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Patti LaBelle's employees appear in court over alleged airport beating

08/10/2011 by Olivia Allin

Patti LaBelle's hairdresser and bodyguard appeared in court on Wednesday for the alleged airport beating of a West Point cadet and former Army football player who filed a lawsuit against the singer.

Former West Point cadet Richard King filed the claim in March, alleging that LaBelle ordered her bodyguards to beat him up outside a Houston airport terminal as he waited for a ride home.

Norma Harris, a 63-year-old hairdresser for LaBelle, and 43-year-old bodyguard Efrem Holmes appeared in court in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, for the first time since being charged, reports KTRK Television, the Houston-based sister station of KABC Television, OnTheRedcarpet.com's parent company.

The defendant's attorney claimed that King's blood alcohol level was .285, more than three times the legal limit for a DWI, according to hospital reports. Though King wasn't driving, the defense claims that his intoxication made him more of a threat to the singer. They claim King was harassing LaBelle and trying to get into her limo.

King was kicked out of West Point following the altercation and the defense plans to use his records from the Academy in their case. The defense also claimed to have a witness who saw the scuffle and says King apologized to LaBelle after the incident.

If convicted of the charges, Holmes and Harris could spend a year in jail and face a $4,000 fine. They are scheduled to appear in court on September 14.

In June, LaBelle filed a counter lawsuit against King, alleging that the 23-year-old cadet attacked her bodyguards after hurling racial insults at her, according to the Associated Press. LaBelle's lawyers also accused King of being intoxicated and said he screamed obscenities and tried to get into LaBelle's limo. The countersuit said King was asked politely to walk away.

King says three of LaBelle's bodyguards attacked him while he was waiting for family to pick him up outside one of the terminals at Bush Intercontinental Airport on March 11 after returning to his hometown while on break from West Point. He said he was on the phone with his brother, unaware he was standing next to LaBelle's luggage.

King's lawsuit states that "LaBelle lowered the window of her limousine and gave a command to her bodyguards."

"I pretty much got jumped," King said at the time. "I really don't even know why, and on top of that, it's causing a lot of trouble up here because of the false police report that they had reported."

King's attorney, John Raley, rejected LaBelle's claims in the countersuit, saying that her accusations are part her "attack" on "an innocent man by telling the same false story they told the police," according to the Associated Press.

"Several eyewitnesses saw and clearly heard the incident. The counter-claim is completely without merit," the wire service quoted Raley as saying.

The entire incident was recorded by a security camera. The video, which has no audio, shows King talking on a cell phone when one of LaBelle's bodyguards appeared to push up against him, the Associated Press reports. It appears that King then pushed him back, but his lawyers said that he was just protecting himself from a punch.

King's suit was filed in a Houston civil court, but the case has been moved to federal court by LaBelle's attorneys, Raley said.

LaBelle, 67, whose real name is Patricia Louise Holt Edwards, was the lead singer of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (which was eventually shortened to Labelle) for 16 years. She launched a solo career in 1977 and performed songs like "The Best Is Yet To Come," "If You Asked Me To," "New Attitude" and "You Are My Friend."

The legendary singer recently was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 BET Awards.

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