Remembering Bill Knight

Bill Knight is second camera from the left – Photo courtesy of Guy Aoki

I worked with Bill Knight and Zimmy Zimmerman for ten years and with Bill alone for another five at KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. As Bill’s partner for fifteen years I feel a need to say something about his passing. Mostly, I feel a need to tell you about his dedication to the craft. So, here’s a story.

We were headed down the Hollywood Freeway, just south of the 101/134 split, returning to KTLA when a car shot by us on the left followed by a CHP car in hot pursuit. They both jagged to the right in front of us and hit an off-ramp, which, if memory serves, was at Lankershim. I looked at Bill, he looked at me and we both had the same thought. “Let’s go” I said as Bill headed for the ramp. It may be of interest, although possibly not pertinent, that I was, as fate would have it, on the phone with the press-relations guy for the FBI, discussing a story I was working on. So he ended up hearing bits and pieces of the whole thing.

We wound our way down the ramp to find the suspect car stopped at a traffic light with the CHP car directly behind it. The driver’s-side front door of the CHP car was open. The officer was standing next to the suspect car, his weapon drawn and pointed directly at the man seated behind the wheel. Suddenly, what could have been a mundane pursuit ending with a possible evading charge or maybe a speeding ticket had turned into something else.

Moving faster than I’d ever seen him move, Bill flew out the door, popped open the tail-gate and grabbed his camera. Within seconds he was over on a “grassy knoll” just to the left of our truck and about twenty feet behind the cop. A perfect spot to shoot whatever was coming next. It was then that the officer did something I still can’t explain. He stepped out in front of the car, still pointing his weapon at the driver. It was almost as though he was daring the guy to run him down. Which the driver proceeded to do. He moved the car slowly forward toward the cop, who reacted by opening fire. Firing first at the front window, with shots ricocheting back toward me and Bill, and then at the driver’s side window, as the suspect fled. “Shots fired! Shots fired!” I yelled into the phone, while also giving the FBI agent at the other end of the line our location. The cop had emptied his gun, nine shots as I remember, and through it all Bill Knight never moved. He never ducked, he never took cover. He just stood there and kept rolling.

As the cop jumped into his cruiser to pursue the suspect, Knight returned to get behind the wheel and follow the pursuit. It ended in a church parking lot a few blocks away where the suspect, surrounded by CHP and LAPD cars had been taken into custody. There was clearly no time for us to mess around. Bill jumped out, grabbed his camera and ran, leaving me to park the truck.

I pulled into the nearest space and ran over to the parking lot about a half-block away. What I saw wasn’t good. Bill, who was inside the yellow tape trying to shoot the incident, was surrounded by four or five CHP and LAPD cops, who were trying to take his camera away – literally trying to tear it off his shoulder. Bill, was resisting. By the time I got over to the scene, they had Bill in handcuffs and slammed face down on the hood of an LAPD cruiser.

A CHP officer, a young buffed-out cop, who looked like he spent all his off-hours at the gym, insisted upon pressing charges, so Bill went to jail despite a call to Bernie Parks, who allegedly said he “wanted this one for the guys out in the field.” I did what I could with an LAPD lieutenant at the scene, including a charge that the CHP, the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles were in violation of the First Amendment, and state law 409.5 which deals with press access to crime scenes, but they took Bill away. I did get our camera and videotape back even though the CHP wanted to keep it.

It turned out that when Bill first got there and started shooting, he was standing outside the yellow tape – a “do not cross” line the police put up at crime scenes. However, while he was rolling, the cops decided to move the tape, and Bill, back. And Bill objected to it.

Much to their credit our managers at KTLA hired one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the country, Alan Isaacman, to get Bill out. Isaacman, is the same guy who argued (and won) Larry Flynt’s First Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court. I’m not sure Bill ever really understood just how high-powered (and high-priced) his lawyer was. Anyway, Issacman, got Bill out of jail and kept him out.

And that’s the story. Love him or hate him, Bill Knight, always got the shot. Never, not even once, did I come back from a story working with Bill with too little video. In the case of the CHP cop who opened fire on the off-ramp, not only did I get plenty of video, Bill and I also were honored with an Edward R. Murrow Award. But it was Bill who got the story. He always did.

Condolences to Betty and the family. So long Bill. RIP

Ron

2 thoughts on “Remembering Bill Knight”

  1. Very nice piece, Ron. A great tribute to an old soldier who covered the LA beat when we were still doing enterprising stories and not pack journalism.

    And for the record, Bill was a great Shop Steward for us in I.A. He didn’t take any mess.

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