Suge Knight Should Have Just “Laid Low”
It looks as though the stars have aligned in the worst way for Death Row Records founder, Suge Knight. Knight appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom on Wednesday to formally surrender under a warrant stemming from an altercation with a paparazzo in Beverly Hills in early September. According to the reports, Knight and comedian Katt Williams were in Beverly Hills when a female celebrity photographer began snapping photos of Knight’s four-year-old son. Although Knight was rightfully upset, he says that neither he nor Williams took the photographer’s camera, contrary to her allegations. 
The unnerving part of the scenario is that if Knight is convicted, he may go to prison for 30 years to life. Knight has a long rap sheet (pun intended) of past convictions, and he is no stranger to trouble with the law. In 1992, Knight received probation for weapons and assault charges, and was later found guilty of breaking that probation for beating up a gang member in the Las Vegas MGM Hotel in 1996. Fast forward to 2001, when Knight was released from prison on parole, one year later, Knight again violated his parole by moving to Malibu without informing his parole officer. After 61 days, he was released on one count of consorting with an alleged gang member. Only one year after this charge, Knight was arrested in Los Angeles for assaulting a parking lot attendant outside of a nightclub – again, violating parole. Knight’s interaction with police, unfortunately, did not end there. In 2005, police pulled him over for making an illegal U-turn in Barstow, CA. Because Knight had marijuana in his vehicle, he was arrested, but later cleared of everything except the moving violation. 
Trouble found its way to Knight just recently, when he was shot five times at Chris Brown’s VMA party. TMZ released the shocking photos of the bullet holes in Knight’s back, with a large surgical wound that aligned his tattoos in an impressively seamless manner.  Knight has been associated with various gang members, and even affiliated with the death of New York rapper, Biggie Smalls, in 1997 as revenge for the deadly shooting of Tupac Shakur only a year prior. Although there are several theories regarding the east coast vs. west coast gang rivalries that ensued in the late 90’s,  much of it remains a mystery – including Knight’s involvement.
What does this mean for Knight?
As Knight stood in court on Wednesday, the judge seemed to sympathize with him – calling the paparazzi “lunatics.” The judge explains that although there are wrinkles in this case regarding the facts, he has dealt with other cases that involve paparazzi misconduct. The judge even went further, explaining that while public figures should expect to be photographed, their family members should be off-limits. “I understand, as a parent, not wanting your family members to be posted everywhere… I sympathize with [your] position,” said the judge.  Although the judge sympathized with Knight on a personal level regarding the unprofessionalism of the paparazzi, he was constrained since the D.A. has already filed charges. Knight’s bail is set at $500,000.
The situation will likely arouse various opinions. However, it’s safe to say many would not agree this incident is worthy of a life sentence, even considering Knight’s priors. It will also likely raise issues of the adequacy of current paparazzi laws in California. Governor Brown recently signed two paparazzi reform bills, which amended the California Privacy Law to include within the definition of “personal and familial activity” activities of children at both public and private schools. The second bill amends the California Civil Stalking Law to include as actionable placing someone “under surveillance” in a way that causes severe emotional distress (as long as the other tort elements are met). 
Are current paparazzi laws enough?
As the paparazzi become increasingly aggressive, it’s difficult for laws to address this serious issue without raising 1st Amendment concerns. Just a little over a year ago, Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner thanked governor Brown for signing the legislation that increased penalties of those attempting to record or photograph a child because of their parent’s employment. “We’re just moms trying to protect our children… these are innocent children who didn’t ask to be celebrities,” explained Berry. Jennifer Garner expressed her frightening concern that mentally ill people were able to get close to her family by blending in with a group of paparazzi. In fact, Garner even experienced a stalker who threatened to cut the babies out of her belly, and the stalker was later arrested behind her daughter’s preschool as he stood among paparazzi. 
While several newspaper associations oppose the amendment to the California law, legislators explain that 1st Amendment rights are not abridged, as the amendments focus on photographer conduct, rather than the act of simply taking pictures. It will be interesting to see how the Suge Knight case plays out. We’ll be sure to cover any additional news as it becomes available.