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Rap mogul Suge Knight arrested in fatal hit-and-run

In this 2007 file photo, Suge Knight poses for a photographer at a Los Angeles hotel. (Jonathan Alcorn/For The Washington Post)

Rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight has been arrested on suspicion of murder in the death of a man in Compton, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

A spokesman said late Thursday that it appeared Knight, the notorious Death Row Records founder, had run over two men with his truck after an argument on a movie set. One was killed; the other was injured. Authorities have not yet identified the victims, though the sheriff’s department said both men were in their 50s and that at least one was a member of the film crew.

“Looks like he drove backwards and struck the victims and drove forwards and struck them again,” Lt. John Corina, a sheriff’s office spokesman, told reporters. “The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act.”

Authorities said Knight left the scene following the afternoon incident but turned himself in early Friday morning in West Hollywood. He was arrested a short while later and is being held on $2 million bail, according to the sheriff’s office.

The incident reportedly occurred following a dispute on the set of a movie called “Straight Outta Compton,” about the rise and fall of N.W.A., the pioneering rap group that included Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.

Knight’s attorney acknowledged that his client ran over two people while driving a red pickup truck in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Compton. But, he said, it was an accident.

The attorney, James Blatt, told the Los Angeles Times that the man killed was Terry Carter, a friend of Knight’s. The second victim, who suffered injuries, was actor Cle “Bone” Sloan, Blatt told the Times.

Blatt told the Times that Carter was trying to break up a fight between Knight and others when he was run over — and that Knight “had no knowledge whatsoever he ran over anyone.”

“Mr. Knight was attacked by a group of men while he was in his vehicle,” Blatt said, according to the Times. “They were beating him, threatening to kill him and attempting to drag him outside of the vehicle. He made an effort to escape, he was in fear for his life. And that’s exactly what he did.”

The attorney said he expects Knight to be exonerated.

“He was the victim, he was not the aggressor,” Blatt said, according to the Times.

The incident in question occurred Thursday afternoon at Tam’s Burgers in Compton. Homicide detectives were dispatched to the scene to investigate a fatal hit-and-run accident, according a sheriff’s office news release.

“When the homicide detectives arrived, they learned that two individuals were hanging out at the rear parking lot of a business when a red pick-up truck approached,” the statement said. “The driver of the pick-up truck became involved in a verbal argument with the individuals from the parking lot. The argument escalated and the driver backed up striking one of the victims.

“The driver then drove forward driving over both victims.”

Various witnesses told authorities that the suspect was Knight. The suspect’s vehicle, the sheriff’s department noted, was described as a red Ford F-150 Raptor. “This vehicle is similar to the vehicle driven by Marion Suge Knight.”

Police are questioning rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight, who turned himself in to police overnight after a deadly hit-and-run near L.A. (Video: Reuters)

Whatever occurred on Thursday afternoon, for Knight, it marks another episode of violence in a life teeming with them. Violence has always been with him: through his days as a college football player, his ascent to the highest reaches of the recording industry, and his plunge into deep debt. And today, violence defines him more than music ever did.

He’s fatalistic about it. After all, he’s been shot several times. In August, he took at least one bullet at a party in West Hollywood hosted by Chris Brown. “You’re born to die,” he once told a New York Times reporter when declining to discuss the killing of a Death Row employee. “Ain’t nobody gonna leave here alive. Everybody is born and everybody’s going to die. Period. That’s the way it’s played. Can’t nobody change that.”

That’s true. But Knight has long courted the violent trappings of gang life — both when he had the means to abandon the troubles of the community where he came from, and when he didn’t.

Despite the gangster persona he cultivated — he wore a medallion that said “M.O.B.,” associated with the Mob Piru Bloods street gang and put a Bloods-red carpet in his office — his origins were different.

Though he was raised in the streets of Compton, his reported sweetness earned him his nickname — to his mom, he was “sugar.”

“He was spoiled,” Maxine Knight told the New York Times in 1996. “I would always do anything for him. He could get anything he wanted. Suge always liked gold, and he was careful about his appearance, and he always said, ‘Mom, one day I’m going to live in a house with a second floor and I’ll have a lot of cars.'”

His first path to wealth was sport. Knight, a hulking man who stands 6-foot-2 and once weighed more than 300 pounds, was a talented football player. So much so that he spent part of a season with the Los Angeles Rams.

But according to what he told The Washington Post in 2007, his sports career hit the skids when he was a hit with a charge for attempted murder in 1987. He was 22, pleaded no contest and didn’t do any time.

“It went to misdemeanor,” he said.

And what about the victim? “I shot him with his own gun.”

That aggression, even off the field, made him valuable. He was soon working as a bodyguard for singer Bobby Brown and got schooled on how the music industry works. He witnessed how rappers weren’t making the money that was their due, so he set out to change that — and make himself some money, too.

Chuck Philips, an authority on the L.A. rap scene’s underbelly, wrote in the Los Angeles Times how Knight muscled his way in. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright — founder of N.W.A. — was threatened by Suge with baseball bats and lead pipes, according to courtroom allegations. Vanilla Ice claimed Knight once dangled him from the balcony of a Beverly Hills hotel to exact a payment. Knight also “pistol-whipped” a couple of ambitious rappers, according to court records reported by the Times.

As he rose — partnering with Dr. Dre, launching the career of Snoop Dogg, recruiting Tupac Shakur — Knight couldn’t leave his violent past behind. “At the height of his fame, Knight embraced more than the imagery of gang violence,” Philips wrote. “He surrounded himself with gang members and tried to become a player in their world.” And then, Philips found, Knight became a target of assassination himself.

But what ultimately got him, instead, was debt. Dr. Dre fled the label. So did Snoop. Tupac was killed. And the gang members on the Death Row payroll started feuding.

Knight soon ended up in jail on charges he violated the terms of his parole stemming from an assault case. That’s when the bills starting piling higher and higher.

You have to make a lot of money to end up owing a lot. And Knight made quite a bit. “In court filings, Knight claims to be $137 million in debt, with $12 million in IRS liens, $51,000 in monthly expenses — and $11 in his checking account,” The Post reported in 2007.

So it didn’t help matters when, in November of last year — just months after he was shot at Chris Brown’s party — Knight was back in court. This time, it was on charges of robbery after he allegedly stole a paparazzo’s camera. According to TMZ, the judge set bail at $500,000.

And now, again, he’s run afoul of the police.

This post has been updated.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Gangsta Rap Brought ‘Suge’ Knight Wealth — and Lots of Trouble. Now He’s Singing a Different Tune.