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Can You Compare Kelly Thomas To Rodney King?

                                                          by Allen R. Kates, MFAW, BCECR

                                                   Fullerton PD Officers Confront Kelly Thomas                            LAPD Officers Confront Rodney King                               
Many media stories compare the Kelly Thomas beating to the Rodney King beating and declare they are the same circumstances. Nothing is further from the truth.

Rodney King Car Stop And Beating

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was caught speeding in Los Angeles, CA, at speeds between 55 and 80 miles per hour in a residential district. He refused to pull over and was eventually cornered. He said later that he didn’t stop because he was drunk. Tests showed he was also on pot.

During the traffic stop, King was severely beaten by LAPD police officers after he resisted arrest, acted bizarrely and would not follow commands. A resident of the area videotaped the incident and it was subsequently shown on television around the world. Four officers stood trial and were acquitted in 1992. Outraged and opportunistic people then rioted, looting and burning stores and cars, and killing 53 people and injuring over 2,000. Then the United States federal government charged the officers with civil rights violations, and two of the officers were sent to prison.


Sergeant Stacey Koon, the supervising officer, who only tased King, and Officer Laurence Powell were found guilty and sentenced to 32 months in prison. Officers Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno were acquitted of all charges. 


    Sgt. Stacey Koon      Officer Laurence Powell

The Federal Trial

There never should have been a federal trial. I believe that the correct verdict was found in the first trial when the officers were acquitted. The problem was that people watching television rarely saw the entire videotape of what happened, and this eventually tainted the jury. TV viewers only saw the officers striking King with their batons, and, consequently, tried the officers in the press without knowing all the facts. If they had seen the entire video, they would have witnessed King resisting arrest, acting bizarrely, forcing the officers to use every means to attempt to subdue him.

Was King On PCP?

At 6’ 3” and weighing 352 pounds, Rodney King was a big man at the time of his arrest. In trying to subdue him, four officers jumped on him to cuff him, but King threw them off. How was that possible? As well as being drunk and on pot, he may also
have been on PCP, a surgical anesthetic that seemingly gives people superhuman strength and a feeling of invulnerability. People on PCP often feel no pain. However, the drug was not found in his system hours later. It can metabolize in just a few hours. Ingesting PCP is the only explanation for his ability to take on the officers and not feel the effects of their efforts to stop him.

Interviewed Sgt. Stacey Koon And Officer Tim Wind

I interviewed Sgt. Stacey Koon and Officer Tim Wind before the federal trial. As a matter of fact, I spent an entire day with Sgt. Koon talking about the Rodney King episode and his life in policing. He described what happened in minute detail, and, you could say it was self-serving, but I believe him. He explained the LAPD use of force rules at the time and what they were trying to achieve by “swarming” this huge, powerful, raging and outwardly invincible individual.

After watching the entire video, I saw that everything Sgt. Koon described is on the video. Unfortunately, what sent the officers to prison was an overzealous federal government determined to punish somebody, and a police department that would not stand behind its officers who followed the rules that the department had issued.

Bottom line: Thomas Versus King

Rodney King was obviously guilty of a crime, was endangering the public, almost impossible to subdue, high as a kite, refused to follow commands and was a danger to the officers.

Kelly Thomas, on the other hand, was not guilty of anything, was endangering no one, was cooperative to the point of meekness until he was attacked by Officer Ramos. It’s all there on the video.


The Kelly Thomas and Rodney King beatings are not at all alike. I wish the media would stop trying to make the flawed comparison.

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