HOUSTON (Reuters) - Singer Patti LaBelle took the stand on Wednesday in a federal civil trial and denied telling her 400-pound bodyguard to attack a man standing too close to her luggage at the Houston airport in March 2011.
The man, former West Point cadet Richard King, has sued LaBelle, her son, the bodyguard and an assistant over what his attorneys have said was an unprovoked attack that left King with brain damage and forced his withdrawal from the service academy.
King arrived in Houston with a blood alcohol level of 0.285 percent, or more than three times the legal driving limit.
Security cameras recorded the melee and the aftermath when Houston firefighters took King to a hospital and responding police officers posed for photographs with LaBelle.
LaBelle, 70, testified that she rolled down the window in her limousine to ask her bodyguard if all of their luggage had arrived since the flight had been delayed for over an hour, not to give instructions to assault King, she said.
The grammy-winning singer said she did not see what happened after King punched her son, Zuri Edwards, who is also her manager.
“After seeing my son beat up, I didn’t want to look any more,” LaBelle said when she was asked to explain why she didn’t see the whole incident.
LaBelle testified for about 30 minutes on Wednesday. The trial began on Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison. It is expected to last about a week.
A Harris County jury acquitted LaBelle’s bodyguard, Efrem Holmes, of charges stemming from the melee in 2013.
An attorney for King asked whether LaBelle’s posing for photographs with the officers could have influenced the investigation into the melee.
“It could have been a homeless person, dear. I take pictures with anyone and everyone who asks,” LaBelle replied.
LaBelle said she heard King use a racial slur, but that words, even if offensive, did not warrant a physical attack.
“I’ve been doing this for 52 years and I’ve heard all kinds of things and I don’t react,” LaBelle said.
Reporting by Amanda Orr; Editing by David Bailey and Sandra Maler