the world ignited one of the worst race riots in U.S. history?

Rodney King, now 45, usually begins his day on a skateboard. The exercise he says keeps his muscles from stiffening, one side effect from all his injuries. But skateboarding also brings him peace from a haunting past and the demons he's battled for the last 20 years.


LEMON: Do you still have nightmares?

RODNEY KING: Yes. Yes. I do.

LEMON: What's the nightmare? Do you wake up like -

KING: Tossing and turning. Sometimes even hearing the voices, you know, that was going on that night, you know. Hands behind your back. Lay down. Get down! Get down! Get down, you f-ing -- those words, you know.

So I have to wake up and -- it's all right. Look outside. It's all green and blue. That time has passed on but the nightmares and memories are still there, you know.

LEMON: So take me back to that night 20 years ago. You were driving along, in your Hyundai.

KING: We were coming from a friend of mine's house.


LEMON (voice-over): King's nightmare begins just after midnight. He and two friends out celebrating head west on the 210 Freeway.


KING: I just got word that my old construction company had called me to come back to work that following Monday.


LEMON: But the celebration is cut short. State police clock King's car going 110 miles per hour. They immediately start a nearly eight-mile high-speed chase through L.A. neighborhoods.


LEMON: King has always maintained he may have been speeding, but only a little. However, in this rare interview, he sets the record straight.

KING: I was doing 100. I did every bit of 100, and I'm not proud of it.

LEMON: Why didn't you stop?

KING: Because I had a job to go to that Monday, and I knew I was on parole. And I knew I wasn't supposed to be drinking. I'm like, my God.


LEMON (voice-over): Following our interview, Rodney King agrees to relive those terrifying moments by taking me back to the scene.

KING: Coming down the 210 --

LEMON: As we retrace his steps, we discuss those split-second decisions. KING: My mind was rattling. Either I can get off and go over here to my ex-wife's house because her daddy is a San Bernardino retired police. This time I'm thinking where can I go. I exit here on Paxton.

LEMON (on camera): So when you exited here, were they behind you?

KING: No, they were nowhere in sight. When I came to this light right here, that's when I noticed the helicopter. He was way if fronts of me with lights -- in front of me with lights beaming down across the street. My heart is -- my body's hot, and I'm scared. Nervous. I knew it was going to be pretty much a beating for running from them at that point.

LEMON: Where did you pull over?

KING: I've seen all those apartments over there. So I said, man, I'm going to stop right here. If it goes down, somebody will see it.

LEMON (voice-over): Once he stops, they are surrounded by police. King's two friends are arrested without incident, but Rodney King would have a much different fate.

KING: When I opened the door, she said, take three steps back away from the car, which I did that. I took three steps back. When I took the three steps back, said lay down. I laid down like this.

And my face of facing this way, so I could see them. And they said, no, put your f f-ing head down. Took the blow, bam, real hard blow to the temple.

LEMON (on camera): What were they saying to you?

KING: We're going to kill you. We're going to kill you. I looked for clearance, blocking, looking for clearance. When he did that, I stood and went up like that, I run this way with my hands up. Showed no threat and that's when I didn't know but my leg was broke.

LEMON (voice-over): Look closely at the beginning of this unedited version of the video. You can see King does try to get up and run. He appears to lift his arms before falling to the ground. It's this portion of the video that later impacts the jury's decision.

KING: Blood was gushing down the street. Death -- death wasn't far away.

LEMON (on camera): What is it like coming here and getting down on the street and reliving this again?

KING: I can't believe I'm alive to get down there. I can't believe I'm alive today.

LEMON (voice-over): King says the chase and the beating lasted combined 15 minutes, 15 minutes of hell. He sustains more than 50 baton blows and shocks by a taser gun.

But it's not over. Somehow he has to find the strength to survive. As the ambulance rushes him to a nearby hospital, he begins to find it more and more difficult to breathe.

KING: I was -- blowing the blood out of my sinuses and out of my mouth so I could breathe.

LEMON: King's injuries which include 11 fractures are too severe to be treated at Pacifica Hospital. So he has to be rushed to the trauma unit at USC Medical Center. His initial surgery takes three doctors working five hours straight to keep him alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was incredible how many fractures there were.

LEMON: In a CNN interview in 1994, the ophthalmologist who treated King said some bones were so pulverized they were like grains of sand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're surprised that he actually was alive.


LEMON: When you finally woke up, do you remember the first time you saw your reflection?

KING: Yes. I just started crying when I looked at myself. I was like -- will I ever look normal again.


LEMON (voice-over): In severe pain and depressed by the possibility of more jail time, King knows he has to tell his side of the story. But who would believe him? There is no evidence or so he thinks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is history. This is history. We finally caught the Loch Ness monster with a camcorder.

LEMON: Coming up, a city explodes in rage. And later, Rodney King, a life haunted by demons.


LEMON: Do you still have issues when it comes to addiction?


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEMON (voice-over): Still in the hospital, Rodney King thinks he's just another unknown victim of police brutality. Little does he know his arrest and brutal beating are captured on video by George Holliday who lived in the apartment across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just amazed at what was happening. The feeling of what the hell could he be doing? Could he have done to deserve such punishment?

LEMON: Two days after the beating, the video is broadcast around the world. Instantly, Rodney King's name becomes a battle cry against injustice. The officers' actions are exposed. King has his evidence, but he has no idea until a nurse tells him.


KING: She said, "just stay still, just stay still, baby, you're in bad shape. We've seen it all on tape." She said, "just get yourself well, and get out of here."

LEMON: When she said, "I saw it on tape," were you like, my gosh, now there's evidence. Now they're going to see. Did you - did that go through your head?

KING: Yes, I said to myself at least it's on tape, maybe I got a chance, maybe I got a chance.


LEMON: The video ignites a firestorm of outrage. Rodney King is released without being charged. Milton Grimes was one of King's attorneys.

MILTON GRIMES, RODNEY KING'S ATTORNEY: I saw it on TV, and I'm saying, they have got to stop beating our brothers like that in South Africa because I just imagined it was out of the country.

LEMON: As Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley launches an investigation, so does the FBI. Even the president demands answers.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It was sickening to see the beating that was rendered. There's no way in my view to explain that away. It was outrageous.

LEMON: L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks was a deputy police chief in 1991. He says the tape confirmed what many in the black community already felt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the symbolism of that video created is it validated in the minds of thousands of people that this is the way police work has been done and was done for decades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We finally caught the Loch Ness monster with a camcorder.

LEMON: The district attorney for L.A. County moves quickly, indictments are announced.

IRA REINER, L.A. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: LAPD Officer Laurence Powell, Timothy Winn, Theodore Bresino, and Sergeant Stacey Koon have been indicted for assault with a deadly weapon.

LEMON: But racial tensions continue to mount. There is so much publicity and anger, the officers' trial is moved out of L.A. to the predominantly white community of Simi Valley. Author and journalist Lou Canon covered the Rodney King controversy for the "Washington Post."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was very concerned about what was going to happen both because of the demographics of Simi Valley and the demographics of the jury.

LEMON: February 3, 1992, exactly 11 months after Rodney King's controversial arrest, the trial of the four white officers charged in the beating gets underway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Immediately after this incident, you made a call for a rescue ambulance, didn't you?


LEMON: Armed with the videotape as a star witness, Rodney King feels a conviction is all but certain and justice will be served.

KING: I just knew it was going to be served. I didn't think I need a Johnnie Cochran or somebody to fight that case to win the case because there were cameras.

LEMON: But will a jury of ten whites, one Hispanic, one Filipino-American, and no blacks agree? Nearly three months into the trial, a hushed court room anxiously awaits the verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant, Stacy C. Koon, not guilty.

LEMON: Three of the officers are acquitted of all charges, but the jury is hopelessly deadlocked on one charge of excessive force against Laurence Powell. A mistrial is declared on that charge.

OFFICER LAURENCE POWELL, LOS ANGELES POLICE: It's hard to be surprised when you felt that way the whole way. You're hoping for the right decision, and because I know I'm innocent, and that was the verdict.

LEMON: Powell's attorney, Michael Stone, says in the end the unedited video worked against King and helped prove the officers' case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the nation only saw a few snippets, where it's the most violent. They didn't see Rodney King on the ground. They didn't see him get up and run at Powell.

LEMON (on camera): Why do you think the jurors came to a not guilty verdict?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the use of force case, if the officers do what they're trained to do, how can you find him guilty of a crime? And the jury understood that. That Rodney King was always the aggressor. Rodney King had the ability at any time to say that's it, I don't want anymore, and he never did.


LEMON: What was your initial reaction when you heard not guilty, not guilty, not guilty, not guilty?

KING: The public was not going to accept it.


LEMON (voice-over): And King was right. This is the reaction just outside the courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up! Back up!

LEMON: Sheriff's deputies having to protect Sergeant Stacey Koon as he makes his way to his car. Movie director John Singleton is in the crowd and makes a chilling prediction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened with this verdict, what these people done is lit a fuse to a bomb.

LEMON: Within just two hours after the verdict, downtown Los Angeles is a war zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, you know, if I was 20 years younger and had some new tennis shoes I would be in the streets tonight. This was a lynching on video.

LEMON: Looters go on a rampage. Innocent people are randomly attacked.


LEMON: White truck driver Reginald Denny just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hasn't heard about the riots when he exits the interstate. Within minutes, Denny is attacked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My right window broke, and that time I was extremely frightened. It's a strange feeling to be scared I guess.

LEMON: That's all Denny can remember about the beating, but Bobby Green will never forget it. Green, a fellow trucker, sees the attack on television and rushes to the scene nearly three miles away. When he arrives, he finds Denny, back in his truck, trying to drive himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Already inside the truck, trying to drive the truck himself. I pushed him over to the other seat and told him I'm here to save his life.

LEMON: Green drives Denny's truck to the hospital arriving just in time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt in my heart that I saved another human being.

LEMON: Bobby Green is just one of many heroes that day. Despite all the calls for calm, the rioting continues. The president deploys federal troops.

BUSH: And let me assure you, I will use whatever force is necessary to restore order.

LEMON: But as the city burns around them, some business owners will take matters into their own hands.



LEMON (voice-over): As flames spread across wide sections of the city, Rodney King remained secluded, but stunned by the magnitude of destruction.


LEMON: Did you anticipate the level of violence that would happen?

KING: Not on that scale. But we were -- we were told that like a couple of days before, you know, be careful and stay home.


LEMON (voice-over): Entire neighborhoods are reduced to rubble. By the end of the first day of rioting, 12 people have already been killed. While much of the looting is random and the perpetrators are as diverse as the city itself, Radio Korea broadcaster Richard Choi notices a disturbing pattern.

RICHARD CHOI, JOURNALIST: We received a lot of phone calls from the Korean merchant in south L.A. what's going on here? What's going on here?

LEMON: Choi says callers are telling him Korean-American-owned businesses are being specifically targeted. And while their pleas for help seem to be ignored, their property is ransacked by roving bands of looters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish whole thing was a joke. Something like a dream that I could wake up from.

CHOI: When I watched the TV monitor, is this America? We came this country to have some kind of -- establish some American dream. So this is American dream here?

LEMON (on camera): Were those grocers valid in that saying you ignored their pleas for help?

BERNARD PARKS, LAPD DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF (1988 - 1992): They were valid in that they weren't ignored. There were no resources to go to the locations. I think many thousands felt they were ignored. There just weren't enough officers.

LEMON (voice-over): Long before the riots, tensions had been simmering between some black resident and the Korean-American merchants. There was a language barrier, there wasn't understanding. There was gruff treatment. There was poor communication skills.

(on camera): If those people are citizens and law-abiding citizen, can't they open stores in whatever communities they want?

PARKS: They were providing a service, but that personal relationship was missing.

LEMON (voice-over): Those simmering racial tensions ignited after the Rodney King verdict. As billowing smoke moves closer to the financial center of Korea Town, Attorney David Kemp urges merchants to take action.

(on camera): Do you believe the LAPD abandoned the Korean- American shop owners during that time?

DAVID KIM, ATTORNEY: When I saw that the LAPD did not get their act together on the second day and they were telling Korean-American merchants in Korea Town to evacuate, that's when I told them to defend themselves.

LEMON (voice-over): KABC Television captures these men apparently taking matters into their own hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Koreans are starting to shoot us.

LEMON: By defending themselves, Kim says Korea Town became a buffer zone in the battle to prevent the loss of more lives and property.

LOU CANNON, JOURNALIST: The fact that Korea Town itself was largely unscathed, I think -- I think you'd have to credit the people there, particularly the merchants who were armed and defended their property.

LEMON: As the riots enter a fourth day, the man at the center of the storm emerges from obscurity his voice visibly shaken. King speaks to the world.

KING: People -- I just want to say, you know, can we -- can we all get along? Can we get along?


LEMON: Did you feel compelled to come out and say what you said?

KING: After the first -- can't we all just get along because I'm exhausted, and I'm tired of seeing the same hateful thing go on in our country.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And also Mayor Tom Bradley, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley extending the curfew area in the city of Los Angeles. LEMON (voice-over): It takes six days to restore order. The damage is staggering. Fifty five people lost their lives, another 2,000 are injured. Property damages exceed $1 billion. One week later, President Bush makes a personal visit to Korea Town to ease tensions.

KIM: It helped the Korean-Americans because they felt like the system had abandoned them. I think that it -- it at least helped them heal their wounds.

LEMON: The events that unfold after the jury's verdict present a watershed moment in the history of race relations across the country. But in L.A., those relations are soon tested again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't say that!

LEMON: As another trial keeps the city on edge.



ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, I'm Isha Sesay with a check of the latest headlines.

Humanitarian supplies from the United States are beginning to arrive in Tunisia to help the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Libya every day. Two American C-130 cargo planes have been dispatched. The first one landed earlier today.

A woman testified today in the reckless manslaughter trial of the leader of an Arizona sweat lodge ritual where three people died in 2009. The woman says she warned James Arthur Ray twice that she was worried about the condition of a fellow participant and that Ray dismissed her concerns.

As protests continue over Wisconsin's controversial budget bill, a spokesman says Governor Scott Walker has issued union layoff notices that could take effect April 1st. Walker has warned that 1,500 state workers could be laid off unless 14 lawmakers return to the state capitol to vote on the bill.

And he may have lost his job and his kids, but Charlie Sheen gained a million Twitter followers in just 25 hours, and that is a world record. Now his dubious popularity is spilling over to others. Sheen posted a picture of himself holding a bottle of chocolate milk from a family-run dairy in California. Now the dairy says it's been inundated with phone calls.

Don't miss Piers Morgan's interview with Charlie Sheen coming up at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Right now, back to CNN presents "Race and Rage: The Beating of Rodney King."


LEMON (voice-over): A city on edge. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, this is -- we are ready, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The LAPD says as violence breaks out here in L.A., it will be ready.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You take to the streets, you will give the police the legal right to kill you.

LEMON: Nearly a year after riots and rage rocked Los Angeles, L.A. braces itself for the outcome of a second trial. Under pressure from President Bush, the Department of Justice files federal charges against the four police officers acquitted in Simi Valley. The question at the heart of this case -- were Rodney King's civil rights violated?

LOU CANNON, JOURNALIST: There was a palpable tension, even downtown at the Roybal Building where this trial was held.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have tried to go along with minorities --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't say that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep my people in slavery --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't say that --

LEMON: There are noticeable differences between the two trials. This one would take place in downtown Los Angeles. And Rodney King would take the witness stand. Prosecutors intentionally kept King out of the courtroom for the first trial.

RODNEY KING: They thought I was going to go crazy and act the fool on stage. It wasn't about that. I just wanted to get up here and testify and just tell the truth.

LEMON: Another difference -- this time there are two African- American jurors. Journalist Lou Cannon says the fear of riots loomed.

CANNON: These jurors, they were from Southern California. They were scared.

LEMON: Defense Attorney Michael Stone admits the climate hurt his case.

MICHAEL STONE, LAURENCE POWELL'S ATTORNEY: There was no way in the world that any jury would acquit all of the defendants again.

LEMON (on camera): Are you saying that you walked into a courtroom with a client who you believed had no chance?

STONE: Pretty much so, yes.

KING: I was so positive and knew in my heart that I'm not even worried about it. If they don't call me, we're still going win. LEMON (voice-over): Rodney King takes the witness stand and testifies that racial epithets were used during the beating. His testimony would spark a war of words between the legal teams.

MILTON GRIMES, RODNEY KING'S ATTORNEY: Mike Stone knows that the word "nigger" was used.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did your client ever used the word nigger?

STONE: Absolutely not. No one out there did.

GRIMES: And as he's lying prone, he says someone said, "and we're going to kill you." And that's when you see him getting up.

STONE: He is still willing to stand up in this courtroom before a jury and say they said the word "nigger" and then say, well, maybe it was killer. I'm not sure.

LEMON: Laurence Powell, accused of making the racial slur, also disputed King's testimony.

LAURENCE POWELL: Rodney King is no doubt a liar. The evidence bears that out.

LEMON (on camera): First you said it wasn't racial, then you said it was. And then you said you heard the n-word, and then you said you didn't.

KING: Oh, no. I heard it. But my mom said, whatever you do don't say it was racism. So I respected her for that at that time. I know that hurt her.

LEMON (voice-over): After 45 days, the federal trial ends.

POWELL: I think we will be acquitted. And but that one percent, you know, that we might not be is real worrisome.

LEMON: On the sixth day of deliberations, the jury reaches a verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We, the jury, find the defendant, Stacey C. Koon guilty.


STONE: I had my arm on Larry Powell's shoulder, and I leaned over to him, and I said, "We're going down, bud."

LEMON (on camera): And what was his reaction?

STONE: He tensed. He tensed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We, the jury, in the above entitled cause find the defendant guilty

(CHEERING) LEMON (voice-over): Two out of the four officers are found guilty.

KING: It was like, God, damn, I just hope we just get one. I hope we just get one on that. If we get one, we're good. So to get the two I was really happy.

LEMON: Sergeant Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell were both sentenced to 2 1/2 years in federal prison. The verdict seemed to satisfy the community. No riots erupted.

(on camera): It was here at the Roybal Federal Building where guilty verdicts gave Rodney King the justice he was looking for. But one more trial was still to come.

(voice-over): Rodney King's lawsuit would determine how much money if any he received for his injuries. King's civil suit against the city of Los Angeles was his third trial in three years.

CYNTHIA KELLEY, JUROR: I fit this profile of the conservative African-American.

LEMON: Cynthia Kelley, the only African-American juror during the civil suit, says the jury deliberations were contentious.

KELLEY: Half of them had no sympathy whatsoever. They did not care at all. They just didn't care. Like he broke the law, he deserved what he got.

LEMON (on camera): And what do you think of that?

KELLEY: I told them they were crazy. No one deserves to get beat like that.

LEMON (voice-over): The jury eventually sided with Kelley and awarded Rodney King $3.8 million.

KING: So many people have been through what I went through, and I just happened to be first in line to -- for it to get recognized and people to say, hey, we're not taking the shit no more. We're through.

LEMON: Up next, Rodney King's battle to put the beating behind him.

(on camera): Are you able to forgive those cops?



PROTESTERS: We want justice. We want justice. We want justice.

LEMON (voice-over): The Rodney King beating ignited L.A.'s simmering racial tension. And one message came through loud and clear -- reforms had to be made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not going out in the '90s like we did in the '60s. We want justice, and we want it now!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want it now!

CANNON: The main impact of the Rodney King case is that it accelerated change. The LAPD-style of policing which was lean, mean, no time for the community policing, that had to change.

BERNARD PARKS, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILMAN: It was only five blacks in my class of '85.

LEMON: Former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks says he recognized the department's top officers needed to be as diverse as the city.

PARKS: When I was the chief, promoted to first Korean commander. The first Chinese captain, the first Chinese captain is now a deputy chief, the first female deputy chief.

LEMON: Court-mandated reforms also gave the black community a voice in how their neighborhoods are patrolled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, guys. How are you doing?

LEMON: And as a result, according to the Justice Department, complaints of excessive force are down sharply.

PARKS: The community has complained for decades that they couldn't get their complaints considered. They couldn't get one taken. And I changed the system almost the first six months I was in office.

LEMON: Case in point, Parks says investigating complaints and following tips within the black community was crucial in capturing one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history. He was dubbed "the grim sleeper" because he appeared to take a 14-year break between killing sprees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Los Angeles Police Department, robbery/homicide division is here to confirm that we made an arrest.

LEMON: Finally in 2010, Lonnie Franklin Jr. was arrested and charged with the murders of at least 10 black women from neighborhoods hardest hit by the riots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the families, this case is solved because of you. Yes, it was science. Yes, it was good detective work. But it was because of the families.

LEMON (on camera): In the years since the Rodney King beating and riots, there's been a seismic shift in race relations between the LAPD and the black community. And here in Korea Town, most businesses have emerged from the ashes and are thriving again.

(voice-over): Attorney David Kim is trying to find a common thread in history to unify the community.

DAVID KIM, ATTORNEY: African-Americans are the ones who have paved the road for the Korean merchants to come and do business in this country.

LEMON: But even today, the relationship is sometimes tenuous.

KIM: The relationship between African-American and Korean- American community hasn't improved as much as we would like. But I think there is a tolerance that has been built up because of that experience.

LEMON: As for the officers convicted in the Rodney King beating, both Powell and Koon still live in Southern California. They declined our request to be interviewed.

STONE: They've picked up their lives and put them back together.

LEMON (on camera): Do you think the officers if they could do it all over again, would they do anything differently?

STONE: They'd walk away. Let him go.

LEMON: Let him go? Even though he's breaking the law? Why?

STONE: Because, look at what happened to them. Look at what happened to them. Why would they want that to happen again to them or to anyone?

GRIMES: I think Mr. King has told the truth.

LEMON (voice-over): The King case also had a profound impact on the lawyers who argued the case on opposite sides.

GRIMES: If I was to have been able to write a script for a case, this would have been a script that afforded me an opportunity to be involved in helping our society progress to the point of peace and civilization.

STONE: It's all how the jury looks at it.

History has recorded that Rodney King incident as a racist beating of a black man by four white police officers, and that's really tragic. I failed in my singular mission I guess to change minds about that case.

LEMON: As for the LAPD, Bernard Parks says the culture within the department has changed. But it remains a work in progress.

PARKS: I think it's an evolving process that everybody works at every day. And when there's a misstep, you try to correct it. You don't try to slough it off. You don't try to ignore it. You have to move forward and see how you can make it better.

LEMON: For Rodney King, the vicious beating never seems to fade from memory.

(on camera): Do you think the relationship now is better between the black community and the LAPD? KING: I will say it has improved. It is -- it has gotten better, yes. But it just don't stop there. You have to keep working on it.

LEMON (voice-over): Coming up, Rodney King, 20 years later.

(on camera): Do you still have issues when it comes to addiction? Did you hang on to that money, or did you throw it away? Are you able to forgive those cops?

(voice-over): And a surprising twist in his personal life.




LEMON (voice-over): In the 20 years since Los Angeles was turned upside down, the city still faces its share of challenges.

PARKS: We have 100, and what, 40 languages spoken in the city of L.A. It's impossible for any one human being to understand every culture. Every day is a challenge because of the dynamics.

LEMON: But the riots still haunt some who were at the center of the unrest.

BOBBY GREEN, SAVED REGINALD DENNY: I always have flashback when I come here. I feel sorry. I feel regret.

LEMON: Bobby Green who risked his life to save Reginald Denny left Los Angeles shortly after the riots.

GREEN: Have no reason to come back to L.A. Give me a bad vibe. I think about what happened back in the '90s, the riots. It's a bad vibe for me.

LEMON: Green now lives an hour away in Rialto, California. Ironically, one of his suburban neighbors is Rodney King. King's working class neighborhood has a postcard view of the San Gabriel mountains. He has a modest home, with a back yard pool.

Today, King is a father of three and has two grandchildren. He's 20 years older and, according to him, a lot wiser. King admits his past is riddled with bad decisions.

(on camera): If you could do it all over again, what would you do? Would you go out that night? Would you --

KING: I would have stayed home. I think I would have stayed home.

LEMON (voice-over): For years after the beating, Rodney King continued to have run-ins with the law. In 1996, he was sentenced to 90 days for a hit and run involving his wife. He was also arrested several times on charges related to domestic abuse, drug intoxication, and indecent exposure.

(on camera): Why after all that, that's what people would say -- especially black people. Why after all that, Rodney, are you still getting in trouble?

KING: I guess the trouble that they see me in is a part of my life that I'm working on.

LEMON (voice-over): King's admitted alcoholism and personal problems also caused him to virtually squander his share of the settlement, worth, according to him, $1.5 million. He purchased homes for himself and his mother, but what did he do with the rest of the money?

(on camera): Did you hang on to that money or did you throw it away?

KING: I get that shot again, we all know how money can come and can go. I mean, save, save, save for tomorrow.

LEMON: You're telling me it's gone.

KING: Pretty much, pretty much.

LEMON (voice-over): And 20 years later, Rodney King still lives in fear.

(on camera): Years after the beating, you wore a vest?

KING: Oh, yes.

LEMON: Do you still wear a vest?

KING: Yes, I do. I do.

LEMON (voice-over): He wears a bulletproof vest in large crowds because threats against his life were all too real. The FBI once infiltrated a white supremacist plot to assassinate King.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you constantly looking over your shoulder?

KING: You know, I never feel safe. You know, these things that happened.

When you are part of history and it change for the better, you got a lot of devilish people out there that don't like it.

LEMON: And King continues to battle his demons. In 2008, after several stints in rehab, he turned to psychiatrist Dr. Drew Pinsky, appearing on VH-1 "Celebrity Rehab."

Dr. DREW PINSKY, PSYCHIATRIST: We're going to have a lot of feeling, a lot of anger, and a lot of -- God knows what.

KING: It's with me. But I just -- you know, I don't bring it up unless it's --

PINSKY: Well, tell me about it.

LEMON: King now admits alcoholism is a life-long battle that is far from over.

KING: I'll always have an issue when it comes to alcohol. Well, my dad was alcoholic. The addiction part is in my blood. What I've learned to do is arrest my addiction, arrested myself, so I don't get arrested.

LEMON: He says he's finally able to keep many of his demons at bay. He's even fallen in love.

KING: She's a nice, friendly person.

LEMON: Remember Cynthia Kelley? One of the jurors from King's civil suit? In a strange twist, the two are now engaged.

(on camera): Do you feel like you owe her in some way?

KING: No. Not at all.


LEMON (on camera): I do.

KING: I don't.

LEMON (voice-over): King and Kelley formed a friendship immediately after the trial. They would decide to marry 16 years later.

(on camera): What are you guys looking forward to together?

KING: Well, I know one thing -- she cooks good.

KELLEY: Yes, this is the fish.

KING: Oh, you put it in the batter.

LEMON: How do you describe the strange twist of affairs?

KELLEY: It's just the chemistry. We get along, we have fun. We laugh. We have the same, you know, things we like to do. And it's just happened.

LEMON (voice-over): But Kelley realizes there are still serious challenges ahead.

KELLEY: When he sleeps -- oh, my, he has so many nightmares and fighting in his sleep.

LEMON (on camera): You're his rock.

KELLEY: As long as he don't break it. LEMON: How could you love someone like Rodney King?

KELLEY: He's a lovable type of guy. He's like a little teddy bear.

LEMON (voice-over): Two decades after the beating that made him a household name, Rodney King says the mistakes of his past have taught him some tough lessons. A history he does not want to repeat.

(on camera): When Rodney King had the blood on his face, that mug shot of you with the blood on your face, who is he then?

KING: Oh, man. A guy that was almost dead and just like happy to be able to still have that face -- to be able to see that face.

LEMON: And Rodney King now? All cleaned up, trimmed goatee, beads around his neck. Who is Rodney King now?

KING: I consider myself a decent, you know, good human being.

LEMON: Are you able to forgive those cops?

KING: Oh, yes. I've been given a break many times in life. Everybody's entitled to a break, you know? I didn't die, you know what I mean?

LEMON: No animosity?

KING: No. No way.