Rap music mogul 'Suge' Knight arrested in fatal hit-and-run
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Marion "Suge" Knight, the impresario of gangster rap, has long been a perpetrator and victim of the violent life he promoted in song.
On Friday, he was portrayed as both.
Sheriff's deputies booked the former hip-hop music mogul on suspicion of murder after they said he hit and killed a man with his pickup truck, seriously injured another and then fled. His lawyer said he was an innocent victim who accidentally ran over his friend as he tried to escape a group of attacking thugs.
The incident was the latest in a long line of brushes with death and the law for the 49-year-old founder of Death Row Records, one of the genre's leading labels.
Knight started the label that helped solidify West Coast rap with Dr. Dre, who had been a member of the legendary group N.W.A. The label also launched the career of Snoop Dogg and had Tupac Shakur in the last months of his life.
Knight had gotten in an argument with a man at a location where cast and crew were taking a break from filming a promotional video for the biopic "Straight Outta Compton," about the rise of N.W.A., according to authorities and a person familiar with the project who was not authorized to speak publicly about it and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Security guards asked Knight to leave, and the argument escalated a short while later at a fast-food restaurant about three miles away, ending with Knight striking the men and taking off.
"Looks like he drove backwards and struck the victims and drove forwards and struck them again," sheriff's Lt. John Corina said. "The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act."
Terry Carter, 55, who was a friend of Knight's and not involved in the altercation, died at a hospital, Corina said. A 51-year-old man was injured. Neither his name nor his condition were disclosed.
Defense attorney James Blatt said Knight was called to Tam's Burgers in Compton for a meeting and was attacked by four people as he slowed his pickup truck. The men beat him through his truck window and threatened to kill him.
Corina disputed that account. He said the 51-year-old victim, who had argued earlier with Knight, is the only one who exchanged blows with Knight through the window before he got run over.
"To see the argument happen, it's one thing," said 17-year-old Robert Smith, who was eating in the restaurant. "Seeing the car incident, that was shocking."
Knight punched the gas and fled in fear, Blatt said. He had no idea he hit two men, though Corina said that claim is hard to believe.
The empty truck was found late Thursday in a West Los Angeles parking lot. Knight was seen driving a red pickup truck near the film location, the lieutenant said.
Knight surrendered early Friday and was booked on suspicion of murder. He was being held on $2 million bail.
At 6-foot-4 and weighing 325 pounds, Knight's reputation as an imposing figure is credited, in part, with helping create Death Row Records when he strong-armed another label to release Dr. Dre from his contract, said Chuck Creekmur, CEO of allhiphop.com.
"Death Row records created some of the best music ever," Creekmur said. "You can't separate Suge from the music that came out of Death Row Records. He's linked forever to a really, really great musical period of time. And that would be linked to a really horrific period when we lost several of our brightest stars."
Knight was at the center of one of the most notorious rap conflicts of the 1990s, pitting rappers Tupac Shakur against Biggie Smalls in an East Coast versus West Coast rivalry.
Knight was sent to prison for nearly five years for badly beating a rival with Shakur at a Las Vegas, Nevada, hotel, just hours before Shakur was fatally shot while riding in Knight's car just east of the Strip.
Smalls, whose real name was Chris Wallace, was shot to death in a similar attack six months later.
Many of the records Knight released helped immortalize Compton, the LA-area city where Thursday's crash occurred, in hip-hop folklore as a gritty and violent urban environment, although crime there has dipped significantly there since its 1990s peak.
Knight and Dre later had a falling out and Dre left. The record company eventually declared bankruptcy and was auctioned off.
Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, another former N.W.A. member, were at the film location Thursday, but they didn't see Knight, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity. Filming was shut down for the day and not resumed Friday.
The history of Knight's run-ins with the law goes back more than 20 years and includes assault and weapons offenses.
In November, Knight pleaded not guilty to a robbery charge filed over an incident in which a celebrity photographer accused him of stealing her camera in Beverly Hills. Because of prior convictions, he could face up to 30 years in prison.
He has felony convictions for armed robbery and assault with a gun. He pleaded no contest in 1995 to assaulting two rap entertainers at a Hollywood recording studio and was sentenced to five years of probation.
He also served timed for probation violations.
Last August, Knight was shot six times at a West Hollywood nightclub. No arrests have been made.
Associated Press writers Raquel Maria Dillon, Christopher Weber and Robert Jablon contributed to this report from Los Angeles.