Never come between the "Godmother of Soul" and her luggage. That's the lesson a West Point cadet says he learned at Houston airport when he charges Patti LaBelle's security guards roughed him up.
Richard King, 23, is suing LaBelle over the incident, captured on surveillance video last March 11 at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
King, a Houston resident who is a senior at the military academy, had come home for spring break when he wandered close to LaBelle's limousine. He was talking to his brother on his cellphone when her bodyguards "sprang into action," according to the civil suit he filed this week against the singer and her entourage.
"Apparently defendant LaBelle believed King was standing too close to her (no doubt expensive) luggage, even though he was oblivious to her presence," the lawsuit says. "LaBelle lowered the window of her limousine and gave a command to a trio of bodyguards. " The suit says LaBelle "watched the vicious assault, with approval, from her limousine."
The video shows King being punched and falling against a concrete pillar. He tries three times to get up and finally moves away from the scene. After an ambulance takes him away, the video shows Houston cops posing with LaBelle for a photo. Blood is seen on the ground nearby.
King, who suffered a concussion, has no memory of the incident. "I remember waking up the next morning with staples in my head," he said. He is "shocked" when he watches the video. "I've never been in a fight in my life," he says.
The limousine driver, Zuri Edwards, 37—LaBelle's son-- made a complaint against King but declined to press charges, according to Jody Silva, a spokeswoman for the Houston police department.
The police incident report, based on Edwards' complaint, says that King was belligerent and was harassing the occupants of the limo. When he was asked to step away, he struck Edwards, and a witness then pushed King, the incident report says. Edwards and the police officer who came to the scene "smelled the odor of alcohol on the suspect," said Jody Silva, a spokeswoman for Houston police.
King had a couple of drinks on the plane, according to his lawyer, John Raley. "He was in no way impaired," Raley says, and never hit Edwards. He said King, a defensive back on the West Point football team whose grandfather was a well-known college football coach in Texas, probably will not be able to play football again.
Raley said King was concentrating on arranging to be picked up by his family when the incident occurred. "Not only did he not know who Patti LaBelle was—that's not his generation, he's 23 years old—but he didn't know he was close to any celebrity," Raley says.
West Point has taken disciplinary action against King after they were notified of the incident by Houston cops, Raley says. He is being busted to private and deployed to active duty. He had been scheduled to graduate in December with the rank of second lieutenant.
King is "outprocessing under an administrative action," according to academy spokesman Joe Tombrello. He said he was unable to discuss the specifics of King's situation, but explained that cadets who leave the academy after the beginning of their junior year may be eligible for a program under which they serve active duty for three years and then have the option to return and complete their degree. The option is only offered to those who have "the potential to return," he said.
"I'm going to do whatever my country tells me to do. I'm going to give it my all," says King, who expects to deployed in the next few months and then hopes to return to West Point and graduate in 2013.
LaBelle's publicist and agent did not respond to a request for comment.