As officials scrambled Thursday to control a flood of pretrial publicity in the O.J. Simpson double murder case, law enforcement sources detailed a 1985 incident in which the football legend allegedly shattered the windshield of his then-wife Nicole’s car with a baseball bat.
The sources said police responding to the call encountered an agitated Simpson who told them, “It’s my car, I’ll handle this. There is no problem here.”
Nicole Simpson, as she had after a 1993 incident of domestic violence chronicled in graphic police audiotapes released Wednesday, declined to move forward with charges, so officers left, according to the sources, who insisted on anonymity.
One police sergeant familiar with the 1985 case said Simpson smashed the car so hard that he shattered the entire windshield.
Robert Shapiro, who is defending Simpson on charges that he murdered Nicole and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, declined to comment. When asked about prior incidents of domestic violence at a news conference earlier this week, he confirmed that Simpson had struck his wife’s car with an object but would not elaborate. Sources said the 1985 incident came up during an 1989 battery case, in which Simpson pleaded no contest to beating his wife, but there is no record of it public documents.
The disclosures came as Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti and other officials moved on several fronts Thursday to tighten the lid on the release of information.
Emerging from a closed-door session with two other top law enforcement figures--Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams and City Atty. James K. Hahn--Garcetti told reporters they will not honor any more news media requests for law enforcement public records involving the football legend.
The clampdown, accompanied by the imposition of a virtual news blackout at the Police Department and a move in court by investigators to seal search warrants in the Simpson case, came on the heels of the LAPD’s release, with Hahn’s approval, of stunning tapes of 911 emergency calls, including one from 1993 that captures the sounds of an enraged man, identified as Simpson, screaming obscenities as his ex-wife sobs that he has broken her door down.
Officials would not specify the nature of any additional information they are withholding. Garcetti acknowledged that “there’s still information that was not released” but he would not say what it is or how much of it there is.
The district attorney said he did not know the chilling tapes had been released until Wednesday night, when he saw television reports. “Frankly, I almost called Chief Williams last night to say ‘What is going on with these tapes?’ ”
Only later, he said, did he find out Hahn had approved the release of the tapes under the California Public Records Act in response to requests from news organizations. “The city attorney may be right,” Garcetti said, “but I disagree with him.”
Garcetti insisted that his chief concern was that Simpson get a fair trial and that there be “a perception that he is being treated fairly and properly.” He said releasing the 911 tapes is “not fair to Mr. Simpson (and) not fair to the public.”
The county’s chief prosecutor also defiantly challenged news organizations to take him to court on the issue, vowing to join forces with Hahn and even Shapiro, Simpson’s defense attorney, to defend his position.
“I’m going to fight as hard as I have to, to make sure that that information is not improperly released.”
Some observers saw Garcetti’s move as a calculated, if legally questionable, tactic to deflect criticism that authorities are trying the case in the press.
The LAPD reported that it was inundated with calls from the public Thursday, most of them from people complaining about the release of the tapes.
Loyola University law professor Laurie L. Levenson said Garcetti “doesn’t want the public to think that he’s playing dirty--that creates more sympathy for Simpson.”
“He has to be aware that he is vulnerable to defense motions that their rights to a fair trial have been compromised by prosecution pretrial publicity,” Levenson said.
Garcetti’s announcement came after a 23-member grand jury panel wrapped up a fifth day of taking secret testimony as it worked toward a possible indictment of Simpson, who has maintained his innocence in the murders.
One witness who appeared before the grand jury Thursday--her second visit in three days--was Jill Shively, a Westside resident who appeared on the tabloid television show “Hard Copy” this week to say she saw Simpson racing away from the area of Nicole Simpson’s townhome about the time of the murders. Shively declined to comment outside the grand jury room or say if she was paid for her televised interview.
Her attorney, James Epstein, also refused to say why his client was called but he signaled that prosecutors now are concerned about the usefulness of Shively’s testimony.
“We don’t expect her to be called as a witness at the trial. It’s my understanding that the district attorney does not plan to call her at the trial. That’s their decision, not mine.”
In the “Hard Copy” interview, Shively appeared on camera--but was not identified--saying that she saw an excited Simpson about 10:50 p.m. two blocks from Nicole Simpson’s Bundy Avenue townhome. Simpson has maintained that he was at his Brentwood estate, waiting for a limousine, at the time of the murders.
“He looked crazy, he was enraged,” Shively said on the syndicated telecast. “He ran a red light, and the only reason he stopped (was) because there already was another car in front of him.” Shively, who says she sometimes jogged with Nicole in the tony Westside neighborhood, said Simpson yelled at another motorist. “I thought he was drunk,” she said.
In addition, The Times has learned, the grand jury has taken testimony from the owner of the limousine service that ferried Simpson to Los Angeles International Airport the night of the murders. Earlier, they heard from a resident of a guest house at Simpson’s estate who met the limousine. While details of the testimony given are not clear, they do indicate that prosecutors have been focusing considerable attention on Simpson’s alibi in the secret proceedings.
Simpson already has been charged with two counts of murder. But a grand jury indictment would preclude a preliminary hearing next week, where the prosecution would have to publicly lay out much of its case and Simpson’s attorney could challenge witnesses.
The grand jury adjourned without returning an indictment and was expected to meet again today in a rare Friday session.
In other developments:
* Police returned to the Bundy Avenue murder scene Thursday and taped off the area with yellow crime-scene tape as they milled about. Three uniformed officers shooed away the omnipresent curious bystanders. One officer said investigators were “reviewing schematics of the crime scene.”
* The president of the Police Commission, Gary Greenebaum, defended the LAPD’s early handling of the case and disputed a news service report that top police brass may have interfered with an arrest of Simpson after he returned from his short-lived trip to Chicago. “I’ve talked to the chief about this very issue. As far as I know, (investigators on the case) did what they did using their own discretion. . . . They had no other instruction when they went out or after they got out there.”
* Former Los Angeles Rams star Roosevelt Grier visited Simpson in jail Thursday. Simpson’s lawyer and Robert Kardashian, a longtime Simpson friend and personal attorney, also visited.
* Simpson’s close friend, Paula Barbieri, appeared on the ABC-TV show “PrimeTime Live” and said the football-hero-turned-suspect is not a violent person: “You’re seeing what the police want out there. . . . I know he didn’t do it.”
Most of the official maneuvering revolved around the cyclone of news coverage of the case.
Police Lt. John Dunkin, a department spokesman, said Parker Center was hit with public criticism over release of the 911 tapes and reports on Wednesday. The department’s public information office received “several dozen calls” about the tapes and Chief Williams’ office received “many more,” Dunkin said.
Most callers complained that the LAPD was trying the case in the media, Dunkin said.
He said the department did not want to release the information but had been legally obligated under the state Public Records Act. “Then you guys left us hanging out to dry” for not explaining how the information came to be released, Dunkin said.
The strong public reaction to the tapes’ release, coupled with calls and visits to officers’ work sites and homes, prompted Williams to place the gag order on the entire LAPD staff, Dunkin said. “Notwithstanding the tragedy of this event, life does go on in the city of Los Angeles and we have other cases to be investigated,” Dunkin said. “The department has to balance its efforts.”
After Thursday’s meeting, Garcetti said Williams and Hahn agreed with him “to cut this off.”
Later, Garcetti told The Times:
“Anything that transpired before June 12 (the day of the slayings) . . . any of those occurrences may likely come up during some part of the trial.”
Asked if the airing of the tape so far and the publication of the transcript had hurt Simpson’s defense, Garcetti replied that he was “confident that we can find 12 jurors who know very little if anything about this tape.”
Times staff writers Josh Meyer, Leslie Berger, Henry Weinstein and Scott Shibuya Brown contributed to this story.