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CNN Presents

CNN Presents: Race Rage, The Beating of Rodney King

Aired April 29, 2012 - 20:00   ET



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

RODNEY KING: Stay alive. I knew that I had to survive this. I went up like that with my hands up and showed no threat.

MILTON GRIMES, RODNEY KING'S ATTORNEY: This was a lynching on video.

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

LOU CANNON, JOURNALIST: I think the verdicts lit a match. But the tinder was already in place and very dry.

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

KING: Can we -- can we all get along? Can we -- can we get along?


LEMON: March 3rd, 1991. Twenty-five-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 neighborhoods burned to the ground. Now, two decades later, what's it like to be the man whose beating seen round the world, ignited one of the worst race riots in U.S. history?

Rodney King, now 46, 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.

(On camera): Do you still have nightmares?

KING: Yes, yes. I -- I do.

LEMON: What's a nightmare? Do you wake up, like, tossing and turning? KING: 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 -- you know, those words. You know and I'll have to wake up and -- all right. Look outside. It's all green and blue. That time has passed on, but the nightmares and the memories are still there, you know.

LEMON: So take me back to that night 20 years ago. You're driving along, you know, you're in 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 2010 Freeway.

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

LEMON: But the celebration is cut short. State police caught King's car going 110 miles per hour. And immediately start a nearly eight- mile high speed chase through L.A. neighborhoods. 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 (on camera): 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. And I'm like, oh, 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 to 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. At 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? Could you see them?

KING: No, they weren't. They were nowhere in sight. When I came to this light right here, that's when I noticed the helicopter. He's way in front of me, his lights beaming down, going across the streets. My heart is, like, my body's hot. And I'm scared. And nervous. Because I knew it was going to be pretty much a beating from running from them at that point.

LEMON: Where did you pull over?

KING: I seen all those apartments over there, so I said, oh, 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 do. Took three steps back. When I took the three steps back, said lay down. So when I laid down, I laid down like this. And my face was facing this way so I could see them. And then they said, no, put your -- put your f'ing head down, face down. When I finally face down, he, bam, took the blow. Bam, a real hard blow to the temple.

LEMON: What were they saying to you?

KING: We're going to kill you, nigger. We're going to kill you, nigger. Run. I was -- knew I was going for death. So when he said that I just look for clearance, just kind of like walking and looking for (INAUDIBLE). And when we did, I just look, and then I went up like that, I run this way with my hands up. To show 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 a jury's decision.

KING: Blood is just gushing down the street. Death, you know, death wasn't far away.

LEMON (on camera): What's 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 a combined 15 minutes. Fifteen 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 Pacific 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.

DR. CHARLES ARONBERG, OPHTHALMOLOGIST: 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.

ARONBERG: We're surprised that he actually was alive.

LEMON (on camera): 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.

GRIMES: This is history. This is history. We finally caught the Lochness monster with a camcorder.

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

(On camera): Do you still have issues when it comes to addiction?




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 holiday, who lived in the apartments across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just amazed at what was happening. 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 seen it all on tape. She said, just get yourself well. And get out of here.

LEMON (on camera): When she said I saw it on tape, are you like, oh, my gosh, 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 (voice-over): The video ignites a firestorm of outrage. Rodney King is released without being charged.

Milton Grimes was one of King's attorneys.

GRIMES: 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 H. W. BUSH, 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.

BERNARD PARKS, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILMAN: What the symbolism of that video created is it validated in the minds of thousands of people that this is the way police work is being done and was done for decades.

GRIMES: We finally caught the Lochness 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 Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Sergeant Stacy 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 Cannon covered the Rodney King controversy for the "Washington Post."

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

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

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


LEMON: Armed with the videotape as the 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 Johnny Cochran or somebody to fight that case to win the case because I had the cameras. LEMON: But will a jury of 10 whites, one Hispanic, one Filipino American, and no blacks agree? Nearly three months into the trial, a hushed courtroom 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 accused 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 just hoping for the right decision. And -- because, you know, 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.

MICHAEL STONE, OFFICER LAURENCE POWELL'S ATTORNEY: Most of the -- 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?

STONE: In a use of force case, if the officers do what they're trained to do, how can you find them 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. Sheriffs deputies having to protect Sergeant Stacy Koon as he makes his way to his car. Movie director John Singleton is in the crowd and makes a chilling prediction.

JOHN SINGLETON, FILM DIRECTOR: By having this verdict, what these people have done, they've lit the fuse to a bomb.

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

GRIMES: 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. 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.

REGINALD DENNY, TRUCK DRIVER: 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.

BOBBY GREEN, TRUCK DRIVER: Denny was already inside the truck trying to drive his truck his self. So I pushed him over to the other seat. And I told him, I'm here to save his life.

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

GREEN: It gave me glory to 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.

(On camera): 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. 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 call 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is America. Get out.

LEMON: And while their pleas for help seem to be ignored, their property is ransacked by roving bands of looters.

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

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

LEMON (on camera): Were those grocers valid in that you ignored their pleas for help, meaning the police department?

PARKS: Well, I think they're valid in the sense that they weren't ignored, there were no resources to go to those locations. And I think that many thousands of people felt they were ignored. There just -- there weren't enough officers.

LEMON (voice-over): Long before the riots tensions had been simmering between some black residents and the Korean-American merchants.

PARKS: There was a language barrier. There wasn't an understanding. There was gruff treatment. There was poor communication skills.

LEMON (on camera): If those people are citizens and are law-abiding citizens, 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 ignite after the Rodney King verdict. As billowing smoke moves closer to the financial center of Korea Town, attorney David Kim urges merchants to take action.

(On camera): 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 that they were telling Korean-American merchants in Korea Town to evacuate, that's when I decided to go and ask the Korean-American merchants to defend themselves.

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

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

CANNON: The fact that Korea Town itself was largely unscathed, I think -- I think you have to credit the people who live there, particularly the merchants who were armed and defended -- 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 -- I just want to say, you know, can we -- can we all get along? Can we -- can we get along?

LEMON (on camera): Did you feel compelled to come out and say what you said?

KING: After the first trial, can't we all just get along? Because I'm exhausted. And I'm tired of seeing the same hateful thing going on in our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And also 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 tension.

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. As another trial keeps the city on edge.



LEMON: I'm Don Lemon live with your headlines this hour.

Seven people including three children have died in a horrific crash in New York. Their SUV flipped over a guardrail and plunged 60 feet to the ground. It landed upside down in an area of the Bronx Zoo that is closed to the public. Police say all the victims were wearing their seatbelts.

In 2006 six people died on the same stretch of road.

Reporters covering troops in south Sudan saw firsthand today how dangerous that region is.

Journalists say they were with soldiers from south Sudan when they were attacked by Sudanese government helicopter gun ships and fighter jets. The president of Sudan declared a state of emergency for cities along the border.

South Sudan split from Sudan last year as part of a peace deal that was supposed to end decades of war. Those are your headlines this hour. I'm Don Lemon keeping you informed. CNN, the most trusted name in news.


LEMON (voice-over): A city on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Korea Town (INAUDIBLE). Businessmen, we are ready, too.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: 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?

CANNON: There was palpable tension. Even downtown at the Roy Vahl Building where this trial was held.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have tried to get along with minorities.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

KING: They thought I was going to go all crazy and act a fool on stage and it wasn't about that. I just want 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.

STONE: 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 to 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.

GRIMES: Mike Stone knows that the word nigger was used.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did your client ever use the word nigger?

STONE: Absolutely not. No one out there did.

GRIMES: And as he's lying prone, he says, someone said, "N," 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 a racial slur, also disputed King's testimony.

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 -- I respected her at that time. I know what I heard.

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

POWELL: I think we will be acquitted. And -- but that 1 percent of, 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 Stacy 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.


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

KING: It was like, goddamn. 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 Roy Vahl 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 to 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 this 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?




CROWD: 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.

PARKS: 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 a chief I promoted the 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 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. Or 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've 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.

KIM: African-Americans are the ones who had 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, it hasn't improved as much 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?

STONE: Mm-hmm.


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 would say it has improved. It is -- 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.

GREEN: I always have a flash back when I come here. I feel sorry and feel regret.

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

GREEN: I have no reason to come back to L.A. Give me a bad vibe. I don't want to think about what happened back then 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 backyard pool.

Today King is a father of three and has two grandchild. 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: When I get that shot again, we all know how money can come and it can go. I mean, save, save, save for tomorrow.

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


KING: It's pretty much -- pretty much.

LEMON: And 20 years later, Rodney King still lives in fear.

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

KING: 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 REPORTER: Are you constantly looking over your shoulder?

KING: You know, I -- I never feel safe, you know. Just things that happen.

When you are part of history, and it changes 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 psychologist Dr. Drew Pinsky appearing on VH1's "Celebrity Rehab."

DR. DREW PINSKY, "CELEBRITY REHAB": We're going to have a lot of feelings, a lot of anger and a lot of god knows what.

KING: It is. It's -- 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. My dad was an 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): You feel like you owe her in some way?

KING: No, huh-uh. Not at all.


KING: I don't.


KING: I don't.

LEMON: 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: That is the fish.

KING: You put it in the batter.

LEMON: How do you describe this 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. It just happened.

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

KELLEY: When he sleep, 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.

KING: Mm-hmm.

LEMON: That mug shot of you with the blood on your face, who was he then?

KING: God, 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'm -- 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. For what?