Former rap impresario Marion "Suge" Knight, founder of Death Row Records, and two others were shot early Sunday inside a packed West Hollywood nightclub at a pre-awards party hosted by singer Chris Brown.
Gunfire erupted inside the cavernous 1 OAK club on the Sunset Strip about 1:30 a.m. as Brown was performing at a pre-MTV Video Music Awards party, sending club-goers running and screaming into the street, according to authorities and witnesses. Sheriff's deputies quickly descended on the venue, but the gunman managed to escape.
"I was about to leave, and all of a sudden I heard gunshots," said one witness, who did not want to be identified. "I saw a bunch of people running out. I ran out with them.... The cops had their guns drawn towards the doors, and it was a crime scene from then on."
The 49-year-old Knight, who was apparently hit twice, managed to walk out of the club and was helped into a sheriff's cruiser, where he remained until an ambulance arrived, authorities said. He was then taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. He is expected to survive.
An unidentified man and woman who were also wounded in the shooting were taken to area hospitals, authorities said. Their conditions were not immediately known, but they were both expected to recover.
On Sunday, a trail of blood could be seen on the sidewalk leading from the club's entrance to the curb.
Sheriff's Lt. John Corina said a lone gunman walked up to Knight and shot him. He said that there was no altercation or words exchanged and that the whole episode was caught on camera.
"We believe it was a crime of opportunity," Corina said.
Law enforcement sources said a preliminary investigation suggests that Sunday's shooting is probably connected to gang rivalries and Knight's connections with Compton's Bloods gang. They said several known members of the Blood gangs were present at the party.
Detectives are reviewing video footage of the event to see if they can identify the shooter.
West Hollywood Mayor John D'Amico denounced the attack.
"This was just a regular night of fun on the Sunset Strip, and it was disrupted by criminals," D'Amico said. "Hopefully the Sheriff's Department will find out who the person or persons were and prosecute them to the full extent of the law."
Several partygoers on Sunday posted clips on Twitter and Instagram of the event showing revelers inside the club ducking before running for the doors. Brown, who was standing on a table performing when the shooting started, tweeted Sunday: "It's disappointing that we as a society can't have fun or enjoy ourselves without any altercations sometimes." Later, Brown said in a statement that he was cooperating with the investigation and that the shooting was unrelated to him.
The shooting occurred the night before the MTV Video Music Awards, which were held Sunday night at the Forum in Inglewood. A spokesman for the music network said Sunday that "MTV has no affiliation nor is connected" in any way with the 1 0AK party.
Knight's family called for prayers for the mogul. "The family of Suge Knight asks that you keep Suge in your prayers and to stray away from the negativity portrayed by the media," Knight's family said in a statement to Revolt, another music TV network. "Suge is currently resting and has lost a lot of blood, he's human. He's done a lot of things for the community and the culture as a whole so we ask that you respect that."
Knight co-founded Death Row with Dr. Dre in 1991 and built it into the first rap label to consistently dominate the pop scene.
In 1996, Knight, who has a long history of run-ins with the law, was at the wheel of a BMW in Las Vegas when passenger and popular rapper Tupac Shakur was shot by gunmen in another vehicle. Shakur died a week later, and the case has not been solved.
In 1997, Knight was sentenced to nine years in prison for violating the terms of his probation from an earlier assault case. He was released from prison in 2001 but was sent back to jail two years later for violating parole when he hit a parking-lot attendant.
In 2006, Knight filed for bankruptcy and the following year put his Malibu mansion up for sale. In 2008, he was arrested in Las Vegas on suspicion of drug possession and aggravated assault. The next year, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery.
On Sunday, the short stretch of Sunset Boulevard where the shooting occurred reopened and by afternoon tour buses were already pointing out the 1 OAK club.
"Right inside, a shooting happened last night," said one driver, as passengers held up their smartphones to snap photos of sheriff's deputies out front. An Australian TV news crew was also doing a report in front of the club, which still had yellow police tape around it.
Times staff writer Gerrick Kennedy contributed to this report.