Rodney King in drug, alcohol delirium when he drowned

LOS ANGELES Thu Aug 23, 2012 7:19pm EDT

Rodney King's casket is pictured during his memorial service at the Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty in Los Angeles, California, June 30, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

Rodney King's casket is pictured during his memorial service at the Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty in Los Angeles, California, June 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rodney King, whose 1991 videotaped beating made him a symbol of police brutality and racial tension in Los Angeles, was in a drug- and alcohol-induced "delirium" when he accidentally drowned in his swimming pool, coroners ruled on Thursday.

The final autopsy report was issued by medical examiners in San Bernardino County two months after King, 47, was found submerged at the deep end of a swimming pool at his home in Rialto, 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

The county coroner ruled the death an accidental drowning and listed "alcohol and multiple drug toxicity" as contributing causes, saying that traces of cocaine, PCP and marijuana were found in King's body.

Rialto police Captain Randy De Anda told Reuters the case is closed.

"Our investigation is now concluded," De Anda said. "The conclusions that our investigation revealed have been reinforced by the autopsy and toxicology report."

The 19-page document, prepared by county medical examiner Dr. Frank Sheridan, ruled out suicide or foul play.

King "was in a state of drug- and alcohol-induced delirium at the time of the terminal event, and either fell or jumped into a swimming pool," the coroners wrote.

King had been drinking and smoking marijuana with a friend throughout the previous day and into the night before his death on June 17, according to the report.

The effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with an enlargement of his heart's main pumping chamber, probably caused an irregular heartbeat, "and the subject, thus incapacitated, was unable to save himself and drowned," the coroners concluded.

His death came two months after the 20th anniversary of Los Angeles riots triggered by the acquittal of four white police officers prosecuted for beating King, who was black, in a confrontation a year earlier that was caught on videotape and widely replayed.

During the riots, which left over 50 people dead and caused more than $1 billion in property damage, King famously appealed for calm in a televised appearance in which he asked: "Can we all get along?"

The case helped bring attention to the issue of racial profiling by law enforcement and was a catalyst for far-reaching reforms in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

'BABY, COME HELP ME'

The autopsy report revealed new details about the frantic moments just before and after King ended up in the water.

Police were called to his home by his fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, who told authorities she was awakened before dawn by an incoherent King, standing in the backyard patio, pounding on a sliding glass door and shouting, "Baby, come help me."

She saw him fall backwards into a planter, and when she went to get her phone to call police, she heard a splash. She rushed outside to find King "face down at the bottom of the deep end of the pool," the report said.

Unable to go to his aid because she was a poor swimmer, Kelly used a pitchfork and a garden hoe to jab at him in a failed attempt to rouse King.

Police retrieved his lifeless body from the water, and efforts to resuscitate him were futile.

King, who long struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, financial difficulties and legal problems, had this year published a memoir entitled: "The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption."

King's March 1991 beating occurred after he was pulled over for speeding by Los Angeles police, who had pursued him for several miles before he stopped and got out of his car.

Grainy video footage of King being kicked and struck repeatedly with batons by LAPD officers while he lay on the ground provoked a national uproar and charges of racially motivated police brutality.

Two of the four white officers acquitted of state charges by a jury the following year were later convicted of federal charges and sentenced to 30-month prison terms. A civil jury later awarded King $3.8 million in damages.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Eric Kesley; Writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Dana Feldman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Xavier Briand)

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