The Suge Knight Trial: The Absurd World of Snitching


(Photo by Jeremiah Garcia)

(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?

Not according to Alexandra Natapoff, the author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.

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.

More soon.

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