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INSIDE STORY

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

The conversation continued, with Shelly Sterling adding such comments as, "Just tell the truth, Scott," and, "Scott! Answer the questions!"

Zoeller pushed for details. He said that by Sterling's description, the two men were 11 feet apart when the second shot was fired, but a Los Angeles County sheriff's ballistics expert concluded that the actual distance between them was greater.

Sterling disputed that Scheid was shot in the back of the legs. He also claimed that the electronic gate to the driveway was closed when Scheid was shot.

Zoeller said that all the witnesses insisted the gate was open, which led to a discussion of how the wounded man could have left the property if the gate was closed. Sterling suggested that Scheid climbed the fence.

His mother responded, " . . . . no way."

Sterling said, "But Mom, you have no idea what that kid's capable of."

Zoeller returned to the critical question of where the shot had struck Scheid. "My concern is, is that Scott is saying that he's, he's [Scheid is] approaching him, and he's 11 feet away, and Scott fires as he's advancing toward Scott, and yet the evidence shows--and this is the physical evidence--shows that, in fact, Philip is shot in the back of the legs . . . . "

Sterling tried to explain, saying that Scheid was threatening and advancing rapidly toward him as he held the shotgun. ". . . . he was sidestepping. And I think as he saw me about to shoot him, he tried to turn around."

Zoeller circled back to the point. "My main concern is . . . by him attacking you, the bullets [buckshot] certainly wouldn't be in the back of him. How can you show that he was attacking you?"

Scott responded: "I'd like to ask you about that, too. How--how is that?"

Toward the end of the interview, Shelly Sterling said that Scheid had called to say his kneecap was shattered.

Scott said, "Who--who cares, Mom?"

"I care," she responded. "And you care."

"I think I care a little bit more about my life than his," her son replied.

As the investigation continued, Beverly Hills police ordered a second ballistics test by an independent consultant, who estimated the shooting range from 15 to 30 feet. Police continued to urge the district attorney to file charges, which could have been as serious as attempted murder, and grew increasingly concerned that prosecutors weren't pursuing the case aggressively. Police also were aware of Donald Sterling's stature--and connections. He is well known as a friend of law enforcement. Indeed, on Oct. 22, 1999, six weeks after the shooting, the elder Sterling was honored as Jack Webb Humanitarian of the Year by the LAPD Historical Society in "recognition of his support for law enforcement."

Several times, Beverly Hills police believed they had the investigation wrapped up, but each time the district attorney's office wanted more detective work, Capt. Frank Salcido said in an interview this fall. Police were also mystified when told that higher officials, all the way up to William Hodgman, the No. 3 ranking official in the D.A.'s office, had been brought in.

On April 18 of this year, Det. Mike Hopkins, Zoeller's partner, phoned Shelly Sterling to seek a time for her son to come to the police station for an interview. The phone call was taped, a practice police are not required to disclose to participants.

The police transcript quotes Shelly Sterling expressing fears about possible danger from Scheid, and perhaps his friends. As the conversation drew out, Donald Sterling, Scott's father, came on the line. On the tape, which The Times has heard, Sterling indicated he thought it was unfair for his son to submit to further interviewing. Then he added, "And I, you know, am very close to the police chief in Beverly Hills . . . . So I'm very close to the Police Department, and I want to cooperate as much as possible."

Sterling tried to engage Hopkins on the merits of the case. The detective was evasive, but deferential.

"Yeah, you know, and I'm so close to the Police Department," Sterling said.

"Yeah," Hopkins said.

"One day you will meet me in the course of things," Sterling said. "I'm so active in the community."

"Oh, I'm sure I will," Hopkins replied.

"You know Baca [Lee Baca, sheriff of Los Angeles County]?" Sterling asks. "I went with Baca to dinner the other night, and I'm close to Parks [Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks]. I'm just very involved with the Police Department."

Sterling continued: "I wish that you'd give me a little advice. One day in life you're gonna be passing through, and you may need a lawyer to give you good, honest advice."

"Yeah, well . . . ." Hopkins responded.

"And I'm that lawyer," Sterling said. "Donald Sterling, on the corner of Wilshire and Beverly Drive."

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