Stampede Trial Smokes Puffy’s Plan For Oscars [1998-03-21]

By Salvatore Arena [New York Daily News]


Rap music king Sean (Puffy) Combs’ plans to attend the Academy Awards on Monday were scuttled by a judge who threatened to jail him if he doesn’t show up in court.

State Court of Claims Judge Louis Benza issued the ultimatum yesterday after Combs balked at a subpoena ordering him to testify about his role in a 1991 stampede at City College in which eight people were killed.

Survivors of the tragedy are suing the City University of New York for millions of dollars in damages. The case went to trial this week after nearly seven years of litigation.

“Puffy is going to testify,” said Kenny Meiselas, Combs’ long-time business attorney. “It’s unfair and inaccurate to say that Puffy is trying to avoid testifying. He has a long history of cooperation in this case.”

Combs, a major rap performer and CEO of Bad Boy Records, was the promoter of the ill-fated charity basketball game held at the CCNY gymnasium on Dec. 28, 1991.

The game, which featured a number of major rap stars, attracted thousands more than could be accommodated in the 2,730-seat gym on Convent Ave. and 137th St.

Rap fans, unable to get in, rushed the doors of the basement gym in a stampede that trapped dozens of people. Eight young people were trampled or crushed to death, and 29 others were injured.

The state already has paid more than $1 million in settlements to families whose relatives died.

Lawyers for the survivors say Combs was ready to blow off the subpoena to attend the Oscars, telling his lawyers to request a postponement.

“The Academy Awards, apparently for him, supersedes the importance of this court case,” said Peter 
De Filippis, an attorney for Nicole Levy, a young woman injured in the incident. “The plaintiffs are very upset about the way this case has been handled [by Combs].”

Combs is not a defendant in the Court of Claims, where all civil cases against the state are heard. But lawyers said Benza’s ruling on liability could affect other lawsuits pending against the star in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Joel Savitt, another plaintiff’s lawyer, said Benza made it clear that Combs had better pass up Oscar night or face a contempt charge.