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November 27, 2014

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COURTS:

Cops’ case against ‘Suge’ Knight stalled

Officers saw beating, but D.A. hasn’t pressed case against rap mogul

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LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT

Marion “Suge” Knight was arrested by Metro Police in August on charges of felony assault and drug possession and misdemeanor domestic violence. Two months later, Clark County prosecutors haven’t brought a case against him.

The latest case against hip-hop mogul Marion “Suge” Knight has not moved forward even though it appears rock solid, at least on the surface.

After all, two Metro Police officers say they saw Knight, pulled over in a parking lot just off the Strip at 6:30 a.m. Aug. 27, punching a naked woman with one hand and holding a knife in the other. The cops said they were 10 feet from Knight, Tasers drawn, when they commanded the 6-foot-3, 320-pound man to drop the weapon and drop to the ground.

It seems like a prosecutor’s dream — police saw the defendant attacking the victim.

So why, two months later, haven’t charges been filed? Apparently it is because the victim, Melissa Isaac, who said she was Knight’s girlfriend of three years, has vanished. Even though prosecutors have the police witnesses, they want Isaac’s testimony, and she’s not helping.

Metro detectives can’t find her. She won’t return their calls. She has stalled her own case.

So despite all the things that make this case different — the police witnesses, the celebrity arrestee, the media attention, the vanishing girlfriend — it’s still a typical domestic violence case at heart. Isaac apparently has decided not to cooperate with police. It happens all the time, Metro Lt. Chris Carroll said, for all the predictable reasons: fear of retaliation, ill-advised forgiveness, an urge to forget and forge ahead.

Knight may be taking that approach too. Robin Leach reported that Knight was spotted partying in a Strip nightclub less than 24 hours after he posted $19,000 bail on charges of felony assault with a deadly weapon, drug possession and misdemeanor domestic violence.

It’s the sort of behavior that prompts some people to dream of the day Knight, who has a reputation for being violent and ruthless, spends a long stint behind bars.

It’s the sort of reputation that makes some people wonder why Clark County District Attorney David Roger, with the police witnesses, hasn’t gone ahead and pressed charges.

His answer is: “We have to look at the totality of circumstances. We are not inclined to speculate on hypotheticals.”

Maria Outcalt, spokeswoman for Safe Nest, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, doesn’t want Roger to speculate either. She wants him to prosecute. She said the district attorney’s failure to charge Knight is cause for concern and highlights a long-standing complaint about inconsistency.

“The police had him outside with a knife and beating her,” she said. “What else is there?”

Domestic violence cases are prosecuted unevenly in Clark County, said Outcalt, who has worked as a victims advocate in the local courts. There isn’t much consistency in what does or doesn’t qualify for prosecution — sometimes a witness is seen as crucial, and sometimes a witness isn’t — and seldom are the reasons for that clear, she said.

Knight’s own celebrity status may be a factor, she said. She wonders what kind of clout Knight, a former UNLV football player before he got rich, carries in this town. How much clout comes with the attorney that a man of Knight’s stature can get to defend him?

“Even though there are laws in place with these crimes, there isn’t consistency,” she said.

Sometimes prosecutors will press charges with very little evidence against the accused, and not press charges when the evidence is overwhelming, she said. Cases that seem like sure wins are rejected, and long-shot cases go forward; it’s hard to guess what Roger’s staff will do, because it’s always something different, she said.

Roger says Knight’s celebrity status has no effect on the case, and his office has prosecuted domestic violence cases with and without victim testimony.

But he will not discuss what kind of factors must be weighed before an attorney will present a case without victim testimony.

Since Knight’s arrest in late August, he has been summoned to court at least twice, and each time, the case has been pushed forward for a future “status check” — a meeting that is what it sounds like, lawyers coming before a judge to check the status of their case. The next check is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Until then, Roger’s office has left the ball in Metro’s court. It has asked department detectives to interview Isaac, get her medical records from the assault, and test the drugs police recovered in Knight’s pocket: A blue tablet embossed with a Playboy bunny that Knight said was Ecstasy belonging to Isaac, and two prescription pain pills Knight said he took for headaches.

Detectives are struggling with that first request: interview Isaac. They think she is slipping back and forth between California and Nevada, Carroll said. They don’t think she’s the victim of foul play, despite the speculation on Internet gossip sites.

Some of the bloggers point out that Knight was driving the car in which Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in Vegas in 1996, a slaying in which no one was ever arrested.

Knight, though, has been convicted of assault before, and he served jail time for probation violations. He has also pleaded no contest to charges of firearms trafficking and has been accused of locking rivals in closets and dangling them by their ankles over high-rise balconies.

Knight’s attorney, Richard Schonfeld, had no comment.

There’s a chance Isaac could wind up in jail too. Though it’s rare, a material witness warrant can be issued for a person whose testimony is crucial enough to a trial to compel cooperation. In other words, this means arresting the witness. This seldom happens, however, Carroll said, largely because it makes a criminal out of a victim and can turn the victim against prosecutors.

Because detectives are confident they have solid evidence against Knight, in the form of the police testimony, the need for Isaac’s isn’t as pressing as it might be otherwise.

Roger said that, in general, if his office asks detectives to gather additional information for a case three times and they are unable to get the information, Roger’s office will decline to prosecute. Roger, however, would not say whether this means detectives must find Isaac in order for the case against Knight to go forward.

If the officer witnesses are eventually called to the stand, if charges are eventually pressed, they’ll have quite a story to tell. According to Knight’s arrest report, Isaac told police that she and Knight were headed to the Spearmint Rhino topless club when he got a call from another woman. Isaac confronted Knight, who she claims then grabbed her hair and punched her in the neck with a closed fist, all while he was driving his champagne-colored Escalade. Isaac told police she grabbed the wheel, hoping to wreck the car and flee. Instead, she caused one of the tires to blow out. When Knight pulled into a parking lot on Spring Mountain Road, she tried to run, but Knight grabbed her, threw her to the ground and began kicking and punching her in the back of the head, until she blacked out, she said.

When Isaac woke up, she told police, she was nude and being dragged by her hair across the gravel. This is when police arrived and, maybe, saw enough to send Knight away.

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