HOUSTON – Veteran R&B diva Patti LaBelle says in a countersuit filed against a West Point cadet who claims she ordered her bodyguards to beat him up outside a Houston airport terminal that the altercation began after the cadet hurled racial insults at her.
But an attorney for the cadet, Richard King, denied his client ever said any racial slurs to LaBelle.
King's attorneys say he was waiting to be picked up by family outside one of the terminals at Bush Intercontinental Airport on March 11 when three of LaBelle's bodyguards attacked him without provocation.
King, who was in his hometown of Houston while on spring break from West Point, filed his lawsuit earlier this month, naming LaBelle, the three bodyguards, one of whom is the singer's son, and two others as defendants.
King's lawyers say the alleged attacked resulted in a concussion and lingering dizziness and headaches for the cadet. A surveillance video from the airport that was previously released by King's attorneys shows the 23-year-old cadet being pushed and punched by two men and a woman, all alleged to be LaBelle's bodyguards.
LaBelle filed a countersuit last week, accusing the cadet of attacking her bodyguards after he directed profane and racial slurs toward the singer.
In the countersuit, LaBelle's lawyers accuse King of being intoxicated, staggering around outside the terminal, screaming obscenities and trying to enter the singer's limousine. King was politely asked to walk away from the vehicle, according to the countersuit. King's attorneys have said the cadet had a few drinks on the flight to Houston but denied he was intoxicated.
"King directed profane and racial slurs towards LaBelle. When LaBelle's son (Zuri Edwards) heard the profanity and racial epithets, he informed King that the woman in the limousine was his mother," the suit said. "Without warning or provocation, King violently and deliberately punched Edwards in the face."
The surveillance video, which has no audio, shows King talking on a cell phone when one of LaBelle's bodyguards appeared to push up against him. It appeared that King then pushed him back. King's attorneys have said King did not push back but was protecting himself from a punch.
The bodyguards told Houston police King attacked them.
King's attorney, John Raley, said LaBelle's claim that the cadet hurled racial slurs at her is part of her "attack" on "an innocent man by telling the same false story they told the police."
"Several eyewitnesses saw and clearly heard the incident. The counter-claim is completely without merit," Raley said in a statement.
The case, which was originally filed in Houston state civil court, has been moved to federal court by LaBelle's attorneys, Raley said.
The initial police investigation named King as the suspect in the case. But since the lawsuit was filed, the Houston police department reopened its investigation and it is also looking into the actions of two officers who were seen on the surveillance video taking photos with LaBelle after the alleged beating.
Raley said the incident was reported to West Point, which suspended the cadet for at least one year and ordered him to go on active duty.
King's lawsuit and LaBelle's countersuit are asking for unspecified damages.
LaBelle's singing career has spanned more than four decades and includes several hit records and two Grammy Awards.