UPDATE with more details: It was a long time coming, but Marion “Suge” Knight was arraigned Thursday morning for threatening Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray while the film was being produced three years ago. He entered a not guilty plea at the arraignment, which occurred in the courtroom of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott M. Gordon, but not without a hitch.
Initially, Matthew Fletcher, who represents Knight in the case, asked that the arraignment be delayed because he had not been allowed sufficient time with his client; Fletcher said his first session with Knight occurred yesterday. But Fletcher reversed and the arraignment proceeded when it became clear he would not be provided copies of a grand jury transcript until after Knight was arraigned.
Knight was charged with one felony count of making criminal threats from the August 8, 2014 incident on the set of the movie.
Fletcher and Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Barnes are now sparring over a protective order that prevents Knight or his lawyers discussing evidence in the case publicly. After the hearing, Fletcher told reporters he saw no reason evidence of the claimed threat should not be available.
“It’s not like these guys run away from publicity,” Fletcher said, referring to Gray and his associates on the film, which was released by Universal and counted Ice Cube and Dr Dre among its producers.
Another issue certain to figure in future hearings is how closely the case will be connected with a pending murder case in which Knight has been accused of killing Terry Carter near the set of a promotional video shoot for Straight Outta Compton in early 2015. The murder trail has been repeatedly delayed as Knight went through a bout of ill health and several times changed counsel. It is currently set for early next year.
Knight appeared in court Thursday looking robust in an orange jumpsuit and wearing a red cross around his neck. “Is it already next week?” he asked Fletcher after he was called to the courtroom for the arraignment which only minutes before he had been told had been delayed.
Straight Outta Compton has been involved in several legal scrapes, including a $110 million defamation lawsuit filed by ex-N.W.A manager Gerald Heller, who was portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the film. Heller died in September.
Fletcher much earlier represented Knight in the ongoing murder case, and has remained associated with the legal fight even as a succession of lawyers, including most recently Jeremy Lessem, signed on. In a press conference after the hearing, Fletcher said he had refused to accept discovery material offered him during the arraignment so that he could speak more freely without violating the protective order, which he plans to fight.
Relying on his familiarity with past dealings in the case, he said he was virtually certain that the accusation of threats against Gray depended on a text message in which someone — possibly Knight — told the director, in Fletcher’s paraphrased recap, ‘You have family, I have family, we all need to eat, God bless you.’
Fletcher said the text could not be reasonably interpreted as a criminal threat. More, he argued that tensions around the movie spun out of control only after Gray hired Cle “Bone” Sloan, who became a security consultant on the film, to “handle” Knight, who objected to his negative portrayal, without compensation, in Straight Outta Compton.
“That’s how it all started,” Fletcher said.