In his best-laid plans, Richard King was set to leave West Point next year as both a starting cornerback on the Cadet football team and a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Instead, in a span of a little less than three months, he's been inflicted with likely career-ending injuries, busted to private and thrust into the queue for active duty — all, according to a lawsuit filed this week, the consequences of an unexpected encounter with R&B diva Patti LaBelle after King landed in his native Houston for spring break on March 11:
King's lawsuit, obtained by the Associated Press, states, "Apparently, defendant LaBelle believed King was standing too close to her (no doubt expensive) luggage, even though he was oblivious to her presence and the danger he was in. LaBelle lowered the window of her limousine and gave a command to her bodyguards. They sprang into action."
A surveillance video from the airport provided by King's lawyer and reviewed by The Associated Press showed King, who is 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, 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. John Raley, one of King's lawyers, said King did not push back but was only trying to protect himself from a punch.
The bodyguard and two other individuals then pushed and punched King, hitting him in the face. King fell into a concrete pillar during the altercation. He tried to get up, staggered, tried to get back up and staggered again. King was taken away on a stretcher with blood on his shirt and a bandage on his head.
LaBelle's limo driver — her 37-year-old son — declined to press charges, but did file an initial complaint against King with Houston police, whose report of the incident (based on the driver's account) described King as drunk, belligerent and harassing the occupants of the limo. It also suggests King swung first at the driver when asked to step away, and that both the driver and an officer who arrived later "smelled the odor of alcohol on the suspect," which is the better explanation for why the person lying half-conscious on the pavement has to have charges dropped against him. (King and his lawyer said he had "a few drinks" on the plane but wasn't drunk, and only shoved a bodyguard to protect himself.) The less flattering explanation is that starstruck officers — one of whom was later caught on camera posing for a picture with LaBelle with King's spilled blood still on the pavement a few feet away — sided with celebrity.
Either way, King's immediate fate appears to be sealed. After the incident, the report filed by the driver was forwarded by Houston police to West Point, which subsequently decided to "outprocess" King "under an administrative action" — in civilian terms, to suspend him, drop his rank and ship him out under a program that enlists cadets who leave the academy after the beginning of their junior year for three years of active duty with an option to return to complete their degree at the end of the tour.
It's not clear what King's service will entail, but he told local news in Houston that he expects to be deployed in the next few months and hopes to return to the academy in 2013. "I'm going to do whatever my country tells me to do," he said. "I'm going to give it my all."
If his West Point career isn't over, though, his football career almost certainly is: According to the lawsuit, King suffered a concussion, has continued to experience lingering headaches and dizziness and — in light of a series of concussions that sidelined him for the entire 2009 season — has been told by doctors that he'll never play again. Last year, King returned to play in every game and intercept four passes as an occasional starter for the first decent Army outfit in 15 years. Here's hoping to even more success on his next team.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.