California News

King will be remembered as historic man, lawyer says

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rodney King's death is still surprising for Oakland attorney John Burris, who was among a team of lawyers who represented King for his civil lawsuit against the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles.

Burris last saw King in televised interviews marking the 20th anniversary of the riots just a couple of months ago.

Burris says his former client will be remembered as a historic man who was unwillingly thrust into the public eye. In 1991, images of Los Angeles police officers swinging away at King were a shock for most viewers.

But Burris says the incident is historic because it illustrated what he says is something the black community experienced on a regular basis.

"There was an undercurrent of police brutality that was occurring and had always occurred in the African American community, but you didn't really believe it because there weren't cameras and you didn't see it," he said.

During the riots that followed the acquittal of the officers accused in his beating, King pleaded for calm as Los Angeles was ablaze.

"This case thrusted him into a spotlight that he never wanted and never really adjusted to. When I come to know him as part of the case he was relatively shy," Burris said.

In his Oakland office, Burris has a series of courtroom sketches of King's federal lawsuit against the officers involved and the LAPD. King was awarded about $3.8 million.

The videotaped beating of King affected policing across the country. "Where we've come from 1991 to today, we almost anticipate that we will be videotaped," said Anthony Ribera.

Ribera was a captain on the San Francisco police force in 1992. That's when demonstrations broke out following the acquittals in the King case.

He was appointed as police chief in part because of the fallout of the handling of those demonstrators in San Francisco. Ribera currently teaches at the University of San Francisco and some of his lessons in law enforcement are rooted in the King case.

Police say there is no foul play suspected in King's death. Investigators will conduct an autopsy to see if drugs or alcohol were involved. King had a well documented struggle with substance abuse and spent time in rehab.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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