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The attack on Reginald Denny was an incident in the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which Reginald Denny, a white construction truck driver, was beaten nearly to death by a group of black assailants who came to be known as the "L.A. Four". The attack was captured by a Los Angeles News Service helicopter piloted by Bob Tur and shot by Marika Tur. The video was broadcast live on US national television.
On March 3, 1991, video tape captured Rodney King, a black man, being repeatedly beaten by a group of LAPD officers. More than a year later, on April 29, 1992, all four officers were acquitted when the jury could not reach a verdict. The result sparked outrage about racism across the country, especially in South Central Los Angeles and South East Los Angeles where large groups of blacks took to the streets, many shouting "Black justice!" and "No justice, no peace!" Some of these protests and other large gatherings devolved into mob violence and destruction, in what became known as the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Reginald Oliver Denny, 33 years old at the time, was a construction truck driver. On the first day of the rioting, Denny was attacked by four men, pulled from his truck and brutally beaten, sustaining serious head injuries and other injuries. As a result of the injuries he suffered during the attacks, Denny had to undergo years of rehabilitative therapy, and his speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged.
After the 1993 trial of his assailants, he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show to shake hands with one of the assailants, Henry Keith Watson, after he apologized to Denny for the attacks. Denny largely avoids the media and rarely speaks about his ordeal. As of 2007, he works independently as a boat motor mechanic in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where he moved after an unsuccessful lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles.
The L.A. Four was a nickname given to the first four men charged with the attack on Denny: Damian Williams, Henry Watson, Antoine Miller and Gary Williams. Two additional men, Anthony Brown and Lance Parker, were also charged with the attack on Denny but not until after the "L.A. Four" nickname had spread. The six were redubbed the "L.A. Four Plus".
Damian "Football" Williams, probably the best-known of the assailants, was a 19-year-old with a criminal record including arrests for auto theft and robbery but had no convictions. A football star in high school, he dreamed of becoming a professional football player and briefly played in a semi-professional league. When he was 16, he dropped out of school. He joined a gang called the "Eight Tray Gangster Crips".
Williams became the most recognized participant of L.A. riots due to the live news broadcast of his attack on Denny and because of his memorable nickname which was repeated frequently in news media. By computer enhancement of the videotape which revealed an identifying tattoo, Williams was identified as the man who had used a brick on Denny. Although the Denny beating received great publicity, Williams and his companions also assaulted and beat several Asian and Latino motorists who were passing through the area. Williams was charged with attempted murder as well as assault and mayhem.
In 1993, Williams was convicted of mayhem and misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 10 years. In 1997, Williams was released for good behavior, but in 2003, he received a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison for the 2000 murder of Grover Tinner, a drug dealer. He will not be eligible for parole until he serves 47 years.
Antoine "Twan" Miller was a 19-year-old who lived with the Williams family. Miller's mother was a drug addict; and as a child, Miller was sent to live with his grandmother. When he was 12, his grandmother killed his grandfather and was convicted of this murder, leaving Miller homeless. Williams' mother, well-known around the neighborhood as kind and caring, took Miller into her home. Miller's only previous arrest was for joyriding. On February 1, 2004, at the age of 31, Miller was shot and killed in a Hollywood nightclub.
Henry Keith "Kiki" Watson was a 27-year-old former U.S. Marine and an ex-convict who had served time for robbery. After his release from prison, he married, had children and was working two jobs. According to Williams, Watson was known around the neighborhood as a "gentleman". After he was freed from jail in 1993, he appeared on the Phil Donahue show and apologized to Denny for the attacks. Later, he would serve three years in prison for a narcotics conviction. Fifteen years after the attacks, Watson said during an interview "Nobody specifically sought out Reginald Denny to cause him any harm. We got caught up in the moment, just like everyone else." As of 2007, Watson still lives in Los Angeles and operates his own limousine service.
Anthony Brown was also a member of Eight Tray Gangster Crips.
On April 29, 1992, at 5:39 PM, Denny loaded his red, 18-wheel truck with 27 tons of sand and began driving to a plant in Inglewood where he said the sand was due. He left the Santa Monica Freeway and took a familiar shortcut across Florence Avenue to get to his destination. His truck did not have a radio, so he did not realize that he was driving into a riot. At 6:46 p.m., after entering the intersection at Normandie, rioters threw rocks at his windows and he heard people shouting for him to stop. Overhead, a news helicopter with reporter Bob Tur aboard captured the events that followed.
Denny stopped in the middle of the street. Antoine Miller opened the truck door, giving others the chance to pull Denny out. Another man, Henry Keith Watson, then held Denny's head down with his foot. Denny was kicked in the abdomen by an unidentified man. Two other unidentified men who had led a liquor store break-in earlier that day hurled a five-pound piece of medical equipment at Denny's head and hit him three times with a claw hammer. Damian Williams then threw a slab of concrete at Denny's head and knocked him unconscious.
Williams then did a victory dance over Denny. He then flashed gang signs at news helicopters, which were televising the events live, and pointed and laughed at Denny. Anthony Brown then spat on Denny and left with Williams. Several bystanders took pictures of Denny but did not attempt to help him. LAPD officers in the vicinity that the attack took place did not provide help to Denny.
After the beating, various men threw beer bottles at the unconscious Denny. Gary Williams approached Denny and rifled through his pockets. Lance Parker stopped near Denny and attempted to shoot the fuel tank of Denny's truck but missed.
Bobby Green (a truck driver), Titus Murphy and Terri Barnett (boyfriend and girlfriend), and Lei Yuille (a dietitian), who had been watching the events on TV, came to Denny's aid. Denny eventually regained consciousness and dragged himself back into the cab, driving away from the scene slowly and erratically;. Green, himself a truck driver, boarded Denny's truck and took over at the wheel, driving him to the hospital. At the time that Green took over, Denny was on the brink of losing consciousness again, and suffered a seizure shortly thereafter.
Paramedics who attended to Denny said he came very close to death. His skull was fractured in 91 places and pushed into the brain. His left eye was so badly dislocated that it would have fallen into his sinus cavity had the surgeons not replaced the crushed bone with a piece of plastic. A permanent crater remains in his head despite efforts to correct it. Denny had to undergo years of rehabilitative therapy and his speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged.
On May 12, outgoing Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates started a search for three of Denny's attackers who were identified from the video of the beating. Gates himself arrested Damian Williams while Henry Watson and Antoine Miller were arrested by other officers. Soon afterwards Gary Williams gave himself up to the police, having stolen Denny's wallet. The arrested three were suspected to be part of the gang 8-Tray Gangster Crips.
Gary Williams pleaded guilty to charges of robbery and assault in the spring of 1993 and was sentenced to three years in jail. Judge John W. Ouderkirk granted Miller a separate trial on the grounds that the strong evidence against Watson and Damian Williams could harm his case. The two, in addition to assault charges, were charged with attempted murder. Damian Williams was also charged with aggravated mayhem.
Edi M.O. Faal was the defense attorney for Damian Williams and Earl C. Broadly was the defense attorney for Henry Watson. On Wednesday, July 28, 1993, Watson's and Williams' trial began. The two were charged with the assault of Denny as well as five other motorists and two firefighters who were driving past the intersection of Florence and Normandie shortly after the start of the Los Angeles riots on April 29, 1992. At the trial, Denny faced his attackers for the first time since they had assaulted him. On August 12, 1993, a jury of five whites, three blacks, three Latinos, and one Asian was chosen.
As in the Rodney King police trial, the prosecution relied heavily on video shot by a third party, this time in a helicopter. They also planned to build up portraits of Watson and Williams as criminals, antisocial, and beyond likelihood of rehabilitation and redemption.
On Thursday, August 19, Lawrence Morrison, deputy district attorney, delivered the opening statement. A week later, the videotape of the beating was shown. The doctors who treated Denny testified, describing his wounds and their efforts to repair them and were followed by witnesses of the beating. The defense was denied direct contact with the witnesses to protect their identities. In late August, Denny's rescuers testified for the prosecution. The prosecution rested on September 17, 1993.
The defense began pleading on September 20, making a case for unpremeditated assault. Faal began by challenging the video evidence and portrayed Williams as a victim of poverty and racism. She and Broadly tried to humanize their clients.
In the closing arguments the defense attorneys claimed Williams and Watson were being used as scapegoats for the L.A. riots. The prosecution counter argued that the two had knowingly tried to kill Denny and were not victims.
After a few jury changes, a hung jury resulted for all charges except a felony count of mayhem for Williams, and one misdemeanor assault charge for both Williams and Watson on October 18. Watson was then given credit for time served and was released. As the families of the defendants celebrated the lesser sentences, Denny surprisingly approached Damian Williams' mother Georgina and hugged her. Other family members then exchanged warm embraces and words of reconciliation with him.
For weeks afterwards, public debate about racism and whether the verdict was just or unjust raged on. As the debate continued, Williams was denied bail and sentenced to a maximum of ten years in prison on December 7, 1993 by Judge Ouderkirk. Williams was released early for good behavior in 1997. On December 5, 2003, he received a life sentence for murdering a drug dealer in July, 2000. He will not be eligible for parole until he serves 47 years.
The best available footage of Denny's beating on April 29, 1992 was filmed by Marika Tur from a helicopter piloted by her then-husband, reporter Bob Tur. Together, they operated a company called Los Angeles News Service (LANS). In the rush to cover the riots as they developed, dozens of television networks and stations around the world simply copied and aired the LANS footage without permission.
LANS sued nearly all of them in federal court for copyright infringement; At least one of these lawsuits was successful. The last case was finally settled in 2004. Only a small handful of stations, mostly in California, already had preexisting agreements with LANS or waited to negotiate agreements before airing the footage, and thus were not sued.
In July 2006, the site YouTube was also sued in federal court for copyright infringement. Robert Tur said, in the lawsuit, that in one week's time, a version of the video uploaded by a YouTube user was viewed over 1,000 times via the site, thereby hurting his ability to license the video. The case was later dismissed by the United States District Court for the Central District of California.