I didn’t say this in the Esquire story, but on my first day in Cleveland for the RNC, I kind of fucked up. With the help of Google Maps.
I woke up in this lovely Airbnb in Tremont, and it was sunny out, a breeze in the trees. So I thought, ‘I’m going to walk into town, get a proper look at the place. It’s my first time here, let’s smell the coffee.’ I hadn’t accounted for how insanely tense things were at the time, what with another string of police shootings, the murder of the cops in Dallas, the Orlando massacre. And then Google Maps sent me down these deserted streets with abandoned buildings down by the canal and under the bridge, where passing cars give me a funny look. After all, it’s just me out there… and a trillion cops on high alert.
I nodded at a couple of patrol cars in a driveway. Then a couple more in a sunken lay-by. K-9 unit. Good to know. And a whole squadron tucked into the shadows of the underpass. OK, maybe forget the nodding, just look ahead and keep walking. Oh look there’s guy on the roof too. In full camo! Are those long guns?
And my stupid phone won’t let up: “Continue on Gaza Strip for a half mile.”
I was in the most militarized square mile in America, out by the edges where the troops were gathered for battle. And I was looking more Muslim by the second. The minute Googlemaps told me to head up this hill, I knew I was done. The sirens blurped and the loudspeaker came out. “Stop! Turn around!” Three Secret Service guys in black emerged from behind a nearby dumpster and started going through my bag.
“Googlemaps!” I said, pointing at my phone. They just looked at me. Did they understand? It’s a funny word, but at least it doesn’t sound like Allahu Akbar. Which I mustn’t say out loud. Or even think – what am I thinking? I’m not even Muslim! Just sound English. Think Colin Firth. And smile. These nice gentlemen can do anything they want to me. No one’s taking a cell phone video here. As they ran my ID, I flustered, a parody of English manners. “You can probably tell, I’m new in town. Haha! Yes, a little lost, that’s all. I’m Airbnbing in Tremont so I just put it in Googlemaps and it said, go by canal where all the cops are, haha! You couldn’t tell me where the Quicken Loans Arena is could you? I mean of course you could, silly question…”
I saw my stammering, sweating reflection in their sunglasses. And all I could think was: Good thing I shaved. I look a lot more terror with a bit of scruff.
Anyway, they pointed me in a direction without even tasing me. But of course all these streets were blocked off. So the only way in I could find was through the Tower City Mall. You go up to the food court, take a left by the cinema, and just follow the walkway right over, they said. So I did.
And I have to hand it to the cinema manager. Because the Coming Soon movie posters that lined the corridor all the way to the convention looked hand picked for the occasion.
My piece about the Republican convention is out in Esquire UK. So right away I know how lucky I am. Lucky to witness history up close. Lucky to have an editor like Alex Bilmes who says yes to these open-ended reportage essay thingies. Lucky to get credentials at all, seeing as I missed the deadline by a mile. And lucky to get a sweet AirBnB at the last minute when every hotel room in the vicinity was booked, clear up to the Illinois state line. There were some poor souls paying $280/night to kip on a sofa.
But still, it was a tricky gig.
For starters, it may have been the most covered political convention in American history up to that point – 15,000 media passes. What could I possibly add? And from what angle? This story is bananas on so many levels, it’s hard to know which banana to make my own. Plenty of A-list writers had already ventured into Trumpistan, quill in hand – George Saunders for the New Yorker, Dave Eggers for The Guardian. As Wired’s Oli Franklin-Wallis told me, “good luck following those guys.”
And what was the story anyway? It keeps changing with Trump, each day brings fresh outrage. He steps up to the mic, makes a gif-worthy face and tosses out quote cookies to the yapping press corps. And new cookies render the old ones obsolete. Trump raises the cookie bar. He’s the cookie monster. Already, since the convention, he’s insulted a gold star family, suggested that gun nuts might assassinate Hillary, claimed the election is rigged, and “softened” on mass deportation, which is like Charlton Heston going off guns.
In all honesty though, the greatest challenge was just doing it alone. In the old days, when mags could afford to send photographers, I used to knock around with Chris Floyd on stories like this, which was a total joy. Chris is a great photographer, but that aside, just to have a collaborator and wing man, a buddy who keeps you sane. With Floydy, the wine and cheese event with the Young Republicans would have been less daunting and more of a giggle.
(L) Ginny Greiman, a Harvard Law Professor, who’s starting Professors for Trump: “He probably should release his tax returns yes. But even if he didn’t, I’d still vote for him.”
(L) Dana Dougherty from the Florida Delegation, who brought in her own Trump doll on every day of the convention. Push a button on the back and it says, “you’re fired”. (R) Sunny Houlihan from Maryland, who once worked in Saudi Arabia as a lab tech. “A friend of mine was caned for having exposed elbows. So don’t tell me about sharia law.”
The nastiest rhetoric of all came from some Christian extremists in the Westborough Baptist vein, screaming at the sodomites to repent. Jesus, homo-rage and cops – I must be at a Republican convention.
In the designated protest zone, this guy stands ironically encircled by cops.
(L) some of the delightful badges at the InfoWars rally. (R) a guy who insisted he was a product manager in a Fortune 200 company, and yet here he is dressed as a nun on Game of Thrones ringing a bill and playing “Shame!” on a loop. Hillary as Cersei.
There’s a tradition of daft headgear at conventions. Texas come like a cowboy army, Washington’s got the tree tops hats like cheap car air fresheners. No shortage of #MAGA baseball caps of course, but they’re also quite big on boaters here. Boaters are easy to pin badges too. And they go nuts for badges here.
(L) Mike Fleming, a 54 year old biker from Pittsburgh and (R) Chris Cox, founder of Bikers For Trump: “We’re not racists, we’re patriots.”
Things have been moving along in Suge World. After the bombshell motion accusing everyone and their mother of conspiracy (which was slapped down the other day btw), Suge appeared in court – this was April 21st – and apropos of nothing, started talking directly to Judge Coen, not through his lawyer, not about points of law, just a venting of emotion and urgency. “You should run for President!” he kept saying, along with lots of stuff about jailhouse informants and dark conspiracies within the Sheriff’s department. I’ll tell you more about that in another post.
For now, I want to break down what happened at 1 Oak. Because the ticking bomb in Thaddeus’s epic Motion to Unseal was the charge that a Sheriff’s Deputy helped gunmen attempt to murder the Sugar Bear at the 1 Oak nightclub in West Hollywood. You may have seen the headlines: “Suge Knight Claims Dr. Dre Tried to Have Him Killed – And the Cops Were In On It” (Daily Beast). Well, I was on the inside of all this stuff, going back nearly a year now.
But before I get to all that, a quick refresher.
It’s after 1am on August 24th, 2014 at a pre-VMA party hosted by Chris Brown, and the club is filled to capacity. In the middle is Katt Williams, the comedian, who allegedly calls Suge to the club on a pretext that’s unclear. Suge allegedly has the job of ‘minding’ Katt, what with Katt being bipolar and a tad unpredictable (here he is fighting a 15 year old). This, according to Toi, Suge’s fiancé.
Anyway, Suge says ‘sure, I’ll come down, I need to talk to Chris Brown anyway.’ He wants to smooth over some beef with people close to Brown. So he shows up, has a chat with Brown who’s and as he walks away, two gunmen open fire – in the middle of a crowded nightclub – hitting the big man six times. It’s mayhem and screaming, everyone scrambling for the exits. And yet, in all this, Suge manages to crawl to safety, eventually making it outside, covered in blood, where the police detain him in the back of a cop car assuming he was a suspect. The only reason he survives is because he turned his body to the side and the bullets went through his outer flesh rather than piercing his internal organs.
When I wrote about this for my Esquire story, no one mentioned a Sheriff being involved – and I talked to Toi, Suge’s fiancé, Thaddeus and Suge’s former lawyer Matt Fletcher, as well as several other off the record sources. A story was emerging, but I couldn’t publish anything – it was all hearsay. But now, that’s all changed. Thaddeus has made it all public record, accusing all kinds of people of all kinds of crimes. And among them is a Sheriff, whose name I first heard last July.
Here’s how it unfolded.
According to Toi, Suge was in his hospital bed after 1 Oak – with Toi at his side – when the investigating Sheriffs, Richard Biddle and Barry Hall, came by to show them both security video footage of the shooting. It was so clear that she had the same security system installed at the gym she owns in Sherman Oaks. They asked Suge to identify the shooters, and he refused. But Barry Hall called her later to say that they’d located one of them – he’d been holed up at a downtown apartment, leaving only to get cigarettes and a bite to eat. The cops nabbed him on one of these excursions and found him packing. He had to be, he said, because Big Bad Suge Knight was after him for the 1 Oak shooting – even though he had nothing to do with it! The cops checked his gun, and it didn’t match the one used in the shootings, and so, Toi told me, they let him go. The guy on the security camera footage who was opening fire in a crowded nightclub? They let him walk.
Thaddeus’s motion names that alleged shooter on page 8:
“[Sheriff Richard] Biddle informed Knight that the Sheriffs Dept detained a man named Tee-Money who claimed to be a shooter at 1 Oak. Biddle informed Knight that the gunman stated that Dr Dre had paid him and a friend $50,000 to kill Knight. The Sheriff’s Dept later inexplicably released Tee-Money from custody.”
So – who’s Tee-Money? Could it be this guy: Te-Money (left), an associate of Abou “Bu” Thiam (center), the brother of Akon (right) and former manager of Chris Brown?
The conspiracy that Suge alleges is that Dr Dre is out to kill him and it’s not clear how Dre is connected to these guys. But sources close to Knight have told me that Bu Thiam and Knight have had a beef going back several years now. In 2009, Knight was beaten up by members of Akon’s security team in Scottsdale, Arizona. And it all came to the fore just weeks before 1 Oak when Knight went to visit Chris Brown in a Los Angeles studio and got into a fight with one of Brown’s associates. Was it Bu? The fight resulted in a death threat against Suge, which he heard about through the grapevine. And apparently, his future shooters successfully stalked him at Hollywood Hookah, just days before 1 Oak. That was why Knight went to talk to Chris Brown, to ask him to squash this death threat if he could.
Just to be clear – all of this is according to “sources close to Knight”. And it’s all very one sided. Beyond these allegations from Knight, I have no other evidence as yet. From what I can tell Bu Thiam is a successful music industry executive, the former head of A&R at Def Jam, and currently “the boss” on the Oxygen reality show, “Like A Boss”. His brother Akon is beloved for pledging to bring electricity to 600 million people in Africa. And Te-Money – I don’t know about him, but I’ve emailed him for a response to these charges. No response yet.
But I know what you’re thinking – what about this Sheriff, right? Bad lieutenant! OK, OK, I’m getting there.
It was July that Thaddeus called me, all excited. Mesereau was on the case, and one of the investigators they were using – whose name I can’t mention – had been told by a source within the Sheriff’s Dept that a Deputy named “Boyd” had been recently suspended for his involvement in the 1 Oak shooting. The word was that he’d been seen on the club’s security video letting the shooters in, and then later that night on the cameras at LAX airport, dropping them off, and giving them a bro-hug – helping them flee the country essentially.
Thaddeus didn’t know Boyd’s first name. But he knew that he worked at the San Fernando Courthouse, so I called one day: “Can I speak to Deputy Boyd?” And the woman who answered was like, “Oh Henry? He doesn’t work here anymore. I don’t know where he went…” I tracked down his salary information as a public servant – Henry A. Boyd – and I told Thaddeus.
And not long afterwards, another source emerged talking about a rogue Sheriff at 1 Oak. Only this time, the source was dead.
The man above is Russell Poole, an ex-LAPD investigator who had worked on the Biggie Smalls case back in the day. He was booted out of the LAPD, reportedly for exposing police corruption, but he never gave up on those cases, and in recent years, his investigations led him not to the LAPD but to the troubled Sheriff’s department. He had a wildly convoluted conspiracy that’s far too complicated to get into here, and he found an author, Michael Douglas Carlin, to collaborate with on two books over the last two years, exposing the Sheriff’s corruption, and claiming to solve both the Tupac and Biggie murders.
According to Carlin, Poole knew about Boyd. And on August 19th, he took this and his other findings to the Sheriff headquarters in Monterey Park to try to convince them to drop the charges against Suge. Much better to use Suge as a witness to solve these historic murders, he argued, and clear out some bad apples from the Sheriff’s Department in the process. But – and this story just keeps getting stranger doesn’t it? – Poole died in that meeting of a massive heart attack. Right there in the office of Captain Rod Kusch, head of LASD homicide. Needless to say, he was the first person ever to die in that office. And Carlin is convinced that the Sheriffs actually killed him in cold blood, after all, he had evidence of Sheriff corruption: “Did they pass him a drink what happened in there? We need to see the tape.”
There’s a lot about the Sheriffs that doesn’t smell right in this case – not least the fact that the same two Sheriffs are investigating Suge’s shooting at 1 Oak, and trying to put him away for murder at Tam’s… surely a conflict of interests! But this idea that a group of senior Sheriffs Deputies murdered an ex-cop in the middle of Sheriff’s HQ? Come on. I spoke to Captain Kusch about it, and I’m not going to accuse him of murder just off the cuff like that.
But that said, there are gaps in what he could tell me – no autopsy results, no confirmation of the names of people at that meeting, no access to the video of the event, nor even the core substance of what was discussed. And he did reveal that Poole had talked about a rogue Sheriff at 1 Oak. Was it Boyd? Kusch wouldn’t say.
So there’s something to this, but it’s right on that quivering line of paranoia where conspiracy theories live. I couldn’t go public with Boyd’s name at the time, not with such thin evidence. Carlin’s a lovely guy, but he’s not worked for a major journalistic organization – he’s more of an independent spirit, whose books have a hobbyist’s passion, all self-published, and with several vocal detractors. Like Thaddeus, he didn’t know that Boyd’s name was Henry until I told him, so how much did Poole actually know?
But Thaddeus had no such compunction – he named Henry Boyd in his motion.
It seems he felt emboldened by a KFI story that spoke of an unnamed Sheriff who’d resigned recently – even though this is information we already knew. But at this point, Thaddeus is so committed to the conspiracy narrative, that he even appended Carlin’s latest book, Chaos Merchants, as an exhibit on his Motion To Unseal. “I’m not saying I’ve got the proof, but I’m just putting it out there, so the public knows,” he told me. “There’s a big difference between the filings during a trial, and in the lead-up.” So it’s a tactic. He’s letting the media, and a potential jury, know that those Sheriffs, they’re up to something.
For now, the mystery of Henry A. Boyd remains. If it’s true, it’s earth-shattering – that a Sheriff would aid in a murder attempt in a crowded nightclub like that, and then be shielded by the thin blue line? It would go to the top of the now towering pile of evidence that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department is riddled with corruption. And it wouldn’t be the first time that dirty cops have featured in the Suge Knight story – Death Row was littered with them.
But what Thaddeus needs is proof to get this story to stand up. I’m no attorney, but surely the next step is to subpoena Boyd, depose him or put him on the stand, file a motion to discover his case history, expose any gang associations, and break down his every last movement on the night of the 1 Oak shooting. But none of these things have been done. And we’ve known about Boyd since July.
For my part, I pestered the Sheriff’s communications department and filed a FOIA request, I did what I could. All I’ve received – on April 5th – was this: “This is an open court case, and due to ongoing litigation we can’t comment on your enquiries. But I can confirm that Henry Boyd has separated from the Sheriff’s Department in January 2016”.
So let’s see what happens. This case never fails to amaze me.
Next up, I’m going to tell you the story that Suge told Judge Coen that day, about how the Sheriffs jailhouse informants. Another sordid Sheriff conspiracy?
This Suge business is coming to a head. His defense attorney dropped a bomb last week, on April 1st, the day of fools. And by bomb I mean a sprawling 137 page beast of a motion that pointed fingers, named names and screamed to the rafters a word that no one wants to hear, not in a respectable court of law: the C-word. Not that C-word, come on now. I’m talking about… Conspiracy.
Here it is on page six:
In other words, the entire judicial system – the cops, the DA, the judges, and even his former defense attorneys – has been in cahoots to bury the big man. Let that sink in for a minute. Suge Knight isn’t just accusing the cops of shenanigans. He’s not just saying that the DA hasn’t been fair. No, he’s saying – in so many words – “Your Honor, they’re all crooked to the bone, and so are you. Now undo my handcuffs and let me go!” After a year of relative silence in the confines of Men’s Central Jail downtown, Big Homey has decided to go Big or go Home. (In a manner of speaking – going home isn’t an option when you’re on trial for murder…)
The full glory of this motion can’t be contained in one post. On the face of it, it’s a motion to unseal some orders that have set out some harsh jail conditions for Suge – restricting visitors, phone calls, that sort of thing. But it goes so much further than that. It’s part legal document, part outpouring, part window into the psychology of Suge’s defense. After so much chaos, changing lawyers every few months, it as though something has come undone – the lid has been pried off and the writhing tentacles of conspiracy theory are reaching into every corner, grabbing what they can.
I’ll get to the individual pieces in Part II. But for now, a tasting platter, a sampling of a motion in a high profile murder trial the likes of which we’ve never seen and may never see again.
Dr Dre tried to have Suge killed at 1 Oak and a rogue sheriff called Henry Boyd was in on it, as was some guy called Tee-Money who’s connected to Akon
The comparison between this case and the cover-up of child molestation in the Catholic Church, as seen in (the Oscar-winning movie) Spotlight.
Danny Timms, the jailhouse informant, whom the Sheriffs hired to befriend and incriminate Suge, but was then turned by Suge against the Sheriffs
The suggestion that Los Angeles Sheriffs killed an ex-cop Russell Poole at Sheriff’s headquarters because he threatened to expose Sheriff corruption
The controversial, self-published book about the Tupac and Biggie murders that was appended at the end
SHOUTY capitals to, you know, REALLY make a point. For that angry Facebook comment feel. Plus exclamation marks! Of outrage and irony! In a court filing! I shit you not!
The kitchen sink
But for now, let me give some context. Because this motion didn’t come out of nowhere. Suge’s camp has been riddled with infighting and paranoia for a long time. It’s like the Trump candidacy. It’s shocking when it actually happens, but when you look back, you can totally see how we got here.
The motion’s author, Thaddeus J. Culpepper, came onto this case in May 2015, just as Suge was dispatching his 3rd criminal defense attorney, Matt Fletcher. Fletcher replaced David Kenner who replaced James Blatt before him – and he was in turn replaced by Tom Mesereau, who was then replaced by Stephen Schwartz, or lawyer #5. (The trial is set for August 1st, so Suge will likely be onto #6 or #7 by then.)
I’d always found Matt a pugnacious and effective defender. He’d made progress in the case and he knew how to talk to Judge Ronald Coen. But Suge was facing life and didn’t want to take his chances with this unknown black guy from Long Beach when he could get a brand name white guy from Century City instead – or so went the thinking. Not that Thaddeus was that brand name, not by a long shot. But he wasn’t brought on as a criminal defender. He was in-house counsel, tasked with hiring specific attorneys for specific tasks – civil attorneys for the civil cases, and a new criminal defense attorney to replace Fletcher. He was the one who brought on Tom Mesereau, the shock-haired attorney who famously got Michael Jackson acquitted.
Why hire Thaddeus? It’s hard to say. A quick Google search reveals that he was disciplined in 2010 and suspended in 2013. The legal directory AVVO gives him 1 out of 10, and marks him with a hazard sign: Extreme Caution. He’s still yet to try a case. But he knew a lawyer called Freddy Fayegh, who’d done some time with Suge in prison. And when Suge asked Freddy to represent him, Freddy called Thaddeus for help (this according to Thaddeus). And I met him soon afterwards. He was full of beans.
It was a Sunday afternoon in May, about 2pm, and Thaddeus was smoking a cigar and pouring himself a Chivas Regal. We were in his offices in Altadena, which he shared with Freddy – though he has since moved to East LA and then to Crenshaw Blvd. And he was in a good mood. Stocky and dark, with eyes that disappear when he smiles, he offered me the bottle. “Can I tempt you?” he said, and laughed his high pitched laugh.
Over the next two hours, he explained to me that his goal was to prove what Suge believed in his heart – that Dr Dre was the invisible hand, the dark force behind his woes. That time Suge had been shot at the 1 Oak nightclub in August of 2014? That was Dre all over. And this business at Tam’s? Well, the aggressor Bone worked for Straight Outta Compton, which was executive produced by Dre, so obviously he was behind that too.
His little office filled quickly with cigar smoke and conspiracy theories. He drew a web on the white board, Beautiful Mind style, linking Tam’s to Bone to Universal Pictures to Dre to Beats to Apple to Death Row to a corrupt Sheriff’s Department, to 1 Oak, to a corrupt DA… It was an incredible theory. And Thaddeus was going to blow this thing wide open. I would write a book about it. It was going to be awesome. Because what this case was really about, he said, was a contract that Suge claimed to have with Dre dating back to the Death Row days, promising Suge a cut of all Dre’s income in perpetuity – so Suge was owed a slice of Dre’s Beats windfall. Hundreds of millions of dollars. And that’s why Dre wanted Suge dead. This would all come out in time, he said. You watch.
Back then, Thaddeus sang Mesereau’s praises. The great Mesereau! How could they lose? He knew this case was a big break, that it could be the making of his career, so at court, Thaddeus was anxious to appear at Mesereau’s side. After a hearing, Mesereau had this way of turning on his heels and marching to the elevators with nary a backward glance, leaving the press to scuttle after him. And Thaddeus would take off after them. He’d stop mid-sentence and run. And if he missed the train, I’d find him looking panicked in the corridor on the 9th floor, his eyes darting. “Where’s Tom? Did you see Tom?”
But that didn’t last long. Mesereau and Thaddeus were soon at war. Chief among their differences was strategy. Thaddeus wanted to frame Tam’s as part of a vast conspiracy, because that’s how Suge saw it, and he wanted the press to make a stink. Mesereau, however, wanted to narrow the focus to Tam’s, the video of Suge running Carter over, which he would argue was self-defense – no Dre, no 1 Oak, no conspiracy. And no press either, that wasn’t his style.
So Thaddeus stopped following Mesereau around. And Mesereau stopped dealing with Thaddeus altogether. They used separate investigators. They weren’t sharing information. When the prosecutor Cynthia Barnes provided discovery (evidence in the case) to Mesereau and not Thaddeus, Thaddeus asked Mesereau for the discovery himself. “It’s my right!” he told me. “I’m co-counsel!” But Mesereau wrote back: “Mr Culpepper Get Lost. Tom Mesereau.”
Ultimately Mesereau left the case on January 21st. He hasn’t commented as to why he left, but according to Thaddeus, there was a showdown: Mesereau told Suge it’s either me or him, and Suge stuck with Thaddeus. It’s not a choice most would make. After all, Tom Mesereau is one of the best known criminal defense attorneys in LA. But whatever Suge’s talents, choosing attorneys is not one of them. He believes, for instance, that David Kenner stole vast sums of money from Death Row records but when Suge was locked up, he hired Kenner to represent him. Go figure.
So far, of all the attorneys that entered Suge’s orbit, Thaddeus, the least experienced by far, has lasted the longest. And this motion is the result – outlandish, rambling, indignant and paranoid, it sprays accusations at all and sundry, not least Mesereau, who’s accused of perhaps the worst charge one could level at an attorney – that he worked against the interests of his client. It’s all based on the word of Danny Timms, a jailhouse informant, drug addict and admitted liar.
I called Mesereau about this and he laughed. “The allegations against me are outrageous and ridiculous,” he said. Whether the judges will respond with such good humor is yet to be seen. It’s a curious strategy to plead for a favorable judgment from people that you’re publicly accusing of a felony. And Judge Ronald Coen doesn’t strike me as the type to just laugh off such an attack on his reputation.
But Thaddeus brims with confidence. He has fired a shot across the boughs and the gavel men will just have to respond. He’s indicting the system here, shaking the pillars of corruption like Samson. He sees this motion as akin to the Boston Globe’s exposure of molestation in Catholic Church. He’s not just an attorney anymore, he’s a crusader.
“They’re doing to have to answer this!” he tells me, laughing. “They can’t ignore it. I’ve challenged them on points of law. Oh, they had no idea I was going to file something like this. I caught ‘em in the act!”
Thaddeus went to Judge Ryan’s court to file the motion. Judge Coen’s office was closed. The clerk there went through the document aghast. “You should have seen her, she was so nervous!” he laughs. “She was looking for anything to see if she could turn it away, but I had everything in order. She couldn’t deny me, man! And once I had that stamp – I had my son with me and I was just pumping my fist. Like, we got ‘em!’ We got ‘em!”
We’ve got some catching up to do. I never told you about Marvin like I promised. And it’s been quite the saga. If there’s anyone out there who can get the Sugar Bear out of the big house, it’s Marvin Kincy. Big Homey is starving for Marvin right now. But what are the chances?
Marvin was a witness to the whole scene at Tam’s Burgers. He’s been around a bit. Now 64, he was in and out of San Quentin for about 25 years. He’s a bonafide “Old G” who’s keeping his nose clean these days – you can Google him. This June, he organized the Dre Day celebration in Compton. Go back a bit and he crops up in pieces about the LA riots. “I ran Elm Street – I ran Freddy Krueger – been there since 1959,” he told police, after the Tam’s Burgers incident. “I’ve been there through the thick and the thin.”
When the cops called Marvin in for questioning after that grim day at Tam’s, he did the right thing. He gave them a full statement – specific, detailed and clear. He didn’t incriminate anyone, he didn’t “rat”. He just explained what’s on the tape we’ve all seen, so that there might be justice in this case. He deserves a round of applause, really.
And what’s more, of all the interviews in the Murder Book – a file of evidence that both prosecution and defense attorneys receive – Marvin’s is the one that will most likely set Suge Knight free. Because his account matches Suge’s to the letter, and it blows the prosecution’s case out of the water. As he says in the interview: “In my heart, I don’t believe that Suge intentionally hit Terry or Bone.”
If you haven’t read my Esquire piece about this trial, please do. It’s full of mystery, this one. And it explains why Marvin’s testimony would be so critical, if only he’d give it. I’m going to break down a few pieces of it here – all these screengrabs are from the interview transcript, which misspells Kincy’s surname, as Kince. (Btw, sorry about the shabby scans…)
He says that Knight didn’t arrive at the scene angry, spoiling for a fight as the prosecution alleges. Rather, he was just talking, when Bones came over and attacked.
2. When Suge reversed and hit Bone, Marvin says it’s possible Suge didn’t even see him.
3. He said that Bone’s argument about driving to the set and taking a wrong turn into Tam’s is ridiculous – the set was nowhere near.
4. He also said that Suge Knight is no gangster. It’s mostly myth.
I could go on. It’s a revealing interview. As I write in Esquire, he mentions a friend of Bone’s – Jimmy Chris – at one point, and alludes to a beef that he and Suge may have. He says that if Suge looked up, he’d see Jimmy running towards him, which would explain why Suge might step on the gas.
So the task for Suge’s attorneys is clearly to subpoena Marvin, get him to appear or sign an affidavit, corroborating this account. It might mean freedom for Suge Knight. But as it is, they can’t find him, so far as I know. For a while, there was a rumor he’d moved to Palmdale to hide out.
Then, in the wake of my Esquire piece, Marvin suddenly appeared on my radar, and in the strangest way, too. I got a call from this reporter saying that his friend Marvin was freaked out because I’d falsely accused him of being a snitch and his life was now in danger. In the meantime, Marvin hired an attorney in Pasadena to complain to theEsquire lawyers about my “shoddy journalism”. A shitty move, I thought. He could have just emailed me. I would have shown him this:
So to clear the air, I contacted Marvin. The reporter helped put us in touch. I told him that I had his interview transcript, all seven pages of it, dated March 21st. And that there was another report too, by the LA Sheriffs, dated February 16th, that gave an account of another interview with Marvin a few days earlier. I said, look, this is a high profile case, there’s a legitimate public interest, and my information is sound, so…
But Marvin didn’t care. He just denied and denied ever talking to the police. It was bizarre. A truly Trumpian disregard for facts. He insisted that what actually happened was that the police put the name “Kince” on the transcript, and his name is “Kincy”, so they must have spoken to some other guy. Also: Was his signature on the interview? No? Well then, it’s just the police trying to frame him, put him in the sights of gangbangers in Compton. It’s a conspiracy, man! Can’t you see? “Me and the police ain’t never been friends,” he told me. “They have to catch me. I don’t voluntarily go and talk to people.”
I’ve written about the absurdity of snitching before. This was another trip down that tunnel. I had wanted to tell Marvin that I admired his courage in telling the cops what happened, and standing up for the truth of this case. But he refused to admit his own valor, so instead I told him that I wasn’t buying his denial, but I would still put a line in the piece about how he denies talking to the cops. And he seemed appreciate that. “You talk about this G-code and this and that,” he says. “But if a homey gets accused of a murder, and he didn’t do it, and you find out another dude did it, either you turn him in, or you kill him yourself. But Bone’s still walking around here, so the G-code ain’t shit.” That was August 3rd.
Since then, things have gone from bad to worse for Suge. Changing attorneys from Matthew Fletcher to Tom Mesereau appears to have only made Judge Ronald Coen harden his position. While Coen seemed to enjoy Fletcher’s pugnacious style during the preliminary hearing, even complimenting him on his work, with Mesereau, he has offered no quarter. No, he would not move the case from downtown to Compton. No, bail would not be reduced. No, Suge would not be allowed to see his own doctor – was Mesereau insinuating that the doctors at Men’s Central Jail were not doing their jobs?
At the last hearing in November, Mesereau complained that he had only just received the Murder Book – he needed more time to prepare. This is nearly six months after signing on as his attorney.
Maybe it’s a ruse. Maybe he’s preparing to blow the roof off this case, and reveal, come show time, who actually set up that ambush at Tam’s. Maybe he’s busy subpoenaing Marvin right now.
Or maybe not. In which case, you have to feel for the big man. That prison food must be getting old.
For Leigh Savidge, one of the writers of Straight Outta Compton, the feud between Dr Dre and Suge Knight is a bit like Othello. “There was Iago, who was in the trenches as a soldier with Othello, and at some point sees the need to usurp him,” he told me. “I always looked at Suge as Iago, and Dre as Othello. They were soldiers in arms during that critical period.”
Savidge understands that critical period better than most. He made the acclaimed documentary Welcome To Death Row in 2001, one of the most accurate accounts of the label’s rise and fall. In the wake of Straight Outta Compton – which has made $148 million to date – he’s in talks about a sequel, a dramatization of the Death Row story.
And even if you quibble with his analogy, he’s right about this – there’s a Shakespearean aspect to the Dre/Knight story. Two men from Compton, who created an empire from nothing, and then split, becoming mortal enemies ever since, each the nemesis of the other. There’s a woman between them, Michel’le, with whom both men have a child. And the way their arcs have diverged ever since could scarcely be more dramatic – Knight’s now at Men’s Central Jail, downtown, with orange overalls and clanking ankles, while Dre is at his peak, atop a pile of money, hip hop’s richest, immortalized in cinema, the apple of Apple’s eye.
But what happened at Tam’s Burgers on January 29th suggests that whatever burns between them hasn’t dampened in 20 years. It was an ambush, that much is clear – but who was behind it? According to Knight, it was Dre. Consider the following:
Straight Outta Compton was produced by Dre and it represents Knight as a thug and ogre.
An unresolved financial dispute over this representation led Knight to drive to the video set in the first place
Dre reportedly has a restraining order against him. And according to Sloan, the news that Knight was on set put Dre’s bodyguards into lockdown. They said, “we’re not moving until Suge is out of here.”
Then at Tam’s, Knight was attacked by Bone who, as another witness Marvin Kincy told investigators “was working for Dre” – he was security on the set of a movie that Dre was producing.
But why? What’s his motive? Why would the super-producer concern himself with a former rival who has fallen so low? Dre’s the richest man in hip hop, closing in on a historic billion dollars. He soars above Knight in terms of reputation, wealth and influence. And as for these kinds of messy entanglements, street beefs and violence – he transcended all that long ago, surely?
And yet, as reported in the New York Times, June 8th, Knight told investigators, on the night he turned himself in, that he was owed part of Dre’s windfall from the sale of Beats to Apple – $300 million in fact. Which is motive aplenty.
Here’s how a summary of that interview by the Sheriff’s Department put it:
“Knight described an on-going business dispute between him and Dre. Dre was involved in a large business deal with Apple worth a billion dollars and Knight was promised 10 percent by Dre. Knight believed he was owed 300 million dollars from Dre. Knight also had the impression he was owed money from the movie Straight Outta Compton because the movie used his likeness and references to “NWA”. Knight said he owned the rights to “NWA”.”
There are other allegations. More direct, shall we say. But just to be clear, Knight’s counsel isn’t making these charges and this material has not been presented in court. Furthermore, in legal terms, police interviews constitute “hearsay” – witnesses can always claim coercion. (I have made numerous attempts to reach Dre for comment but they have all been unsuccessful.)
For many, this theory is just too implausible to take seriously. Certainly Savidge isn’t convinced. He regards Knight as “a difficult person to feel sympathy for”, someone who was “extraordinarily lucky” to have partnered with Dre in the first place. “Dre was critical to attracting those artists to the label,” he says. “He was the reason. So for [Knight] to come away from that and think that he’s the important one… You’ve got to be a lunatic.”
What’s more, there’s the question of why Knight feels he is owed any of the Beats money, a venture that launched long after Dre had left Death Row. Was there an enduring contract between the two?
This much is for certain – Dre would love us to forget about Dre. When the family of Terry Carter, the deceased, included him in their wrongful death lawsuit, he was quick to protest that he deserves no part of it. But hip hop’s most celebrated producer is in this thing whether he likes it or not. The question is: to what degree?
This trial may produce answers. Every day, investigators prowl the streets of Compton collecting interviews. From what I hear, witnesses are being paid off, while others duck and dive to avoid subpoenas. I’ve even heard that another video of the Tam’s incident is out there, this time taken by a witness, which, if true, just screams conspiracy to commit murder.
And speaking of witnesses, I still need to tell you about Marvin. His testimony might just swing this whole case. Stay tuned…
(These trial blogs will make more sense if you read my Esquire feature first)
The absurdity began barely minutes into the preliminary hearing on April 13th, when Cle ‘Bone’ Sloan, on the stand, looked at the most recognizable man in the room, not 15 feet away, and said he didn’t recognize him. The questions were asked by the prosecuting attorney, Cynthia Barnes.
BONE: “I know Mr Knight, but that doesn’t look like Mr Knight. But I know Mr Knight.”
BARNES: Is Mr Knight in the courtroom.
BONE: I’m imagining that’s Mr Knight, but he looks different.
OK, so Knight was wearing orange inmate overalls and a pair of spectacles. But even so, there’s just no way, no parallel universe in the cosmos, in which Bone didn’t recognize Suge. They’ve been beefing for years, decades even. Judge Stephen Marcus called it “a soap opera”. Bone hates Suge so much he attacked him in the Tam’s Burger’s parking lot, arguably with a gun, which set off the whole sorry chain of events that brought them both here in the first place.
And yet, Bone stood up there, swore an oath to tell the whole truth and lied. Not a mumbled, sidemouthed lie either, but loud and proud, so that everyone would know that he, Bone Sloan, was no snitch. “I was subpoenaed,” he declared, as the court stenographer typed away. “That’s the only reason I’m here.”
Somehow, this was perfectly acceptable. Par for the course. Just how the legal system works. Apparently all that swearing and oathing is a sham. Bone proved that you can commit perjury, more or less admit it, and there’s really no price to pay. Who’s going to charge him? Barnes won’t – she’s the one who gave him immunity in the first place, in return for his testimony (otherwise, he’d be pleading the Fifth), so she’s hardly going to, as the saying goes, ‘burn her snitch’. And Judge Coen? Strictly speaking, he could cite Bone on the spot – Judges wield the hammer – but that never happens because he knows, everyone knows, that the case would collapse at once.
So instead, the courts accommodate what you might call the G-code – the No Snitching Rule that governs a hood like Compton. The stately gavel-and-gown world of stone pillared justice links arms, ever so awkwardly, with the raggedy do-rag code of the streets, and together they dance, a bizarre and comical sight. “Your honor, if I can cite Lupe Fiasco vs Ty Dolla Sign, ‘snitches get stitches, ignorance is bliss, can a nigga get a witness’.”
These are a priori incompatible worlds. One was created in opposition to the other. The No Snitching code developed specifically because poor communities, often people of pigment, learned to distrust the police and the justice system it represents. So the wrongness is jarring. The natural order is upended. Lies become truth and cats lie with dogs.
For instance, as Sloan’s lie reverberated around the courtroom, Cynthia Barnes actually helped to legitimize his perjury by having him explain the G-Code to the court. She guided him question by careful question, even though it took Bone a while to realize that was what she was doing – holding his hand, not twisting it.
BARNES: Are you a snitch by talking to the police?
BONE: It depends on the conversation… but I’m no snitch. I will not be made to be a snitch. I will not be forced to tell on anyone.
BARNES: And that includes when you’re on the witness stand, correct?
BONE: The police. We’re not talking to the police. I’ll talk to you.
BARNES: If you come into court and testify against someone does that make you a snitch?
BONE: It all depends if broke the law and you told that they broke the law…
BARNES As part of your job do you work with gang members in the community?
At which point Bone finally took the bait and gave a speech, portraying himself as “the premier gang negotiator in LA”. “The work I do, no one sees.” “I’m negotiating peace 24/7”. (Except when he’s attacking people in broad daylight.) This is why Bone can’t be seen to be snitching – because he has a rep to maintain, his G credibility. Besides, on the streets, police informants get shot.
So this strange dance is just Bone trying to have it all. He wants to snitch, but keep his G-credibility intact. He wants to give the police a 64 page interview, and put his enemy Suge Knight in prison for life, while at the same time lying on the stand, so that he can return to the hood a hero, saying “I never snitched!”
What I don’t understand is why Barnes is OK with this. Can’t she force him to identify Suge? And isn’t the entire legal process undermined by this nonsense?
Q: Why would Barnes give Bone immunity without even getting him to point the finger at Suge Knight and say, ‘that’s the guy’?
ALEXANDRA: It’s better than having no witness at all. What she’s getting out of it is the admissibility of his prior statement to police, where Bone actually does identify Suge Knight. He names him in his statement.
Q: Why can’t you just include his prior statement to police as evidence without bothering to call him as a witness?
ALEXANDRA: Because there’s a rule of evidence. Defendants have a right to confrontation in the Constitution. That is, you have a right to confront the witnesses against you – it’s in the 5th Amendment – which means, if they want that statement in, they have to produce the witness.
Q: But if he’s up there saying ‘I don’t recognize this guy,’ doesn’t that make his entire testimony suspect? An unreliable witness?
ALEXANDRA: Not really, because once he says, ‘I don’t know this guy’, they can bring in his prior statements, which would otherwise not be permissible. And those statements show that he’s currently lying on the stand – that he actually does know this guy – and that is permissible.
Q: So wait – first he swears to tell the whole truth, then the prosecutor demonstrates that he’s lying because only by showing that he’s lying can she convince the jury that he’s telling the truth.
ALEXANDRA: It only seems like madness if you don’t know the rules of snitching.
Next up – I have to tell you about Marvin, another surreal moment in Snitchland. He told me that he might get killed because of my story, and that the police interviews I was looking at were pure fiction. Because guess what? He wasn’t no snitch either.
And – the death of Russell Poole, the crusading LAPD detective who investigated the murders of both Tupac and Biggie Smalls. He died last week. And people close to him believe that his death may have been connected to this Suge Knight case.
[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, showing more of the aftermath. I chopped that video, cropped it, blew it up and gave it some Instagram flair (Lomo). Horrible to fuss over a clip like that, 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 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 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. Then Bone is knocked flying when Suge reverses, and the truck runs over him again before ploughing into Carter.
It’s worth noting that this footage directly contradicts 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.”
One of the critical questions of this trial is: Did Bone Sloan have a gun? If he did, then Suge’s self-defense argument looks sound. And so far, it really all comes down to this video.
According to Suge’s co-counsel Thaddeus Culpepper, there are clues in the way he walks up to the truck. “There’s a certain swagger that a person carrying a gun walks with, especially in the black culture,” he says. “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:
Note the swagger, the spring, the arms swinging at his side. Not that anyone goes to prison for swagger, though. Where’s the weapon? The video’s unclear. Maybe it can be enhanced – but if not, is it possible that Suge saw a gun in Sloan’s hand? Maybe the gun emerged at a certain point in the fight and Suge suddenly lurched the truck into action to save himself?
But there’s more. Once Suge’s truck leaves the scene, another gang member, Jimmy Chris, approaches Sloan’s body – quickly before the paramedics get there. He turns him over and takes something out of his right hand, and whatever it was, it must have been important – Sloan 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 Jimmy Chris, does with it. He puts it in his waistband, or back pocket, while looking furtively around him.
Notice also, at 15 seconds, the man who enters the screen from the left – is he approaching to help maybe? He takes one look at what Jimmy’s holding, throws his hands up and gets the fuck out.
And yet – the prosecutor, the Sheriff, and Sloan 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:
One: “Did you ever see someone put a cell phone in their waistband?” A question that was asked by Fletcher, then Mesereau, and even TMZ when it ran the clip after the incident, putting a little arrow over the object marked “possible gun”.
Two: Are we meant to believe 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? Is this what they teach in cop school?
But look at how it went down in the preliminary hearing in April, when Fletcher pointed out to Bone 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. He’s an actor (Training Day and End of Watch) and when he saw his you-can’t-handle-the-truth moment, oh he grabbed it.
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:
Knight’s deadly escape will look even more like self-defense than it already does. Cynthia Barnes will be in the tricky position of having granted immunity to a man who attacks people in car parks with a deadly weapon. So she’ll probably rip that immunity off Sloan like a mask at the end of Scooby Doo, on the 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.
At that point, Barnes could easily prosecute Sloan for felony murder – it’s all on video, after all – and Sloan ends up in the big house with the reputation of having snitched to the Sheriffs about “Big Homey”.
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.
Let that sink in for a minute. He’s a Compton homicide detective. And yet he’ll watch a couple of gangbangers pass 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.)
On Friday, July 17th, this gun thing got weirder.
It was a bad day for the Knight camp. Everything they asked for was slapped down. And then, Judge Ronald S Coen appeared to side with Biddle, Barnes and Bone (the Sheriff, the prosecutor 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 Barnes knows that she has a chance of shutting the gun allegation down altogether. She could possibly file a motion to limit, to prevent Mesereau from making the argument at all. After all, he has no witness saying it’s a gun. The only witnesses so far have said, however implausibly, that it isn’t. And if that happens – well, it’s not good for the Sugar Bear.
My two cents is that Coen’s argument stretches credulity. It’s true that Jimmy Chris waits 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 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.
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?
The Suge Knight trial was meant to be over by now. July 7th was the original date for the great unveiling of what actually happened on Jan 29th at Tam’s Burgers in Compton. We were going to find out if “Big Homey” was going to grow old in prison.
But instead we’re back at the beginning again. Talking about his bail again; another hearing’s set for July 17th. What happened was “Big Homey” fired his old attorney, Matthew Fletcher, having fired James Blatt and then former Death Row attorney David Kenner before him. You just can’t find the help these days. And the new guy, Tom Mesereau, best known for defending Michael Jackson in 2005, asked for more time to prepare. So it’ll be a while yet: September 17th.
But let me back up. The 7th was a fitful day in court, procedural and finicky, one of those incremental skirmishes in the build up to the main event. The bail and preliminary hearings are like the press conference and the weigh-in before a prize fight. They give attorneys a chance to flex, maybe gain an edge, psychological or otherwise. And by those terms, Knight had a mixed showing.
On the one hand, he looked fitter, not so sickly and vulnerable as before. “He’s getting his weight back, it’s good to see,” his sister Karen said. “We saw him for July 4th and he was laughing. He’s always strong. The other week, he stopped eating because someone on his block got AIDS and he thought his sandwich was being tampered with. I was like noooo!”
But court wasn’t going his way. He wanted to move the case from Downtown to Compton, to get a more sympathetic jury, but Judge Ronald Coen said no. He also wanted the case thrown out altogether on the grounds that he hadn’t been properly identified as the defendant at the prelims, but that was smacked down too – only by a different judge this time, Judge Stephen Marcus. That’s the kind of day it was. We all had to up and leave court 101 and walk next door to court 102, and then march back again afterwards, families of the accused and the deceased victim watching their shoes as they passed each other in narrow doorways.
“That’s OK,” Mesereau told me afterwards. “Judges have to appear strong in these high profile trials ever since OJ. That’s why Lance Ito never made it to the court of appeals.”
There was one moment, however, when we got a glimmer of what simmers beneath all the procedural verbiage of this case. It was when Mesereau stood up, his mane as white as a beacon, and addressed Judge Stephen Marcus with a few plain facts.
(To refresh your memory, Suge drove into Tam’s Burgers, thinking he was going to discuss his fee for the movie Straight Outta Compton – which uses his likeness – but instead he walked into an ambush. Cle “Bone” Sloan attacked Suge as he sat in his truck, punching him through an open window. Sloan was almost certainly armed. Suge lurched the vehicle backwards and then drove away, running two people over, killing one, Terry Carter. He claims self-defense, the prosecution claims murder.)
Mesereau said: “We’ve got someone driving a truck alone and unarmed. He suffers a violent assault that has been captured on tape. But the prosecution calls as a witness the man who committed the assault. He answers questions in a very evasive manner – first he pleads the fifth, then the prosecutor offers him immunity. This is the assailant. So there are tremendous credibility issues and problems with facts… I think it’s an outrage.”
Mesereau isn’t known for emotive language. In his landmark defense of Michael Jackson in 2005, he was all precision and cool control. But Mesereau was saying what Matthew Fletcher had been saying before him, which is that something is off about this case. It doesn’t smell right.
Here’s some questions:
A man is attacked in a parking lot, on camera, but the Sheriff and the District Attorney choose to protect the attacker (Sloan), and charge the victim, (Knight). Why?
They gave Sloan immunity in order to testify, but when he got on the stand during the preliminary hearings, Sloan was clearly not telling the truth – he even refused to admit that he recognized Suge Knight, the most recognizable person in the courtroom. Is lying under oath not a crime?
And above all, why did Sloan attack Knight that day? What did he have to gain?
We have no satisfactory answers as yet, but that’s what trials are for. As you read this, investigators prowl the streets of Compton collecting interviews while lawyers in LA and Sacramento pore through documents and serve subpoenas. There have been rumors along the way of another video that’s going around Compton, shot on a cellphone by one of the men at the ambush. It’s said that witnesses may yet be called who can attest to men at the Tam’s ambush standing there with guns drawn.
But let’s see how this shakes out. Not everything that’s rumored comes to pass, in this case at least. Floyd Mayweather was supposed to pony up $10 million for Knight’s bail after the Pacquiao fight, but that never happened. And what to make of this morsel that appeared in a summary of an interview that Knight gave to Sheriffs on the night that he handed himself in? “Knight described an on-going business dispute between him and Dre. Dre was involved in a large business deal with Apple worth a billion dollars and Knight was promised 10 percent by Dre. Knight believed he was owed 300 million dollars from Dre.”
(The New York Times quoted from this in its piece of June 8th. I would have quoted liberally from this interview in my Esquire piece, but the laws are different in England. Only material that has be cited in open court apparently.)
Knight hasn’t explained why Dre might owe him. His counsel hasn’t brought it up, contracts haven’t been produced, and all attempts to reach Dre to date have been unsuccessful. And anyway, people say the damndest things when a couple of Sheriffs are accusing them of murder.
But this is a story about money. Perhaps some long standing “beef” between Sloan and Knight – what Judge Marcus called “a soap opera” – played a part in this tragedy. But there’s more going on. Suge wanted to be paid for Straight Outta Compton – he would never have gone to Tam’s otherwise. Sloan admitted in the preliminary hearing that he had $2000 in cash on him that fateful day. Why so much? And the Carter family – the family of the deceased – has sued Universal (as well as Dr Dre and Ice Cube) for negligent hiring, by engaging the likes of Sloan as part of the security for the production. There could well be money to be made here – without Sloan’s initial attack, none of this would have happened. As he told police in his first interview, “it’s fucked up ’cause I was the aggressor.” And the mere threat of deposing these millionaires, asking them all kinds of awkward questions about their finances, their relationships, is probably enough to persuade them to settle out of court. But why has the civil case been filed before the criminal case has been settled?
I’m probably a little too interested in this case. It has all these elements – gangland, hip hop, Apple, Hollywood, fiction resembling fact resembling fiction, legal shenanigans, a shadowy Sheriff’s department… I can’t resist it. It’s the ultimate LA story. So if you want to join me down the rabbit hole, I can show you some material that you may not see elsewhere.
I’ll start up the treadmill in the morning. Short man with paunch and baggy eyes and bed hair. And as the belt goes round, making that whining sound, I’ll think, here we go again, just a hamster on a wheel, going from meal to fucking meal. At least, that’s how it feels some days. I turned 44 last week.
But ten minutes later, a different story. This time the machine’s the only one whining. Short man is running now and snapping his fingers, elbows chopping at his sides. Singing even, in that awful headphones way. “Take me high-er!” I’m not a hamster on a wheel, I’m a hamster on a high.
I joke about my treadmill the way people with treadmills do. That it’s my dust-gathering experiment. My dreadmill. But it isn’t. When we moved house earlier this year, there was nowhere to put it. The yard was sloped, there wasn’t a room that would work. So I had a deck built especially at the back of the house. And when the contractor took his sweet time, I was like, fucksake Miguel, you said Wednesday! I was an asshole. But that’s how I get without my treadmill.
It’s probably just the cardio, the endorphins or whatever. I’m one of those people, if I don’t run and sweat from time to time, I end up in the hole again, shovel in hand.
But there’s something else that happens when I run: Epic flights of nostalgia. I grow young again and hopeful. Life is a garden of possibilities. My snowglobe is all shook up, and suddenly it’s raining snapshots from my past, some recent, some old, and some that never happened at all. But I don’t care. A rainbow of positivity has wiped away that bitter residue that accrues and I’m no longer the sum of my defeats. All my wrong turns were character building. So that project I can’t finish, I can finish it. That idea I never pursued, I can finish that too. The future doesn’t loom, it beckons, and I’ll get there one day, I know I will.
There’s nothing quite like running on the spot when you feel like your life’s going nowhere.
There was a cartoon when I was growing up called Mr Benn, in which a bowler-hatted Englishman would go to a costume shop, try on a toga, say, and, just like that, he’d be transported to ancient Rome. Didn’t have to be a toga, but you get the idea. And at the end, he’d always return to the changing room, back to his bowler hat life, with a little memento from his adventures. My treadmill’s a bit like that. It’s as though I’m thrown back to my youth, and I come back with a piece, a little gift shop souvenir of blind self-belief.
It reminds me of a thing from therapy. Yes I did therapy, it’s no secret. I never thought I’d be that guy, but then I never thought I’d have a treadmill either. I thought buying a treadmill would make me “so LA” and there was nothing worse than that. But things change. You get beat up a bit. The torments of adulthood, the plunging finances, the failure. First you flail in this country and then the next. And then the next for that matter. And you think, fucksake, I’m too old for this shit. Then you get those days of oh lord what have I done and where is the exit, so you get a therapist, some guy on the westside, who has all this good advice. Get a dog, he says. Try jogging. Remember to eat. Set a schedule. That kind of thing.
Anyway, he swore by this technique called bilateral stimulation. He would wave a baton like a windscreen wiper, and tell me to keep my eye on it like those stage hypnotists who say “you are feeling sleepy”. Except you don’t feel sleepy at all. When you stimulate the left and right sides of the brain in a rhythmic fashion, something loosens and all these feelings flood out. People cry sometimes, just burst into tears without knowing why. I went the other way – I laughed. It was embarrassing because there was nothing to laugh about other than a man waving a baton, which is kind of funny, but not really. And then I laughed because I was embarrassed. It was like those times at school when the teacher scolds you for giggling, but you can’t help yourself, and the more you laugh, the funnier it gets.
Those sessions made me feel like there was all this laughter in me the whole time, just sitting dormant on a shelf while I scowled and raged. It just needed to be unlocked somehow. A guy with a baton could do it. But it didn’t have to be a baton. Some weeks he’d have me holding electric grips in both hands that would vibrate alternately, left then right then left. The effect was the same. And he’d say – this is why you should walk or run. It’s not just the cardio, running is bilateral stimulation too, it’s one of the most primal forms.
The music is critical, of course. Nothing dredges up the nostalgia like a good tune. Not that I was thinking that way when I first started making my playlists. I chose house music, well, because I like it, no secret there, and because the tempo is optimal, the lyrics motivational etc – all these rational, boring reasons. The nostalgia came as an extra. But house is extraordinary that way – it’s so derivative and formulaic that every riff, every drop, every piano chord is familiar. All the old circuits light up again. The old triggers are triggered. I’ll listen to a newish tune like “Never Say Never” by Basement Jaxx, and it’ll send me back twenty years.
A lot of guys scoff at house. They call it trivial, commercial, repetitive. It’s for girls and gays, they say. It’s hair salon music. I don’t argue. But these men don’t dance, that’s their trouble. And I do. Or I did at one time. And I was good at it – or at least I thought I was, which is what counts. Short man didn’t care what he looked like out there. He tore it up. He thought Sister Sledge was singing about him.
And that’s where house takes me – back to a state of dancefloor rapture in my twenties. It’s me and my water bottle, in a swirl of lights. A pinnacle moment of a pinnacle night. I’ve got my hands in the air, everything is love and music. And I’m flying.
Of course most of my twenties were nothing like that. I was socially anxious, sexually frustrated and desperately afraid of being left out. I was an arrested adolescent, unsure of who I was, and how to be in the world. And while I know now that others felt that way too, at the time I thought it was just me. The narcissism of youth. Still trying to shake that off. So club nights were often the loneliest of all. Get the violin out. I’m walking home in the rain here.
But nostalgia tidies that mess up. Doesn’t just crop a bit here and there. It’s more than a spot of retouching. Nostalgia makes the past a Proustian dream that I reconstruct with each visit. House may be my musical Madeleine , but I couldn’t tell you where it takes me exactly. That pinnacle moment of a pinnacle night – I don’t know where I am or who I’m with. It’s generic. It’s shutterstock. These aren’t real flashbacks – old songs taking me back to old memories. These are new songs that take me to a dream of the old days. Those snapshots that come up – of a club in Miami maybe, a field in the west country – they’re subsumed into a deeper fantasy of youth, one that casts my twenties as not a stumbling period of angst, but instead a golden age of hope and potential.
And maybe it was at times, it’s hard to say for sure. My own memories can’t be trusted here. But I like to think that on my happiest nights in clubland, I could dance with abandon because I was cocooned in the belief, however inchoate and deluded, that the possibilities for me were still endless, and I might yet become any number of wonderful people. For now, fine, I’m a kinetic little ethnic giving it the disco large, but in the years to come, who knows, I might transform into a man of wit and distinction, someone who might be admired and desired. What a feeling, to believe in one’s potential like that. Who wouldn’t run back there if they could?
Perhaps that’s all that’s happening on the treadmill – I’m dreaming about a dream I once had. There’s no there there, and never was. It’s all just vapor and imagination. But the feelings – they’re so real that I can feel them again if I try. All I need to do is run and open that door, and they’ll come flooding out.
I have to share this tune with you. It’s not house, but it’s lovely.
I’m not alone in romanticizing my youth like this. It’s something middle aged people do. And I have a theory as to why – it’s evolution wiring us to forget the pain, the way women get over childbirth. If we recall too vividly the agonies of youth, the Morrissey of it all, the shame and the defeat, then we might lose our resolve to soldier on. And we can’t have that, not now. Because these are the doldrums, the U-Bend years. Our middle ages are the unhappiest of our lives – there was a big piece in the Atlantic recently. Rose-tinted nostalgia is just our natural defense against despair. It’s like Joan Didion said, a story we tell ourselves in order to live.
There have been a few articles lately about the middle aged malaise. Good ones too by proper New Yorker writers. There was a lovely piece on Brainpickings by Maria Popova about Megan Daum’s book, Unspeakable – it talks a lot about how we romanticize our fumbling and clueless youth. I read it and instantly wanted to write this blog. The way Daum describes her twenties is perfect: “the feeling that nothing has started yet, that the future towers over the past, that the present is merely a planning phase for the gleaming architecture that will make up the skyline of the rest of my life.”
And then that Atlantic piece I mentioned, about how our happiness curve is a U, a smiley face, with middle age at the bottom. This is the sag in the sofa. The second chin. We’ve got our families now, the stress of kids and work. If we’ve achieved our goals, they didn’t make us as happy as we hoped, and if we haven’t, well we carry that failure with us. It’s just how life goes apparently. Even apes experience a slump in their middle years.
I’m grateful to the Atlantic. To all these kinds of articles. My middle age has coincided with such an era of compulsory positivity on the internet, that it’s hard to flip open the laptop in the morning. Every day, this torrent of happy platitudes, people just parading their joy and success in your face. They’ve no manners these people. Is there nothing else worth sharing? People like sad songs too you know. I’m comforted by knowing that other people out there are struggling too, that we’re in this together, especially my generation, laboring through our inevitable slump. And one way of alleviating middle aged misery is to read about the middle aged misery of others, especially richer, more successful people with wonderful careers. Yeah I said it. Schadenfreude is better than no freude at all. Of course misery loves company. Everyone loves company.
There is an upside though, to these U-bend years – wisdom. Daum calls it the “consolation prize of aging”. This is when it’s meant to kick in, after all. We have about the best perspective of our pasts and futures as we’re ever likely to have. We have our faculties, our characters have been formed. We see our youthful fantasies for what they were. And we know ourselves by now, which is both a reward and a punishment, but still, on balance…
So I know what to do on those mornings when there’s no right side of the bed. I need to drag myself to that deck Miguel built and set the treadmill to 6.5 like I’m setting the DeLorean in Back to the Future. No distractions, not if I’m serious – hence the towel covering up the treadmill display, and the Bose earbuds, the only brand that doesn’t fall out of my ears.
And as for the playlist, well, I don’t know anyone anymore who likes house the way I do. There’s one guy up in Vegas, but that’s it. So I need to put in the hours and trawl iTunes – search under Hed Kandi, Toolroom, Ministry. Peppy house not dark. No squeaking, bleeping or sawmill grinding. Give me something that soars with predictable drops. Make the hooks hummable, the production clean, the lyrics simple and uplifting. Inane is just fine.