Panel Sends Knight Back to Prison

Panel Sends Knight Back to Prison
State parole officials say the rapper, in a parking lot incident, violated the terms of his release.
By Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein
Times Staff Writers

August 1, 2003

Marion “Suge” Knight, one of the preeminent figures of rap music, was ordered back to prison Thursday for the third time in seven years.

A California parole panel found that Knight, 37, had violated the conditions of his release from prison for assault and weapons convictions when he struck a parking valet outside the White Lotus nightclub on June 21.

At an 8-hour hearing in the Los Angeles County Jail, the valet testified that he had been struck but could not identify Knight as his assailant.

“The hearing officer felt we had good testimony from the arresting officer and a witness,” said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Board of Prison Terms.

Knight was ordered imprisoned for 10 months, with credit for time already served, beginning June 27.

Detectives alleged that Knight had become upset and punched a valet in the face because Knight’s parked car was blocked by other vehicles at the Hollywood club.

Parole officials said a deputy commissioner had heard from 10 witnesses, including two police officers and the investigating parole agent.

“The testimony from the two officers and the agent did not waver from their initial statements that pointed to Mr. Knight’s involvement,” said Fernando Rios, an official with the state parole agency.

“They documented that information and they stood firm about what took place the night of the incident.”

Six witnesses were called on Knight’s behalf, including the valet and his supervisor, whose testimony appeared to have changed from what he had told police, according to Sessa.

The supervisor identified himself outside the hearing as Abbey Shilleh.

“The hearing officer is experienced and believed the witness was being evasive out of fear of retribution,” Sessa said. “He gave more weight to his statement on the night of the incident.”

The valet, Mehdi Lazrak, who originally told LAPD investigators that he had been hit from behind and knocked to the ground by Knight, told the hearing officer he had not seen who delivered the punch. Outside court, Lazrak said he had never seen Knight hit him.

Rose Kogeman, an attorney for Knight, also presented video shot by a security camera at the parking lot and photographs that she had said would exonerate Knight.

Sessa said neither provided a good perspective on the incident: “Some of the video and the photographs put up by his defense were so fuzzy and so obscure you couldn’t determine who was in the picture and what was occurring.”

Kogeman declined to comment.

Outside the hearing, Knight’s mother hugged family members and the rapper’s entourage. Those in the group, who appeared downcast, declined to comment.

The founder of Death Row Records, Knight was convicted in 1992 of assault and weapons violations and was placed on probation.

In 1996, he was jailed for five years for violating probation after he and several associates, including rap star Tupac Shakur, beat a gang rival at a Las Vegas hotel. Three hours after the beating incident, Shakur was fatally shot.

The rap mogul served a 61-day sentence from Dec. 23 to Feb. 25 of this year and was ordered to complete 200 hours of community service after Los Angeles County Sheriff’s detectives said Knight had violated his parole when he associated with gang members.

Authorities said Knight had employed gang members who police believe are connected to a series of shootings.

At a news conference shortly after the June 21 attack, Kogeman said an unidentified man had had an altercation with the valet as Knight was waiting for his car.

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