What Really Happened During the Rodney King Riots

For several months prior to the riots, intelligence reports rolled across my desk about activity in the Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts, and Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects. Drug dealers were financing meetings of gang members from rival gangs, and these meetings were being arbitrated by OGs (veteran gang members) or the Fruit of Islam, Black Muslim security units.

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Los Angeles' dynamics radically changed for the worse, on the evening of Wednesday April 29, 1992. It began when major rioting broke out following the acquittal of four LAPD police officers accused of beating Rodney King. But the trouble had been brewing in L.A. for many years.

Most of the media would attribute the causes of the riots to the same old politically correct BS: lack of jobs, racial profiling, and years of police abuse. However, during that time I was a sergeant working the LASD Special Investigations Bureau (SPI) and I was privileged to read and review all the police intelligence reports of that period. So I have a very different opinion.

For several months prior to the riots, intelligence reports rolled across my desk about activity in the Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts, and Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects. Drug dealers were financing meetings of gang members from rival gangs, and these meetings were being arbitrated by OGs (veteran gang members) or the Fruit of Islam, Black Muslim security units.

Drug dealers were motivated to curb the gang wars because the killings were hurting the drug business and drawing increasing police attention. The Muslims had their own agenda; they wanted to redirect the hatred that gang members have for rival gangs toward white citizens and the police.

A "self-defense" paramilitary militia unit had formed and began drilling around Martin Luther King Hospital. This unit was led by a former county police officer and martial arts expert. Political activists and agitators like the Revolutionary Communist Party also stirred up resentment in these minority communities against the police and the government.

Having grown up in Willowbrook during the era of the Watts riots of 1965 and having also worked undercover in politically subversive groups, I have a special contempt for them. The subversive groups utilize provocateurs to talk up the revolutionary ideals and to agitate the community to fight, but rarely are they there when the real confrontations and violence go down. They use the local people as expendable pawns and incite them to destroy what little these poor communities have, just to make a point for the provocateurs. They are cowards who lack the courage to fight for their own ideals and parasites sucking the life out of the already troubled communities.

The South Central community and especially the African American and Hispanic gangs were primed to explode. All that was needed was that one spark. In my opinion if the Rodney King incident hadn't sparked the rioting, something else would have.

But politicians and police administrators feared any PC criticism about being "heavy handed" or "overreacting" in the minority communities. Instead they turned to programs like "Amer-I-Can" (and later "No Guns"), who promised to organize peace treaties between warring gangs. Police intelligence reports named these groups as a significant part of the problem and not part of any solution.

The community cops who were the most likely to be in the know, the Los Angeles Housing Authority police, reported on the growing increase in tension. Gangs were stockpiling weapons and firing random shots at police.

And the weapons they had access to were quite sophisticated. On April 20, more than 300 pounds of dynamite, 2,400 feet of primacord, and several detonators were stolen from a local construction site. All LAPD and LASD officers were advised to check their vehicles carefully after parking them at any time.

The First Day-Wednesday, April 29, 1992

The acquittal was announced at 3:15 in the afternoon. Thirty minutes later more than 300 demonstrators appeared at the Los Angeles County Court House. By 5:30 p.m. a public works employee was chased by gang members from a sewer construction site on Century Boulevard in South Central. Between 5 and 6 p.m., LAPD Lt. Michael Moulin leading a contingent of two dozen officers confronted a hostile crowd of rioters at Florence and Normandie. Outnumbered and without reasonable support units, the contingent retreated to a safer area.

By 6:30 p.m., a crowd had gathered in front of LAPD headquarters, Parker Center. While watching the live news video broadcast of the group, I recognized several members of MS-13, 18th Street, and other gangs among the Parker Center mob. When LAPD failed to address the crowd, they began to break up the parking lot guard shack in front of the building. When they saw no LAPD response to their provocations, they torched the guard shack.

The guard shack incident would be a microcosm of what would happen across Los Angeles over and over again in the coming days. The rioters would gather, get a little rowdy and, if police hesitated or failed to respond, the mob would shoot, loot, and burn.

By 6:45 p.m. the rioters at Florence and Normandie, led by the Eight-Trey (83) Gangster Crips were looting, burning businesses, and attacking motorists who were not black. Damon "Football" Williams and others pulled white truck driver Reginald Denny from his truck; Denny's brutal beating was recorded by television news helicopters.

Next Football Williams initiated the incident that would spark the black vs. brown racial gang war that persists today. Williams pulled a self-employed Hispanic construction worker, Fidel Lopez, from his truck and robbed him of $2,000. Williams then beat him nearly to death. Williams smashed Lopez' head open with a car stereo while another rioter attempted to cut off one of Lopez' ears. As a final act of disrespect, the laughing Football Williams spray-painted the lifeless body of Fidel Lopez with black paint. This incident was broadcast across the United States. And it was seen by the Mexican Mafia.

At 7:45 p.m. the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Emergency Operations Center was opened by Lt. Stephen Gattis to coordinate the deployment of LASD resources responding to the riot and log the incidents. The first incident was recorded at 7:46 p.m. when a deputy assigned to the Metro Rail system was attacked in his patrol car by a mob across from the Imperial Courts Projects at Imperial Highway and Mona Boulevard. At 7:50 p.m. the Operation Center recorded that the responding Sheriff units were pulling out of the Imperial Courts before they were overtaken.

My Special Investigations unit was activated at 8:10 p.m. and ordered to stand by at LASD Star Center in Whittier.

At 8:22 p.m. the Firestone Sheriff's Station was requesting two Gang Enforcement Teams (GET) and reporting that FPK units were taking rocks and bottles from crowds of mostly gang members. No units were available to respond. Units were advised that if they responded they should respond with no less than four, four-man units.

At 8:50 p.m. Assistant Sheriff Jerry Harper ordered the Sheriff Department's Transportation Unit to mobilize to evacuate the LAPD personnel in the besieged Parker Center.

By this time the Florence and Normandie area had been totally looted and burned out, and the rioters spread to other parts of Los Angeles. They used burning vehicles to block intersections, threw concrete and bricks to beak out windows of businesses and government buildings, and threw Molotov cocktails to start fires all over the city. Bus services were stopped, and the flight paths of incoming jets were modified because rioters were shooting at police helicopters at Los Angeles International Airport.

A bomb threat against Walnut Sheriff's Station was reported at 9 p.m. West Hollywood sheriffs reported 100 or more marchers on the street at 9:15 and Firestone Sheriffs reported two minutes later that they had rescued several motorists attacked by looters and rioters and assisted firefighters responding to two structure fires. FPK had also deployed an additional three squads.[PAGEBREAK]

Between 9:20 and 10 p.m., the LASD Emergency Center recorded two squads from Lakewood Station and one from Norwalk Sheriffs standing by at Carson Station. Downtown the historic Hall of Justice was being vandalized. Other government buildings had windows broken out, and there were attempts at arson and major vandalism by the Downtown rioters.

Two squads from Altadena Sheriffs and two from Biscailuze Center were ordered to respond code three to the Downtown area to protect the government buildings and records housed especially in the Hall of Justice. This area is also honeycombed with underground tunnels. In Lennox the Station area, deputies faced rioters and two large structure fires at 184th and Avalon. Three more squads from Carson were rolling code three to the Downtown area.

At the Metro Rail station at 103rd Street-near the spot the '65 Watts riots began-Transportation Services Units assigned to protect the system were taking rocks and bottles. A Carson black-and-white was hit by gunfire at Avalon and El Segundo, but no Deputies were hit.

LAPD had deployed its Metropolitan "C" and "D" platoons into the hottest areas of the growing riot. (I knew how good they were because my SPI unit had the privilege of training with this LAPD unit in preparation for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles). At about 10 p.m. the Metro units were assisting and protecting Fire Department personnel at 114th and Central Avenue when a major firefight occurred with suspects from the "Bounty Hunter Bloods" gang and others in the Nickerson Gardens housing projects. Hundreds of semi-auto and full-auto rounds were fired by both sides. A V-100 armored rescue vehicle, a tank like vehicle used by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War, was employed to extract the Metro platoons to a safer position. The V-100 then recovered the bodies of two rioters from the Nickerson Gardens projects who were killed in the firefight.

At the same time the Metro units were involved in the firefight, an ambulance took six hits from gun fire while responding to a disturbance in Carson at 184th and Avalon. Reports were also coming in that the Downtown Criminal Courts Building and the County Hall of Records had been hit. Their glass doors and windows and the court metal detectors had been damaged by the rioters.

At 10:18 two squads of Walnut deputies assisted Lennox Station deputies against a crowd of mostly gang members at 108th and Denker, arresting 23 rioters. While this was happening, Industry Sheriffs Deputies were taking rocks and bottles from a hostile crowd at Evanwood and Pritchard streets.

At 10:30 Firestone Station reported a barricaded suspect in the Pawn Shop at 8470 Central Avenue. This pawnshop was being looted for its weapons and jewelry when the suspect became trapped inside.

At 10:34 L.A. City Fire Department reported that one of its firefighters was shot in the face while responding to a fire call. He was transported to Cedar Sinai Hospital and listed in stable condition. City and County Fire units were also taking sniper fire as they rolled to fire calls all over the city and county, but in the Florence Firestone area, snipers would engage the engines as soon as they left Fire Stations 16, 41, and 9.

A request for immediate assistance and an officer involved in a shooting call went out at 10:47 p.m. when in the alley south of Firestone and John Street Firestone deputies observed looters in a stereo store. A single deputy became involved in a fight with one of the looters when a second suspect said, "Get his gun!" The fleeing suspects then tried to run down the deputy with a car. The deputy fired three shots into the vehicle. Later a wounded suspect sought medical treatment at Martin Luther King Hospital.

At 11:15 Commander Mark Squires, because of the worsening situation at the north side of the city of Carson, which borders on Compton, was requesting an additional squad of deputies. Requests for immediate assistance were coming from the deputies confronting the rioters in that section of the city and from an ambulance on the Carson streets.

As if this all was not bad enough, at 11:40 the Peter J. Pitches jail facility in Wayside north of the city erupted into rioting. The entire facility was enveloped in interracial fighting among the inmates and numerous buildings and dorms were on fire. Deputies used 12 sting balls and gallons of pepper spray in attempts to quell the riot, but reinforcements had to be requested.

A half dozen deputies rolled from Santa Clarita Sheriffs Station, two dozen from Antelope Valley, a dozen more from Malibu Station, and a full company of 100 CHP patrolmen was dispatched. At 11:55 200 National Guard members were also requested at the jail riot.

Police Chief Daryl Gates, who himself would be harshly criticized for being away attending a political fundraiser that evening, would later blame his subordinates for not acting quickly and decisively in the beginning hours to end the disturbance. That evening Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley called for a state of emergency and California Governor Pete Wilson activated 2,000 members of the National Guard to respond to the riot. Wilson also deployed an additional 750 California Highway Patrol Officer to supplement the 250 CHP Officers already deployed locally. But it was too little too late to stem the chaos.

Day Two-Thursday, April 30, 1992

The California National Guard acted quickly to respond with an activated 2,000 soldiers, but it would take them almost 24 hours to reach Los Angeles.

They also lacked the equipment and ammunition they needed. Much of their equipment was at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles in the central part of the state. So initially the National Guard troops secured only areas previously secured by the police. Eventually they would gear up to running patrols, establishing check points, and providing heavy-duty backup and firepower to the L.A. cops.

However, on the second day there was more general looting, arsons, and rioting all over Los Angeles. In the live coverage and unbelievable television news video, you could see many recognizable Hispanic and African-American gang members among the rioting crowds.

All of us seasoned police officers, who were held in standby or reserve, chomped at the bit waiting to be deployed in some significant manner against the rioters. We all knew from our experience in previous riots and from established riot control tactics training that an early and significant show of force in the beginning of a major civil disturbance was what was needed to defuse a riot. What we saw instead was tentative, timid, and weak responses, and often a quick withdrawal when confrontation occurred.

We knew that Day Two was going to be bad.[PAGEBREAK]

Shortly after midnight, the Emergency Operations Center for Compton Police Department requested a mutual aid response by Sheriff's deputies to provide security for Compton Fire Department. All Compton patrol units were already committed.

Some 12 minutes later, the PJP Facility reported that no deputies were injured in the jail riot and about 20 inmates were being treated for injuries they sustained. The Department of Health Services said that 120 people had been treated for riot-related injuries at local hospitals.

White citizens were not the only victims of the rioting gangs. Some Bloods and Crips used the riot to extract vengeance on rival blacks or to rob the local drug dealers. Many Hispanics and Asians were also targeted, especially in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles. Feeling abandoned and unprotected by the LAPD, the Korean-American shopkeepers and citizens, many with military experience, formed self-protection groups and armed themselves with rifles, shotguns, and pistols.

I witnessed this same kind of thing in the '65 Watts riots. These Americans exercised their Second Amendment rights and defended their businesses and homes against gangs of rioters. Many engaged in televised gun battles with the rioters. Edward Lee, an 18-year-old Koreatown defender, was killed on one of these battles.

A curfew was ordered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from sunset to sunrise. No one was allowed to sell glass bottles, or possess gasoline in handheld containers. No one could sell or transfer ammunition of any type.

The curfew boundaries were fixed at Vernon Avenue on the North, Lomita Boulevard on the South, the Long Beach Freeway on the East and Crenshaw Boulevard on the West. The Sheriff's Department went to 12-hour shifts and vacations were canceled. The jails were filling quickly but most courts were closed. By about 3 a.m. on the second day the Department of Health Services reported 176 people had been hospitalized with riot injuries, 11 deaths were reported, eight were confirmed.

The Police had begun escorting firefighters into the streets responding to fire calls for service. At 4:10 a.m. Dep. Ron Chavers and his partner Dep. Paul Tanaka were fired upon by rioters at Sante Fe and Pine Street in Compton. Chavers was hit by shotgun pellets in his protective vest and abdomen. Both deputies returned fire but the suspects escaped. Chavers' injuries were minor.

At 5:15 Sgt. Dick Duchene reported continuing arson fires and looting and requested four squads of deputies to relieve his FPK Deputies after the first long day and night. FPK had more than 70 people in custody.

Later on the second day of the riots, LAPD Metro "C": platoon, which had been involved in the firefight on the first day, stumbled into a robbery in progress at Vernon and Western Avenue. Armed with a sawed-off shotgun, rioters were robbing a gas station when C platoon intervened. One robbery suspect was wounded, one killed.

The Third Day-Friday May 1, 1992

California National Guard units-now doubled to 4,000 troops-were committed to the riots. A mixed contingent of 1,700 federal law enforcement officers were committed after Gov. Wilson requested federal assistance.

Rodney King and President George H. W. Bush pleaded for an end to the violence. The President was talking tough; he warned that the "brutality of a mob" would not be tolerated. But the rioting continued.

As the third day turned into evening, a power blackout hit the main part of the riot area making security even more unstable.

The Fourth Day-Saturday, May 2, 1992

Tanks and armored personnel carriers began rolling down the streets of Los Angeles. Some 4,000 U.S. Army soldiers and Marines arrived from Fort Ord in the North of California and Camp Pendleton in the South. Some of these federal troops would remain in Los Angeles until May 27.

Intelligence reports from the LASD OSS gang units named the Eight-Trey Gangster Crips as responsible for the looting of the Western Surplus store at 79th and Western and a pawn shop near Manchester and Western Avenues on the first day of rioting.

OSS Deputies confirmed that they recovered numerous empty gun boxes along 109th Street from the looting. The Eight-Trey gangsters also joined forces with former Blood enemies to target police and National Guard units. Red and blue bandannas were found tied together as a symbol of this Blood-Crip solidarity.

Firestone OSS also reported that the Grape Street Watts gang looted the Weatherby's Gun Store in South Gate and took many guns. They also threatened police and National Guard Units.

By the end of the day, the U.S. Justice Department had announced a federal investigation of the Rodney King beating and more than 30,000 people attended a peace rally. As darkness fell on the forth day, the rioting seemed to die down.

The Fifth Day-Sunday May 3, 1992

Order had been restored to most of Los Angeles but in one incident a motorist was shot and killed by a National Guard trooper.

Gang informants reported that on this day representatives of the 357 Pomona Crips, Jungle Bloods, Rolling 60s, Rolling 30s, Rolling 20s, 76 East Coast Crips, Main Street Crips, Grape Street Watts, and the Bounty Hunters, all met at the home of a wealthy respected drug dealer and Blood gang member. The gangs agreed to stop fighting with each other and to unite against law enforcement. They discussed plans to attack parole and probation offices to destroy their records. White police officers would be the next priority targets. Ambushes would be set up with phony calls for service and in known areas of routine patrol.[PAGEBREAK]

The assaults were to begin after the National Guard and U.S. Marines left Los Angeles. The Blood and Crip gangs had AK-47s and supplies of ammunition, including armor piercing rounds. Reportedly the Eight-Trey Gangsters had joined with the Rolling 40s and 60s and wanted to do a drive-by shooting on a National Guard position because they thought that they were unarmed.

Another report stated that Rolling 30s Harlem Crips had looted a West side Pawn shop at Jefferson and Arlington. More than 2,000 guns were taken and all the jewelry. The 30s gang members started the looting and guarded the building until the best of the guns and jewelry was gone. They then allowed others to pick through the pawn shop. This was the source of some of the weapons used against the police in the first few days of rioting.

The Sixth Day-Monday, May 4, 1992

Mayor Tom Bradley lifted the curfew but scattered incidents continued to occur. Two parole offices were burned, one in Ontario and one in Compton. Two others were targeted and damaged.

The Seventh Day-Tuesday May 5, 1992

At 8:25 p.m. a CHP van was fired upon while driving on the Hollywood Freeway at the Alvarado off ramp. Some 20 minutes later, National Guard units posted at the famous Weatherby's Gun store in South Gate, were fired at by three suspects in a vehicle. South Gate PD stopped the vehicle and caught the driver; the two passengers got away only to be caught later. The weapon was found and brought to the station by a good citizen.

At 11:30 p.m. inmates in the Hall of Justice jail Administrational Segregation Unit (the Hole) were watching Ted Kopel's ABC TV news program featuring rival gang members discussing the L.A. riot. At first this caused insulting catcalls from the inmates but ended in the rivals cooperating and agreeing that the common enemy was the police. They exchanged candy bars as a sign of unity.

The Eighth Day-Wednesday May 6, 1992

According to gang informants several Blood and Crip representatives met in the Jordan Downs housing projects near 104th Street and Alameda on this evening to discuss and continue efforts against law enforcement and the LAPD in particular. The spokespersons were a Blood gang member, a person called J.D. from the Imperial Courts, and reportedly sports personality, actor, and activist Jim Brown from project Amer-I-Can. The discussion included talk about the Eight-Trey looting of the Western Surplus Store and the establishment of a storage place in the Baldwin Hills "Jungle" area controlled by the P Stone gang.

The same source said that tactics used to assault and kill officers with these weapons was discussed. The LAPD South West Division was singled out as a target.

Others at the meeting talked of expected support from the Black Guerilla Family prison gang and possibly some Hispanic gangs. The informant said that meetings like this one had occurred in the past in Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts, The Jungle, and at various homes.

The gangs represented according to the informant were: Black P Stone (Bloods), Jungle Crips, Rolling 60s Crips, Eight-Trey Crips, Grape Street Crips, Compton City Piru (Bloods), PJ Crips, Pasadena Denver Lane (Bloods), East Coast Crips, Bounty Hunter (Bloods), and the Five Duce Crips (52nd Street).

Photocopied flyers had been circulated in the riot area titled "OPEN SEASON ON LAPD" "To all Crips and Bloods... Together We Stand"

First-Hand Observations of the Aftermath

On May 6, 1992, at about 10 p.m. I was at the home of a confidential informant in the 2000 block of Laurel Street in Compton. I watched from behind a screened security door as gang members gathered outside on the street.

As each would arrive they were greeted by "Studder Box" of the Lueders Park Piru gang. About 10 minutes later a yellow Cadillac pulled up and a very loud talking "Cedar Block Piru" gang member got out. He was known to me as a BGF prison gang associate. He bragged out loud about his participation in the killing of two policemen in 1977 and shooting down a police helicopter with a 270 Savage rifle.

The other Blood gang members were complaining about two prior meetings, one in the projects with other gangs and one with the Compton City Council. The Cedar Block Piru said he had several of the people in the Compton City government in his pocket, including "the Mayor's son." He said, "I don't owe them, they owe me!"

Just then a car load of Crips pulled up. The Cedar Block Piru said, "there ain't none of that shit here, no red, no blue, no green, no gold...just black!" They exchanged friendly greetings and the Crips pulled away. The Cedar Block Piru went on bragging loudly that he was responsible for the looting of the ABC Market and the Nix Check Cashing building. "We got $24,000 out of that one," he bragged.

I continued to monitor the meeting covertly as a blue Toyota pulled up and yelled, "You don't know nothing, we just killed a motherf____r around the corner!" The Toyota sped away. Later I confirmed that a victim was shot in the head a few blocks away.

A Compton P.D. gang unit approached the Cedar Block Piru and Studder Box and the other blood gang members. The gang cops remained in the patrol unit and clearly recognized the group. The Cedar Block Piru was very disrespectful to the Compton PD cops. I feared for their safety because I felt that some of the gang members had to be armed. The Cedar Block Piru told them, "I wouldn't talk to you like this if you were Sheriffs."

As the Gang unit drove away the Cedar Block Piru said, "Ain't no cop your friend!" He then promised to kill some cops after things cooled down. He called the riots "a celebration of power!"

On May 9, 1992, the Los Angeles Times printed a picture of rival Blood and Crip gang members meeting in Solidarity with members of the Nation of Islam. The article mentioned the flyers calling for "Open Season on LAPD." Other flyers from the "Coalition for Justice" called for a general strike to shut down L.A. on May 15. They also demanded federal troops be removed, the release of all suspects arrested during the riot, reparations to rebuild the burned out riot zone, and the release of the Libyan bombers of the airliner over Scotland.

On May 11 we were still on 12-hour shifts, and the Emergency Operations Center remained manned and operational. Dep. Steve Spackman filed a report from Dep. Miley at Firestone Station that a Grape Street Crip gang member planned to hit LAPD's 77th Division with two handheld rocket launchers he bought from Colombian Drug Dealers. Grape Street wanted revenge on the 77th's narcotics officers.

On May 13, Lt. Ken Spoon of the California Department of Corrections Medical Facility at Vacaville reported a taped telephone conversation from an inmate to an unknown party in L.A. saying that "the Brothers have all gotten together" and that "the PJs, Grape Street, Bushtown, and the Fives are all strapped" and would attack police on the fifteenth.

On May 18, my six Deputies and I responded to assist Compton PD with a group of more than 500 Compton gang members at the intersection of Rosecrans and Oleander. They were stopping passing cars at random and robbing and beating the occupants. They pulled two Hispanics from one of these cars and beat them while we watched.

I requested permission to attempt a rescue with my team but was denied permission over the radio because my team was not properly trained or equipped to perform this rescue. It was too dangerous. I could see that the victims would soon be dead if we did nothing.

Fortunately my request was overheard by an LASD Special Enforcement Team. They soon spotted the same victims in the sea of angry rioting gang members. They requested permission to attempt the rescue, the team leader adding that he was properly trained and equipped to do it. To everyone's absolute frustration permission was again denied.

Later that night Lt. Anderson's Compton P.D. team found the two male Latinos naked and nearly dead. Both were transported to the hospital as John Does and both remained unidentified and in a coma for a long time. I don't know the outcome of their hospitalization, they may have died. I am still troubled by our various police leaders and their response to this situation, their lack of willingness to try to rescue those poor victims.

Major rioting involving groups of 200 to 400 gang members continued through May 25.

In the end, 53 people were dead and 2,383 injured. There were more than 523 fires set, and property losses are estimated to exceed $725,000,000. More than 15,000 rioters were arrested. Of the dead, 35 were killed by gunfire, six shot by law enforcement and two by National Guard troops. Two victims were stabbed to death, and two beaten to death. One victim was strangled and six died in automobile accidents, two were the victim of hit and run drivers.

Death is color blind. During the Rodney King Riots, 25 African-Americans, 16 Latinos, eight whites, two Asians, one Algerian, and one person from India were killed. Five of them were female.

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