O.J. Simpson Meets Puff Daddy

Scapegoating Sean Combs to Get Back at Johnnie Cochran

In 1998, he sued the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the Giuliani administration for allowing unconstitutional police conduct. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, blames the Louima attack on both the PBA and on City Hall for what it describes as deliberate indifference, which "preserved a code-of-silence environment."

In February 1999, Cochran joined the legal team representing the family of Amadou Diallo, a West African immigrant and street peddler who was gunned down by four white undercover cops assigned to the oppressive Street Crime Unit. The cops, who were searching for a rapist, fired 41 shots at Diallo in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building, hitting the unarmed man 19 times and killing him instantly. Three months later, Cochran announced that he was representing three of four minority men from New York City who were injured after two white troopers fired on their Dodge Caravan on the New Jersey Turnpike. The troopers claimed that the van was backing up to strike them, but Cochran, intensifying a growing debate on racial profiling, argued there had been no good reason either to stop the young men or to shoot.

Indeed, it seemed—as Ordell himself might have put it—that "this man lives to fuck with the police." To the NYPD and the PBA, however, Cochran, with his trademark lilac double-breasted suit, his hustler's smirk, and his easy mastery of 'hoodspeak, was a carpetbagger turned ambulance chaser—just like his pal Al Sharpton. But to concerned African Americans, it was as if Sharpton had introduced them to his Stacin Goins. And when the NYPD got out of line, they called on the reverend to, in Ordell's words, "sic the junkyard dog on their ass."

The Last Hurrah: Win or lose, the Combs trial is it in the criminal justice arena for dapper “Dream Team” mouthpiece Johnnie Cochran.
photo: Chien
The Last Hurrah: Win or lose, the Combs trial is it in the criminal justice arena for dapper “Dream Team” mouthpiece Johnnie Cochran.

Already, Johnnie Cochran is snapping at prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos's theories in the case, a signal of the courtroom ferocity to come. During jury selection last Thursday, he unleashed pit bull Benjamin Brafman to discredit witnesses' claims that Sean Combs had brandished a gun on the night of the Club New York shooting.

Two days after Christmas in 1999, cops arrested Combs, Anthony Jones, and Jamal Barrow after Barrow allegedly shot three people on the dance floor of the popular Times Square nightspot. Cops and prosecutors allege that Barrow fired into the crowd after a man dissed Combs. Barrow was charged with attempted murder, assault, and related counts. Combs and Jones were charged with two counts of illegal gun possession after police found a pistol in the Lincoln Navigator in which they and Combs's girlfriend, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, fled the nightclub. Police said a second handgun was thrown from the vehicle.

Egged on by approving nods from Cochran, Brafman took a shot at the police officers who captured Combs. "Can someone be arrested for a crime because police jumped to a conclusion?" he asked. (Later, Brafman predicted that "an army" of cops would storm the courtroom, eager to make the gun rap against Combs stick. When Bogdanos objected to Brafman's characterization, Brafman referred to them as a "platoon.") He then boldly argued that prospective jurors could "possibly consider Mr. Combs a victim" because the defendant was being held responsible for guns he did not know his associates had. Picking up a book that Bogdanos had earlier handed to a female prospective juror, Brafman used the prosecutor's own example of the "theory of possession" against him. Declaring that "there may be a difference between knowingly possessing" something and merely having possession of it, Brafman gave the book back to the prospective juror, pointing out that it "still belongs" to Bogdanos. Asked if she felt she should be held criminally responsible if she did not know what was in the book, the prospective juror replied no.

Combs also was charged with bribery for allegedly offering to pay Wardell Fenderson, the driver of the Navigator, $50,000 to claim that the gun police allegedly retrieved from the sports utility vehicle was his. Police said Combs offered Fenderson a diamond ring Lopez had given him as collateral. Fenderson, who was not charged, is one of the prosecution's key witnesses against Combs.

Brafman asked prospective jurors to use common sense. "Let's assume you and someone walk into a grocery store," he said. "Your friend figures he could put a [pack of] cigarettes in your bulky jacket: Censor goes off, and you're pulled over by a security guard. [Your] friend says, 'It's mine! It's mine!' and then he changes his mind. Would you evaluate in your mind [why] the person who put it in your pocket . . . changed his mind?" Some prospective jurors smiled, others nodded pensively. Added Brafman: "Can you accept that people blame others for things that they have done?"

According to court papers, Fenderson also will testify that as they fled in the SUV, Jones grabbed the steering wheel and screamed at him "not to stop and to continue driving," despite police orders to pull over. In their court papers, Cochran and Brafman cite Fenderson's claims that "Jones acknowledged having a weapon on his person and made efforts to secrete the weapon in a compartment that had been built into the Lincoln Navigator for the purpose of securing valuable jewelry which Mr. Combs often traveled with."

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