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Beverly Hills Law & Order

When a 19-Year-Old Was Shot at the Home of L.A. Clippers Owner Donald T. Sterling, Police Sought Charges Against His Son Scott. But the D.A.'s Office Declined to File, For Reasons Detectives Still Don't Accept.

December 17, 2000|FRED DICKEY | Fred Dickey last wrote for the magazine on hate crime laws

Sterling's account of the events couldn't be more different. Sterling later told investigators he did not see McKeon at all the night of the shooting. He says the fight began after he walked outside the mansion for a smoke and discovered Scheid sneaking around the grounds, inside the walls. The electronic driveway gate to the street was closed, he said, which meant Scheid must have scaled the fence. Sterling says Scheid attacked him, pulling a knife, so he threatened to call police and ran into the house. Once inside he grabbed the shotgun and some shells, then glanced out the kitchen window and found Scheid looking at him from the carport doorway.

Next, Sterling says, he left the house, locking the door behind him and loading the gun as he walked. He says he warned Scheid to leave, but the other man advanced with the knife. He says he fired a warning shot into the wall, but Scheid kept coming to a point some 11 feet away--as later measured by detectives investigating his account. Sterling says he fired a second shot toward Scheid's feet, then turned and ran back to the house, hearing Scheid's screams. The maid and a friend who were in the house, neither of whom saw the fight, unlocked the door and let him in.

Outside, Duffy and her passengers feared that they, too, were in danger and sped away as Scheid fell to the ground. Scheid made it to McKeon's car. After a moment of confusion, she drove him toward nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. En route, McKeon learned of the starter pistol and, thinking it was a real gun, protested its presence in her car. Scheid directed her to an isolated spot and threw it into some bushes. McKeon then drove him to the hospital emergency entrance, where she left him, and went home.

Back at the mansion, Sterling made his 911 call to police. He claimed Scheid attacked him with a knife. The 911 tape reveals a rambling, frenetic monologue: "Yeah, someone just tried to stab me with a f - - - ing knife, dude, at my house and I, and I, and I ran in my house, and he was sitting outside and I got my . . . . "

At that point, the dispatcher broke in for a moment. Sterling then went on to say: "He hopped over my fence, he grabbed his knife, then he ran right at me and I ran in my house. I ran around it, I f - - - ing, I told him, I said, leave, leave, I'm calling the cops. He . . . (unintelligible) . . . gate . . . (unintelligible) . . . so I went back out and he f - - - ing ran at me with the knife again . . . . "

Police responded immediately. Detectives checked out the scene, interviewed Sterling and went to the hospital to speak to Scheid. The next morning, the Beverly Hills Police Department issued a news release that gave only Sterling's account of the incident. " . . . the resident stated that he had been involved in an altercation with an individual who came to his home and attacked him with a knife. He said he shot his attacker with a shotgun in self-defense. The other party sustained minor wounds to his lower legs."

If that wording implies that detectives accepted Sterling's version of events, police attitudes soon hardened toward the young man. The off-hand dismissal of Scheid's wounds was also strange because photos and the medical report confirmed that the entire buckshot blast hit him, with some pellets going all the way through the lower legs. Other pellets penetrated the knee and had to be left in by surgeons. He was hospitalized for five days, and surgery brought him back for three more. Fourteen months later, Scheid walks with a pronounced limp and has been told the wounds will cause arthritis.

The Investigation

Six days after the shooting, Beverly Hills Det. Les Zoeller called Sterling's mother, Shelly, to speak with her son for the first time since the night of the shooting. Zoeller was nearing retirement in a career of work on high-profile cases, such as the Menendez brothers and the Billionaire Boys Club. Shelly Sterling patched in a three-way conversation with Scott--who had gone to Connecticut. Zoeller taped the discussion. In the transcript, Sterling's mother often admonishes the young man to tell the truth.

Sterling told Zoeller he never talked to McKeon the night of the shooting--a statement disputed by other witnesses. Then Sterling said for the first time that Scheid had the starter's pistol with him during the fight and hit him over the head with it. Zoeller was aware that Scheid had the pistol because police took possession of it two days after the shooting. But the claim that Scheid used it to strike Sterling was new. " . . . . this is the first I've heard of this," Zoeller said. "You think that you would want to protect yourself by telling the truth."

Sterling said, " . . . . you guys saw me holding an ice pack in the back of my head, but you all never asked what that was for."

Zoeller: "No, you told me . . . that he slammed your head into the ground."

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