Police: Rodney King Died of Accidental Drowning, Had Drugs, Alcohol in System

  • Share
  • Read Later
Matt Sayles / AP

Rodney King, in Los Angeles on April 13, 2012

Rodney King, whose beating at the hands of police officers sparked national outcry and eventually led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, died from an accidental drowning and had a number of drugs in his system including PCP and cocaine as well as alcohol, according to an autopsy conducted by Rialto, Calif., police.

The San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department released an autopsy report on King, who was found dead by his fiancée at the bottom of his home’s swimming pool on June 17. Police told the L.A. Daily News that King’s blood alcohol level was .06%, and that illicit substances had been found in his body.

(MORE: Rodney King, Whose Police Beating Led to Los Angeles Riots, Dies at 47)

“There’s going to be no surprises. His death was ruled an accidental drowning,” Rialto police Capt. Randy DeAnda told the Daily News. “The investigation is now completed and basically the autopsy and toxicology reinforces our conclusions.”

San Bernadino Coroner’s officials say they believe the 47-year-old, a frequent swimmer, jumped or fell into the pool in a state of alcohol- or drug-induced intoxication. “The effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with [King’s preexisting heart condition] probably precipitated a cardiac arrhythmia and [King], thus incapacitated, was unable to save himself and drowned,” reported the celebrity website TMZ.com, citing the autopsy report.

(MORE: Los Angeles and Rodney King 20 Years Later: Both Better, Not Perfect, But Better)

On March 3, 1991, King was pulled over while driving on Los Angeles’ Foothill Freeway. According to testimony by the officers involved, the police sensed a threat from him and proceeded to beat him with their batons and shock him with a Taser. The entire incident was caught on video by a local resident and broadcast repeatedly, infuriating a Los Angeles African-American community already upset over policing issues in their neighborhoods. King suffered multiple injuries and migraine headaches that persisted for the rest of his life.

After a jury declared three of the four police officers charged with the beating not guilty and failed to reach a verdict on the fourth, Los Angeles exploded into violence. The ensuing riots killed 55 people, caused $1 billion in damage and damaged so much of South Central L.A. that it took nearly two decades for the area to recover.

Through his life, King continued to have run-ins with the law, unable to completely shake his alcohol and drug habits. However, in an April interview with TIME, he said he was feeling more optimistic. “I can’t tell you what the future holds,” he said. “I can tell you how I would like it: to be peaceful and everyone getting along. Hopefully I can leave something positive here and make it better for the next generation, that’s what it’s all about.”

MORE: An Elegy For Rodney King

SPECIAL: The L.A. Riots: 15 Years After Rodney King