Barry Kowalski, Who Won Convictions in Rodney King Civil Rights Case, Dies at 74

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Attorney Barry F. Kowalski was often considered the best of the best of the Department of Justice’s many prosecutors, who for decades chased hate and advocated for civil rights across the country.

Kowalski, along with former Asst. U.S. Atty. Steven D. Clymer, was the handpicked prosecutor in one of the defining civil rights cases of the 1990s: the trial of four Los Angeles police officers charged in the 1991 beating of Rodney King, an incident that ultimately inflamed the city.

Kowalski was the Justice Department’s assistant chief in the criminal section in its civil rights division when a grainy video emerged of four white police officers beating King with batons and kicking him while he was on the ground after being stopped for speeding.

But an all-white jury in Simi Valley found the officers not guilty of excessive force and hours after the verdicts, rioting broke out in the streets of Los Angeles. More than 50 people died, and there was an estimated $1.5 billion in damages. As the Watt riots had done, the street violence exposed the racial fissures that crisscrossed L.A.

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