Slow Burn: The L.A. Riots

Season 6: Episode 5

The System

The officers who beat Rodney King had been caught in the act. Why wasn’t that enough to secure a conviction?

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Episode Notes

A year after they were caught on tape beating Rodney King, four LAPD officers went on trial. None were convicted.

How did the prosecution make its case against the cops? How did the officers hold up under questioning? And what happened when the verdict was announced?

Season 6 of Slow Burn is produced by Joel Anderson, Jayson De Leon, Ethan Brooks, Sophie Summergrad, and Jasmine Ellis.

Mixing by Merritt Jacob.

Sources for This Episode:

Books

Cannon, Lou. Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD, Random House, 1997.

Domanick, Joe. To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams, Pocket Books, 1994.

Koon, Sgt. Stacey C. with Robert Deitz. Presumed Guilty: The Tragedy of the Rodney King Affair, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1992.

Articles

Deutsch, Linda. “Beating Unprovoked, Officer Testifies,” Associated Press, March 7, 1992.

Deutsch, Linda. “Patrolwoman Gives Gripping Account of King Beating,” Associated Press, March 6, 1992.

Ford, Andrea and Daryl Kelley. “King Case to Be Tried in Ventura County,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 27, 1991.

Goodman, Adrianne. “NAACP Official Criticizes Venue Change in King Case,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 5, 1991.

Haddad, Annette. “L.A. Cop Evasive on the Stand,” United Press International, April 1, 1992.

McDougal, Dennis. “Few L.A. Outlets for Live Coverage of King Trial,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26, 1992.

Meyer, Norma. “Jury Selection Begins in King Beating,” Copley News Service, Feb. 6, 1992.

Meyer, Norma. “Officer Describes King Beating as Violent and Brutal Fact of Life,” Copley News Service, March 20, 1992.

Rosenberg, Howard. “Live from Simi Valley, It’s …” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1992.

Serrano, Richard A. “2 Views of King Drawn by Lawyers,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1992.

Serrano, Richard A. “CHP Officer’s Testimony, Memo on Beating Differ,” Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1992.

Serrano, Richard A. and Carlos V. Lozano. “Jury Picked for King Trial; No Blacks Chosen,” Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1992.

Serrano, Richard A. “King Was No Threat, Officer Says,” Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1992.

Serrano, Richard A. “Koon Says King Attacked, Left Police No Choice,” Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1992.

Serrano, Richard A. “Prosecutor Puts Pressure on Officer Powell,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1992.

Serrano, Richard A. and Edward J  Boyer. “Trial of LAPD Officers Ordered Out of County,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1991.

Shaw, David. “Tv Added More Heat Than Insight to King Saga,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1992.

Shifflett, Lynne. “The King Beating Trial: Unwitting Champions of Change,” Los Angeles Sentinel, March 18, 1992.

Stolberg, Sheryl and Tracy Wilkinson. “Appeals Court Bars Kamins From King Case,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 22, 1991.

Timnick, Lois. “King Case Judge Asked to Step Aside Over His Secret Message,” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1991.

Timnick, Lois. “Lawyers Ask Judge to Move Trial of Officers,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1991.

Warner, Elka. “Racial comments examined in King trial,” United Press International, March 31, 1992.

Audiovisual

[Dimitrius, Jo-Ellan (defense jury consultant in Rodney King and Reginald Denny trials) – 9/16/93 item A14948/CS], Lou Cannon Rodney King papers, Mss 258. Department of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

[Gunson, Roger (deputy district attorney, Los Angeles County) – 11/19/93 item A14954/CS], Lou Cannon Rodney King papers, Mss 258. Department of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

[Stone, Mike (defense attorney for Laurence Powell in both trials) – 10/4/93 item A14971/CS], Lou Cannon Rodney King papers, Mss 258. Department of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

[White, Terry (Deputy DA) – 10/5/93 item A14974-A14975/CS], Lou Cannon Rodney King papers, Mss 258. Department of Special Research Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Defending the “Most Hated Men in America”

More on the trial of the police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.

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About the Show

In 1992, a jury failed to convict the four Los Angeles police officers who’d been captured on videotape beating Rodney King. The city erupted into fire and chaos—the culmination of decades of unchecked police abuse and racial injustice.

For the sixth season of Slate’s Slow Burn, Joel Anderson returns to explore the people and events behind the biggest civil disturbance in American history—a story that’s still playing out today.

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Host

  • Joel Anderson is a staff writer at Slate and the host of Seasons 3 and 6 of Slow Burn. Previously, he worked as a reporter on sports, culture, and politics for ESPN and BuzzFeed News.