[These trial updates will make much more sense if you read my feature in Esquire]
It’s all about the video, this case. Visual DNA, attorneys call it, because your eyes don’t lie. And yet look – both sides, prosecution and defense, are pointing to the same piece of tape and saying, “Look! Surely now you can see that he’s innocent/guilty!”
In a recent court filing, on Jul 8th, Knight’s defense attorney Tom Mesereau promised fresh video that shows, “one of his attackers brandishing a weapon.” In the end, it was the same footage as we saw before – the Tam’s Burgers parking lot security video – only a longer version this time, showing more of the aftermath. I chopped that video, cropped it, blew it up and gave it some Instagram filter flair (Lomo). It’s a horrible clip to fuss over but it had to be done. Originally the action was tiny and cramped up in the top left corner, with most of the screen taken up by tarmac, and cars rolling up to get their drive-thru. So I’ve tried to zero in on the fight.
(WARNING: This clip is hard to watch. A man dies, his name is Terry Carter and he was loved. About 2000 people showed up at his funeral. His daughters are in court every day. They’re very nice people. I don’t mean to exploit his death, but to present some evidence in this case.)
That’s Suge’s red truck. The man who approaches is Cle “Bone” Sloan, an Athens Park Piru. As you can see he doesn’t hesitate, he just launches into it. I’ll blog later about how the camera fucks up his story, the yarn he spun for the police in his first interview. As he said at the prelims, “I might have um, what’s the word, embellished. Because I knew I was responsible too, and Terry [Carter] was dead.” Bone is knocked flying when Suge reverses, and then the truck runs over him again before ploughing into Carter.
One of the critical questions of this trial is: Did Bone have a gun? If he did, then Suge’s self-defense argument looks sound. So Mesereau says he did. His co-counsel Thaddeus Culpepper puts it this way: “There’s a certain swagger that a person carrying a gun walks with, especially in the black culture. So he’s getting ready to use it, or he thinks he is. He’s what we call ‘bailing’. I mean, think about it – who walks up on Suge Knight like that? Suge’s got 100lbs on Sloan. The playing field was not level.”
This is bailing, I guess:
You can see the swagger, the spring, the arms swinging at his side full of purpose. But no one goes to prison for swagger. Where’s the weapon? The video’s unclear. Maybe there’s a way to enhance it, catch a glint of metal, an L-shaped object. But even if there isn’t, is it possible that Suge saw a gun in Sloan’s hand? Maybe that’s why he took such a pounding in that truck. Maybe the gun emerged at a certain point in the fight and Suge suddenly lurched the truck into action to save himself. Maybe maybe maybe.
But there’s more. Once Suge’s truck leaves the scene, a man approaches Bone’s body – quick before the paramedics get here! He turns him over and takes something out of Bone’s right hand. And whatever it was, it must have been important – Bone got knocked to the floor by a truck and whacked his head on the ground, but he never let go of what was in his right hand. It’s as though his life depended on it. And look what his friend, the gangbanger Jimmy Chris, does with it. He puts it in his waistband, or his back pocket, all the while looking furtively around him.
Notice also, at 15 seconds after Jimmy has taken this mystery object from Bone, a man enters the screen from the left – it looks like he’s approaching to help maybe? But he takes one look at what Jimmy’s holding, throws his hands up and gets the fuck out. You can practically hear him say, “oh shit!”
But the DA, the Sheriff, and Bone all deny that it was a gun. It was a cell phone. No, it was a radio, a walkie talkie, you know, the kind you need when you’re doing security on a film set like Sloan was?
A couple of things:
“Did you ever see someone put a cell phone in their waistband?” – as Fletcher said, and as Mesereau said, and as TMZ suggested when it ran the clip after the incident, putting a little arrow over the object and a label “possible gun”?
You really think that the first instinct of any gangbanger, while their friend is lying, crushed on the ground, is to rush in, before the cops get there, and grab his… cell phone? What was Jimmy after – Sloan’s minutes? The friends and family plan?
And is this what they teach in cop school, that when Compton gangbangers get down, someone’s probably packing… a radio? Seriously?
But look at how it went down in the preliminary hearing in April. This is Sloan squirming as Fletcher pointed out that his phone and radio were actually in his car:
FLETCHER: it is a picture of Cle “Bone” Sloan’s radio and cell phone in his car… Do you recognize [that]?
FLETCHER: That in fact your cell phone and your radio that were in your car at the time of this incident, correct?
SLOAN: That… it wasn’t there at the time of the incident. It got placed there later. And I never leave the radio on top. I always stick it in the cup holder, so obviously somebody laid it back in there. I imagine when Jimmy took it from me, he put it there.
FLETCHER: So Jimmy Chris took your radio from you?
SLOAN: Yeah. I didn’t… I didn’t know it at first, but yes, that’s what I’m saying. I’m saying Jimmy Chris took my radio, and it wasn’t a gun.
FLETCHER; OK, are you aware that there is a video from the beginning and end and no one entered your car?
SLOAN: Man, that video has ruined my life.
A little later, we heard Sloan doth protest about this alleged gun. Pure Hollywood it was, but then, he’s an actor, he was in Training Day and End of Watch. He saw his chance to make a speech to the floor, his you-can’t-handle-the-truth moment, and oh he was going to take it, show the court that this gun libel, well it was just wrong dammit, wrong!
SLOAN: I’m telling this court I didn’t have a gun. Only thing was out there was my radio… I haven’t carried a gun in two decades. I don’t need a gun. I’m a film-maker. I’m an award-winning filmmaker! I don’t mess with guns. And I am offended by you trying to make this a gun. And I know I’m talking too much. But I need to get my reputation back, because I didn’t have a gun. I don’t need a gun. And I will never take a gun to work. Why?
FLETCHER: I’m just asking you for clarification.
SLOAN: I’m asking a question too. Why would I take a gun to work? I work every day. I’ve been doing this for twenty years.
JUDGE COEN Let’s move on please.
Of course Sloan’s going to deny it. Here’s what happens if he admits it’s a gun:
- The prosecution’s case fall apart. Knight’s deadly escape will look even more like self-defense than it already does.
- It puts the DA Cynthia Barnes in the tricky position of having granted immunity to a man who goes up to people in car parks and attacks them with a deadly weapon.
- So Barnes would rip that immunity off Sloan like a mask at the end of Scooby Doo. Her grounds? That his whole story about being unarmed was in fact bullshit. Because there’s two kinds of immunity – ‘transactional’, which gets you off whatever the circumstance, and ‘use’, which only protects you from your own statements being used against you. Sloan has the ‘use’ kind. And Barnes wouldn’t even need Sloan’s admission of holding a gun to prosecute the shit out of him for felony murder – after all, he started this fire. You’ve seen the video.
- Sloan goes to the big house with the wonderful reputation of having snitched to the Sheriffs about “Big Homey”.
So let Sloan squirm up there. Let him be the Magritte of this trial: Ceci N’est Pas Un Gun. But it’s something else to see the investigating homicide detective Sheriff Richard Biddle sing the same tune. Biddle has been a cop for 33 years now.
FLETCHER: Have you ever seen someone carry a radio tucked in their waistband?
BIDDLE: I don’t know.
FLETCHER: Had you ever seen people put guns in their waistband?
FLETCHER: And in the video we can see the person bends down by Mr Sloan and takes something out and puts it in his waistband, correct?
BIDDLE: I don’t know if it was a waistband or a pocket or… I can’t tell.
FLETCHER: What did you think it was when he pulled his shirt up and put it in the back?
BIDDLE: My first assumption was it was the radio.
I love that: “My first assumption”. Here we are in the world of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, in which innocent black men are disproportionately victimized and brutalized precisely because of the first assumptions of law enforcement – but Sheriff Biddle, he’s not that way. He’ll look at a couple of gangbangers passing a gun-shaped object between them and go straight to “radio”.
Mind you, Sheriff Biddle’s favorite musical is Annie, Get Your Radio. And he loves that movie The Radios of Navarone.
And last Friday, July 17th, this gun thing just got weirder, too. It was objectively a bad day for the Knight camp for several reasons – everything they were asking for was slapped down. But then, Judge Ronald Coen appeared to side with Biddle, Barnes and Bone (the Sheriff, the DA and the witness) about the gun. Mesereau was trying knock Knight’s bail down from $10 million, and part of his argument was that Bone was armed – just look at the tape! But Coen wasn’t buying it. He said he’d watched the video “about five times”. “This person [Jimmy Chris] picked up an object and appeared to put it in his back pocket,” he said. “And this person didn’t leave the scene. He went from Victim 1 [Sloan] to the decedent [Carter], and stood over him for several minutes…. If I had a gun in my back pocket I wouldn’t be around the company of Deputy Sheriffs…”
It was a telling moment. He wasn’t ruling, he was telegraphing, letting the attorneys know how he was leaning. So now Suge’s team knows that this gun argument might not fly at trial, not as it stands anyway – they’re going to need something more. And the DA knows that they at least have a chance of shutting the gun allegation down altogether. Barnes could possibly file a motion to limit, to prevent Mesereau from making the argument at all, since he has no witness saying it’s a gun, in fact the only witnesses so far have said, however implausibly, that it isn’t. And if that happens – well, Knight might find himself doing life.
For me, Coen’s argument stretches credulity. I watched the tape too, and it’s true that Jimmy Chris does wait with Carter until the medics show up. But after that, he’s gone. There’s no sight of him when the Sheriffs show up. And the moment he steps out of shot, it’s not unreasonable to think that he might hand the gun off to a third party. That’s what happens with guns, it’s a relay. They get passed along.
So right now, out in the hood, the gun issue is live. Witnesses are reluctant, of course – it’s Compton – but they know that “Big Homey’s” life might depend on it, so the thinking is, there’s money to be made. Hands are out, the hustle is on. Is testimony you pay for admissible? That’s just one of the problems for Knight’s investigators here. The other is Sheriff Biddle, who they claim is busy scaring all possible witnesses into silence – at least that’s what Mesereau suggested at the bail hearing.
Who knows what’s happening down there? There are even rumors that Sloan himself may be ready to admit that he was armed that day – for the right price. After all, he may have immunity from the law, but does he have immunity from the hood? Does any snitch?
I’m going to look into the economics of snitching in the hood. And there’s some incredible testimony in the “Murder Book” that I can share too.