1986: Before he was known for hanging Vanilla Ice off of a balcony (more on that later), Knight was actually a very talented college football player. In 1983, he received a football scholarship out of high school, and in 1985, he transferred to UNLV to continue his balling career, even scoring a Rookie of the Year title. It was in his senior year, though, that he began to exhibit the kind of criminal mindset that would characterize his life. In the book Labyrinth, Knight’s college years are defined by a drug-dealing side gig.
1987: This is where the lengthy rap sheet begins. In October, Suge’s future wife, Sharitha Golden, placed a restraining order against him. Knight violated the order by grabbing Golden by the hair and cutting off her ponytail, resulting in his first arrest. Just two weeks later, Suge is arrested again, this time for shooting a man in the leg and wrist as he attempted to steal his Nissan Maxima. Knight’s decorated football career helped him out of the jam, and his charges were miraculously lowered to misdemeanors, carrying a $1,000 fine and three years probation. Yes, you read that right: He shot a man twice, stole his vehicle, and only got a $1,000 fine in return.
“It went to a misdemeanor,” he told the Washington Post in 2007. “I shot him with his own gun.”
1988: Suge is arrested for assaulting a man at L.A. International Airport.
1990: This was a busy year for the soon-to-be Death Row record executive. In Las Vegas, Suge uses a loaded pistol to break some poor guy’s jaw, resulting in another slap on the wrist of $9,000, and a two-year suspended sentence. He also pleads guilty to two cases of battery — in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, respectively — and pleads guilty to a disturbing the peace charge in Van Nuys. The result of these charges? More probation.
1991: Suge is consolidating power into Death Row Records, a tactic that includes strong-arming away the contracts of Dr. Dre and D.O.C. from Eazy-E. Knight is given another suspended sentence, this time for giving a false name when he was caught with a deadly weapon in Beverly Hills. It was also during this time that Vanilla Ice supposedly got hung over a balcony by Suge — that never happened. Ice and Suge’s party went to court over royalties for “Ice, Ice, Baby” instead. Still, it’s likely that Suge did show him the edge of the infamous balcony.
1992: If convictions and arrests were an Olympic sport, Suge would have taken home the gold in 1992. Besides facing two convictions for assault with a deadly weapon — both resulted in suspended sentences, of course — he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon in West Covina, convicted of disturbing the peace in Van Nuys, and if that wasn’t enough, he beat and shot at two budding rap artists for using the Death Row office phones without permission. That incident ended with Suge getting arrested for armed assault. The two rappers, George and Lynwood Stanley, then went on to say that shady dealings with the prosecutor — his daughter was supposed to appear on a Death Row records release — resulted in the brothers taking a plea deal and Suge getting off the hook.
Also in 1992, Suge, Dr. Dre, and D.O.C. are arrested during an incident in New Orleans in which two people are stabbed. There’s some conjecture about the situation, some saying that it was either at a radio convention or at the premiere of the film Mo’ Money. Either way, people were stabbed, and Suge was somehow involved. Not surprising.
1993: Suge is named in a drug-dealing ring that transported cocaine from L.A. to his former stomping grounds in Las Vegas; again, more probation. Jake Brown, in Suge Knight: The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Death Row Records, said:
The notoriety that grew out of Knight’s ability to avoid prosecution for violent incidents, almost all of which had been related to Death Row’s business dealings, served only to bolster Death Row Records’ image of invincibility.
1995: After a relatively quiet 1994, Suge is back on the criminal map again, this time for an incident at a Death Row Records party at the El Rey Theatre in which a man, Kelly Jamerson, is stomped to death. He was beaten so badly that he was barely recognizable. Rumors persisted that Suge was involved.
“There were so many people stomping and hitting him that no one would help him,” a family member told the L.A. Times. “You had to take a really good look at him to recognize it was Kelly. We knew what clothes he had on.”
In January of 1995, Suge is hit with another charge: conspiracy to illegally possess a firearm. The Jamerson murder resulted in no arrests, and the possession charge carried with it no jail time.
1996: On September 7, Suge and Tupac Shakur are caught on CCTV footage beating Orlando Anderson at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Anderson was a member of the Crips, and supposedly responsible for the previous beating of an associate of Suge and Tupac.
Later that night, Tupac would be gunned down in front of Suge — the murder was never solved. Since the deaths of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G, Suge has been loosely tied to the murders, but nothing of substance has ever been brought before a judge.
1997: Because of his previous arrests, and the footage from the night Tupac was murdered showing Suge violating his probation with the beatdown, Knight is given nine years in prison, of which he only serves five.
2001-2002: Upon leaving prison, Suge tells Newsweek, “Before I came in, I hung out at clubs all the time, spent a lot of time on the streets. When I get home, that’s going to change. I’ll be handling my business, making sure it’s back on top.”
The freedom didn’t last long. In December of 2002, Knight is hauled back off to jail for violating the terms of his release. When authorities stormed the new offices of Death Row Records — a murder investigation led them there, but Knight was not implicated — they found Knight with several gang members. His parole specifically stated that he was not to consort with seedy types. He spends 61 days in lockup.
2003: In June, Knight assaults a parking lot attendant when his car is blocked in at the White Lotus nightclub. (Remember his Newsweek comment about not going to nightclubs?) For once again violating his parole, Suge is sent back to prison to serve a 10-month sentence.
2005: In February, Suge is pulled over in his vehicle for making an illegal U-turn. A search turns up marijuana, and Knight is arrested. He spends a week in jail and is later cleared of the possession charges.
2008: Outside of a strip club in Las Vegas, Knight is arrested for drug and assault violations. Apparently, he beat up his girlfriend, Melissa Isaac. Isaac doesn’t show up to court to testify and charges are dropped.
2013: Sugar Bear is pulled over for a traffic violation while driving with a suspended license. He pays the $20,000 bail.
2014: Knight pleads “not guilty” to an incident involving Katt Williams where the pair allegedly stole a camera from a photographer. Due to his previous run-ins with the law, Suge could face up to 30 years for violating his conditions.
2015: Visiting a filming location, Suge runs over a man, killing him and injuring another. He contends he was escaping an attack at the time and turns himself in. Knight’s trial has been oft-delayed. The most recent delay happened in late March when Knight was hospitalized.
2017: While not technically a legal dustup for himself, in a court affidavit, Knight claims to know who killed Tupac.