Looking east from the southwestern corner of Florence and Normandie, in March 2010.
|Date||April 29, 1992|
|Location||Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Suspect(s)||Damian Williams, Antoine Miller, Henry Keith Watson, Gary Williams|
The attack on Reginald Denny was an incident in the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which Denny, a construction truck driver, was beaten nearly to death by a group of black assailants which came to be known as the "L.A. Four". The attack was captured on video by a news helicopter, and broadcast live on US national television.
On March 3, 1991, video tape captured Rodney King, a black man, being beaten by a group of LAPD officers. At their criminal trial more than a year later, on April 29, 1992, all four police 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 primarily black people took to the streets, many shouting "Black justice!" and "No justice, no peace!" Some of these protests and other large gatherings transformed into what became known as the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
On April 29, 1992, at 5:39PM, Denny loaded his red dump truck with 27 tons of sand and began driving to a plant in Inglewood, where 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 had no radio, so he did not realize that he was driving into a riot. At 6:46PM, after entering the intersection at Normandie, rioters threw rocks at his windows, and he heard people shouting for him to stop, forcing him to do so in the middle of the street. Antoine Miller climbed up and opened the truck door, giving an unidentified man the chance to pull Denny out and allowing Miller to steal a bag from inside. Henry Watson stood on Denny's head to hold him down as a group of men surrounded him and one man kicked him in the abdomen. As Watson walked away, two other unidentified men joined in the attack: one hurled a five-pound piece of medical equipment at Denny's head, and the other kicked him and hit him with a claw hammer. As Denny tried to stand up, Damian Williams threw a piece of brick at the side of his head, which knocked him unconscious. Williams pointed and laughed at Denny, did a victory dance in the road, and flashed gang signs at news helicopters, including that of Robert Tur and his wife, Marika, who were televising the events live from above in a helicopter. Anthony Brown joined Williams in taunting Denny and spat on him. One bystander stood over the injured man and filmed him with a camera but did not attempt to help him.
Denny remained on the ground next to his truck, bloodied and unconscious for over a minute. Gary Williams approached Denny and rifled through his pockets before fleeing with his wallet. As Denny slowly came to and got up to his knees, he appeared to be reaching out for help when the man who had earlier assaulted him with a claw hammer ran up gave him a flying kick to the face. Lance Parker on a motorcycle stopped and attempted to shoot the fuel tank of Denny's truck but missed before driving off. Bobby Green, Lei Yuille, and Titus Murphy and Terri Barnett (boyfriend and girlfriend), who had been watching the events on television, came to Denny's aid. Denny eventually dragged himself back into the cab, and drove away from the scene slowly and erratically. Green (himself a truck driver), boarded Denny's truck and took over at the wheel and drove him to the Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood. Those who helped Denny were recognized by the City of Los Angeles, TRW trucking, and Washington Mutual Bank (now Chase Bank).
Paramedics who attended to Denny said he came very close to death. Soon after Green brought Denny to the hospital, he suffered a seizure. His skull was fractured in ninety-one 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.
Reginald Oliver Denny (born January 22, 1956), 36 years old at the time, was a construction dump truck driver. On the first day of the rioting, Denny was attacked by several men, pulled from his International Road Tractor and brutally beaten, sustaining serious head trauma and other injuries, resulting in years of rehabilitation. During his recovery, he received over 27,000 get-well cards from supportive members of the community.
The "L.A. Four" was a nickname given to the first four men charged with the attack on Denny: Damian Williams, Antoine Miller, Henry Watson, 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 Monroe "Football" Williams, probably the best-known of the assailants, was a 19-year-old with a criminal record including arrests for battery, robbery, resisting arrest, and hit-and-run but 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 and joined a gang called the "Eight Trey Gangster Crips". Williams became the most recognized participant of L.A. riots due to the live news broadcast of his attack on Denny and his memorable nickname, which was repeated frequently in news media.
Antoine Eugene "Twan" Miller was a 19-year-old who lived with Damian Williams' family. Miller's mother was a drug addict, so 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. Miller had previously been arrested for misdemeanor drug charges, joyriding, and failing to appear in court. Before the attack on Denny, Miller was seen stopping several cars and robbing motorists of their belongings.
Henry Keith "Kiki" Watson was a 27-year-old former US Marine and an ex-convict who had served time for armed robbery. After his release from prison, he married, had a daughter, and was working two jobs at the time of the incident. Before assaulting Denny, Watson was seen walking along the road in a bloodied shirt and mugging an Asian man.
Gary Anthony Williams was a 33-year-old man described as a "drifter" and a "hustler" who begged at a local gas station. Although he claimed to work there, his arrest record listed him as unemployed.
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 other officers arrested Henry Watson and Antoine Miller. Soon afterwards, Gary Williams gave himself up to the police. The arrested three were suspected to be part of the Eight Trey 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 were charged with attempted murder in addition to assault charges; Damian Williams was also charged with aggravated mayhem. Miller was sentenced to probation.
Edi M.O. Faal was Damian Williams' defense attorney, and Earl C. Broadly was Henry Watson's. On 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, Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Morrison 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. Next to testify were 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. He and Broadly tried to humanize their clients. In the closing arguments, the defense attorneys claimed that 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 given credit for time served and was released on probation. Williams was denied bail and sentenced to a maximum of ten years on December 7, 1993. As the families of the defendants celebrated the lesser sentences, Denny surprisingly approached Williams' mother, Georgina, and hugged her. For weeks afterwards, public debate about racism and whether the verdicts were just or unjust raged on.
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 unsuccessfully suing the city of Los Angeles, Denny moved away from California to Lake Havasu to work as an independent boat motor mechanic. Denny has largely avoided the media and rarely speaks about his ordeal.
In 1997, Damian Williams was released for good behavior, but in 2003, he was sentenced to 46 years for the 2000 murder of Grover Tinner, a drug dealer, not far from the spot he had attacked Denny. He was previously incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison, and currently resides at Calipatria State Prison. On February 1, 2004, Antoine Miller was shot and killed in a Hollywood nightclub at the age of 31. After his trial, Henry Watson was re-arrested and sentenced to three years for a narcotics conviction. After his release, Watson remained in Los Angeles where he owned and operated a limousine service. 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." In an interview with PBS, Watson was asked if he wished he could turn back the clock and have behaved differently. Watson shook his head and replied "No, it is what it is, I can't change that."
The best available footage of Denny's beating on April 29, 1992, was filmed by Marika Tur from a helicopter piloted by her then-spouse, reporter Robert 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, LANS sued the site YouTube in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, for copyright infringement. LANS alleged in the lawsuit that, in the space of one week, a version of the video uploaded by a YouTube user was viewed over 1,000 times via the site. They argued this hurt their ability to license the video. YouTube requested summary judgment based on DMCA safe harbor, which was denied. LANS voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice, planning to join a class action against YouTube in New York. YouTube appealed both the dismissal and the summary judgment ruling. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal.