An attorney for an ex-West Point cadet told jurors Tuesday that veteran R&B singer Patti LaBelle ordered her bodyguard to beat up the cadet as he waited for a ride home outside a Houston airport terminal, resulting in a brain injury that forced him to drop out of the military academy.
The lawsuit against LaBelle alleges the cadet, Richard King, was waiting for his family to pick him up outside one of the terminals at Bush Intercontinental Airport in March 2011, when LaBelle's bodyguard and two others attacked him. King had just arrived in Houston, his hometown, while on spring break from West Point.
King sued LaBelle; Zuri Edwards, LaBelle's manager and son; Efrem Holmes, her bodyguard; and Norma Harris, her hair dresser.
The trial is expected to last about a week. LaBelle, who was in court Tuesday, was expected to testify.
John Raley, one of King's lawyers, told jurors his client had a blood alcohol level of 0.28, more than three times the legal limit for driving. But Raley said King was not driving and was not a danger to anyone.
Raley said King was minding his own business outside the airport terminal when he was attacked without provocation by the 400-pound Holmes, as well as by Edwards and Harris.
King later dropped out of West Point because of a traumatic brain injury he suffered after hitting his head on a concrete pillar during the attack, Raley said.
"He has been horribly damaged by this assault," he said.
But Geoffrey Bracken, one of LaBelle's attorneys, told jurors King was the aggressor who first punched Edwards. LaBelle's attorneys have said King hurled racial insults at the singer before he attacked her son and that King was told several times to step away from the singer's vehicle after he tried to open a passenger door.
Bracken blamed King's drinking for the incident. He pointed to a large bottle of Jack Daniels he had placed in front of jurors, telling them "this is how much alcohol he had in his system."
"This wouldn't have ever happened if Mr. King had not been drinking," he said.
Bracken also suggested that King's career at West Point was ended not by his injuries but by a previous history of poor academic performance.
The first witness for King, a security expert, testified via a video deposition that Holmes' response as a bodyguard was aggressive and inappropriate. Testimony was to resume Wednesday.
After the incident, Holmes and Harris were charged with misdemeanor assault. The charge against Harris was later dismissed, while Holmes was acquitted in November.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
LaBelle's singing career has spanned more than four decades and includes several hit records and two Grammy Awards.