To most cops, it's a routine Friday night thing. Two young men argue. It becomes heated, then raging. Finally, one levels a shotgun and fires. A friend rushes the wounded man to the hospital and the shooter--remorsefully or shrewdly--calls police. When those crimes happen in a poor part of town, criminal law experts say, they are investigated in a matter of days, and charges are usually filed within days or weeks.
That's not what happened in a wealthy part of Los Angeles, with a shooting more than a year ago at the Beverly Hills home of Donald T. Sterling--lawyer, commercial real estate giant, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team and fund-raiser for outgoing Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti. The shotgun was held by Sterling's son, Scott, then 19.
Beverly Hills police investigated the shooting quickly. They asked for charges against Scott Sterling within two weeks. Eventually they also called prosecutors' attention to Donald Sterling, citing the transcript of a phone call with a detective in which the elder Sterling resorted to what police regarded as an attempt at intimidation or influence peddling.
More than a year after the shooting, prosecutors decided not to file charges. The victim, prosecutors said, wasn't credible. The conclusion left police frustrated. Medical and ballistics reports show that the victim was shot from behind from at least 15 feet away. Yet young Sterling claimed self-defense. "No rational person would entertain the possibility of his story being true," Beverly Hills Det. Sgt. Jack Douglas wrote in a memo to prosecutors.
The scene unfolds from the bulky case file obtained through a Public Records Act demand to Garcetti's office: Sept. 11, 1999, a little after midnight at the Sterling home on Beverly Drive, a street where peaceful living is as taken for granted as soft-walking servants. Donald Sterling, who is in his 60s and has $1 billion in assets, and his wife were not at home.
Trouble had been growing between Scott Sterling and his best friend, Philip Scheid, 19, a companion since kindergarten. Scheid and his parents, Philip and Terri, also live in Beverly Hills, but with far less wealth than the Sterlings. A major problem seemed to be a girl. Together they had met a young actress and, over a period of months, both became involved with her. She is Lindsey McKeon, then 17, of Studio City, an actress on the TV sitcoms "Opposite Sex" and "Saved by the Bell: The New Class." Sterling had strong feelings for McKeon--Scheid would later say of his friend, "He gets crazy when it comes to her."
McKeon had driven unannounced to the Sterlings' walled mansion. She wanted to hand-deliver a letter to Sterling, with whom she had broken off relations. She parked behind the back entrance, on Crescent Drive. Sterling walked out of the house and joined her, she told investigators later. The two hugged and began to talk. Then Scheid walked around the corner from Beverly onto Crescent and up to them. Scheid claims he'd just come to make peace. But Sterling apparently thought Scheid's arrival was prearranged to embarrass him. Scheid would later tell police the two immediately went face to face in anger, and Sterling then asked Scheid to come onto his property. McKeon stayed by her car.
Once on the property, the two men argued and started to fight. Each man later accused the other of brandishing a knife, but neither was cut. In Scheid's pocket was a non-firable starter's pistol that belonged to Sterling. McKeon heard the arguing, though she couldn't see them. After they stopped fighting, Sterling grabbed a Mossberg Model 500C 20-gauge shotgun that Scheid later told police had been leaning against a wall outside the mansion. He ejected some shells, apparently in a show of bravado.
Out on the street, McKeon heard the shells being ejected. Then a car containing three teenage acquaintances pulled up and slowed to a crawl. Rebecca Duffy, 18, of Los Angeles, was the driver. They began to exchange greetings with McKeon.
Inside the property, Scheid says, he noticed that the starter's pistol had fallen out of his pocket during the fight. He picked it up, along with a knife he said Sterling dropped during their struggle. Sterling then pointed the shotgun at him. Scheid claims he turned and began to walk away. Sterling fired a shot. Scheid says he then started to run. A second shot hit him in the lower legs as he was about to exit the property the same way he had entered--through an open electronic gate to the driveway.
On the street, the four teenagers heard two loud bangs, two to three seconds apart. Stunned, they thought the first shot was a firecracker. But an instant after the second shot, they saw a figure stumble through the gate, away from the Sterling property, and fall down. It was Scheid, bleeding from both legs. Eighteen holes were in the back of his Big Star vintage blue jeans.