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Five years later, wounds from L.A. riots still sting

April 29, 1997
Web posted at: 6:27 a.m. EDT (1027 GMT)

From Correspondent Anne McDermott

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Rodney King wasn't the only one bloodied six years ago. His city and its police department will also never be the same.

Five years ago, a jury found the four officers charged with beating King not guilty. Within hours, enraged residents hit the streets, burning, looting and terrorizing the city.


During Los Angeles' days of rage, a battered and beaten King tried to stop the violence.

"It's just not right. It's not right," he stuttered.

But there was no stopping it and King, for one, retreated.

He resurfaced for an occasional interview or an occasional public appearance due to a scrape with the law.

But now, five years after the riots and six years after the beating, King took time with CNN to reflect on what it all meant.

When asked if his beating by L.A. police accomplished anything, he replies, "It has shined the light on police brutality."

Unlike many critics, King thinks the police are improving.

"You know, before when (the police went) to work, they used to be like, 'I'm gonna kick somebody's ass today and so I hope I can catch somebody in a bad situation or breaking the law, because I'm gonna beat someone's ass in a big way,'" King says. "I think that attitude has changed."

But what about the rest of the country? Are we improving as well?

"As far as us as individuals, we have a lot of work to do," King says.


Pain lingers

King has improved physically since the beating, but he still hurts. Still aches.

"(It's mostly) headaches around the eyes from the kicks and the blows in the face area," he says. "So I can imagine how Reginald Denny feels, too."

Denny was another beating victim, pulled from his truck and attacked during the riots. The city itself was stunned when its cops failed to rescue him from the rage.

The former truck driver testified that more than 90 bones in his face were broken during the beating.

He now lives in Florida, where he's learning to repair boats. He doesn't speak publicly about the beating anymore. Nor does Damian Williams, one of the men who was caught on tape beating Denny. He's still in prison.

His lawyer says Williams regrets the pain Denny suffered, but believes the riots were justified. Williams will be freed in November and may seek work rehabilitating gang members.


Changed lives

And what about the man who arrested Williams? That arrest was Police Chief Daryl Gates' final hurrah before his career came crashing down around him amid criticism of his force's slow response to the riot.

Now, Gates plays golf. He wrote a book, and he consults on video games like "SWAT." He says he misses the LAPD, especially on days when the job is really about cops and robbers, like the recent North Hollywood shootout.


"The day of the North Hollywood shootout ... was one of the most difficult days for me that I've had since I retired," Gates says. "Not being able to be there and be with my people."

Gates' people included officers like Stacy Koon, Ted Briseno, Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind -- the officers caught beating King on videotape and later retried.

Powell went to prison and now works as a handyman, but he's looking for computer work. What he did to King, Powell says, he was trained to do. As for King himself, he doesn't have the kindest of words.

"He's like a puppet for his lawyers," Powell says. "They parade him around and try to move him to be their spokesperson for the case, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, he's just a petty criminal."

Briseno and Wind did not do time for the beating, but they were kicked off the police force. Briseno now does private security work, and Wind plans to go to law school. Wind doesn't give interviews these days, saying he's tired of the attention.

"How much do I have to bleed before, you know? How far do we have to go? How much of a toll do you have to extract from it?" Wind said in a December 1995 interview.

Koon wrote a book, went to prison and now, according to his lawyer, is spending time with his family. He, too, no longer gives interviews. But when he was, he said he did nothing wrong. Somehow, however, nothing went right.


King might have looked like a winner for a time. He did get $3.8 million in a civil suit against the city. But some of his former lawyers are fighting for part of that settlement, saying they're still owed legal fees.

King says he's spent some of the money trying to start a recording company. He'd also like to help kids overcome racial problems, just as he once asked a city to do.

"I just wanna say, can we all get along?" he says. "Can we get along?"


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