Skip to main content

Police: Rodney King's 'accidental drowning' involved drugs

By Stan Wilson and Alan Duke, CNN
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Thu August 23, 2012
Rodney King's death was the result of accidental drowning, although alcohol and drugs were contributing factors.
Rodney King's death was the result of accidental drowning, although alcohol and drugs were contributing factors.
  • NEW: King yelled "Baby come and help me" before falling in the pool, the autopsy report says
  • Autopsy says Rodney King was "in a state of drug and alcohol-induced delirium" when he died
  • King's fiancee found him at the bottom of a swimming pool and called for help, police say
  • 1991 beating by Los Angeles police sparked riots after four officers involved were acquitted

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Rodney King's death in June was the result of accidental drowning, although alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and PCP found in his system were contributing factors, authorities said Thursday.

King, whose beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 was caught on camera and sparked riots after the acquittal of the four officers involved, was found dead in the swimming pool at his Rialto, California, home on June 17, authorities and his fiancee said. He was 47.

King was "in a state of drug and alcohol-induced delirium" and "either fell or jumped into the swimming pool," said the autopsy report released by the San Bernardino County coroner Thursday.

Family, friends remember Rodney King at funeral

Listen to King's fiancee's 911 call

"The effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with the subject's heart condition, probably precipitated a cardiac arrhythmia and the subject, thus incapacitated, was unable to save himself and drowned," the autopsy summary said. "There is nothing in the history or autopsy examination to suggest suicide or homicide, and the manner of death is therefore judged to be accident."

Arsenio Hall remembers Rodney King
King was struggling with his sobriety

No foul play is suspected and the police investigation of his death is closed, Rialto Police Capt. Randy De Anda told CNN.

The autopsy findings are consistent with the police investigation's conclusion, De Anda said.

Timeline of events in Rodney King's life

King's fiancee, Cynthia Kelly, found him at the bottom of the pool and called 911 for help at 5:25 a.m. on that Sunday morning, police said. Police removed him from the pool and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation until paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital, police said.

Kelly, who was a juror in King's lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles in 1994, told police that King was an "avid swimmer" but that she was not, De Anda said.

Kelley told investigators King was "heavily intoxicated," and she went to sleep at 2:45 a.m. while he was still awake and drinking. She later "woke up to hear the subject pounding on the closed rear patio sliding glass door," the autopsy report said. "She described him making grunting and growling sounds and have frothy secretions coming from his mouth."

King yelled to his girlfriend "Baby come and help me," according to the report.

"The subject at that time was wearing his underwear down around his knees and then apparently fell backwards into the planter on the plant covering just east of the patio sliding glass door," it said.

Kelley went back into the home to get her cell phone to call 911 for help, but she then "heard a splash in the pool and went out to the backyard to find the subject face down on the bottom of the deep end of the pool," it said. "The girlfriend was not a good swimmer so she used a pitchfork and a hoe from the backyard to try to jab at the subject to arouse him."

King's brother, Zhan Paul King, told investigators that King has "been doing very well and was happy" as he traveled to promote a book for the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots. He "seemed to have his life in order," the coroner's report said.

He said his brother "was no longer abusing hardcore street drugs or using Phencyclidine (PCP)," the report said. PCP was among the combination of drugs found in his blood during the autopsy.

Nearly a year after the rioting in Los Angeles, four officers stood trial in federal court on civil rights charges. Two were found guilty and sentenced to 30 months in prison, and two were acquitted. King also sued the city of Los Angeles and was awarded $3.8 million in damages.

Comments: 'Rodney King had demons. But called them his own'

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.