Is New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. a victim of extortion or is he legally responsible for a vicious attack on a Hollywood event organizer named Ishmael Temple that left Temple with chipped front teeth, a busted lip, facial cuts, a scarred ear and a possible traumatic brain injury?
Two dueling lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court are poised to answer this question. On April 12, Temple sued Beckham and Beckham’s associates for negligence, assault, battery, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other claims. On July 27, Beckham sued Temple, along with his attorney, Emmanuel Nsahlai, for civil extortion.
Tension and violence in a Beverly Hills house
As Temple (through Nsahlai) retells the facts in his complaint, he and Beckham had been good friends for roughly five years. Their friendship began as Beckham, whom the Giants drafted 14th overall in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, was finishing up his college career at Louisiana State University. Their camaraderie continued as Beckham’s NFL career took off. According to Temple, Beckham would routinely invite Temple to his home during the offseason and also hire Temple for social event bookings. The two men, as Temple’s complaint depicts it, “spent countless times and moments together at social events and gatherings.” They have also “partied on unaccountable occasions” and Temple has “numerous photos and videos of himself and Beckham in private settings and just the two of them.”
The sequence of events that led Temple to sue Beckham appears to have begun during the weekend of Jan. 6-7, 2018. Hostility from that weekend carried over to the following weekend and culminated in a violent encounter.
During the Jan. 6-7 weekend, Temple was a guest of Beckham in a Beverly Hills house. Beckham didn’t own this house, which is reportedly owned by a person named Parveen Haque Sikder. Although Beckham’s relationship to the house isn’t certain, he appears to have resided in it during the time in question. This is a relevant point should a court consider whether Temple was legally responsible the safety of persons on the premises.
Prior to leaving the house, Temple claims that one of Beckham’s security personnel, a man named Charles Puryear, “verbally assaulted [Temple] as he sought to retrieve his phone he forgot at Beckham’s residence.” Temple contends that Puryear and Talon Thomas—another member of Beckham’s “entourage”—were envious of Temple because of the affection that women showed him. To that end, Puryear and Thomas purportedly “resented” how Temple “knew many of the female ladies present at Beckham’s residence while he was there over the years.” They also didn’t like how “females usually hugged [Temple], discussed with him and liked him.”
A week later, Temple says he was back at the house as an “invited guest” of Beckham. Before he arrived, Temple claims that Beckham had warned his staff and guests to stop harassing Temple. Beckham, at least as Temple retells history, admonished Puryear, Thomas and others to quit being so jealous of Temple. As it turns out, they didn’t adhere to Beckham’s directive.
Temple’s recollection of his time at the house during the January 13-14 weekend includes his effort to mend fences with Puryear. At around 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, January 14, Temple found an opportunity to do so. Temple recalls that both he and Puryear were in the kitchen at the time. Temple says he tried to shake Puryear’s hand but that Puryear responded irritably and refused to shake Temple’s hand. The tension quickly escalated. Puryear, Temple says, warned Temple that he and other members of Beckham’s group simply “do not like” him. Puryear attributed their aversion to Temple’s “demeanor” and “the way Temple talks and walks around, and acts with the ladies.”
Then, as Temple tells it, Puryear pulled out a gun and pointed it at Temple. At that point, Puryear ominously warned Temple, “I bet you’ve never gotten shot before. I’m going to give you my first bullet. I’m going to pop you.” Temple recalls feeling “terrified” and walking out of the kitchen. Temple further explains that he alerted Beckham about the incident. Instead of intervening or even feigning concern, Beckham simply laughed at Temple and told him to “relax.”
About 20 minutes later, and as Temple was getting ready to leave Beckham’s house, the exchange turned violent. As retold by Temple, Thomas found an opportunity to punch Temple in the back of the head. Thomas then started to assault Temple, and Puryear quickly joined in. As depicted by Temple, Thomas and Puryear repeatedly pulverized and kicked Temple. A wounded Temple then blacked out for several moments only to awaken to being stomped in the face by multiple persons. Beckham was not one of the attackers.
Adding insult to Temple’s injuries, Beckham allegedly ordered his guards, who are well over six feet and muscular, to throw the 5’9″, 185-pound Temple out of the house. According to Nsahlai, Temple by this point was “semi-conscious, oozing blood from his eyes, lips and ear, disoriented, his teeth lay in various parts of the floor” and was wearing a “blood-soaked t-shirt.”
Injuries give way to a lawsuit
Temple suffered fractures to his upper front teeth and facial cuts and bruises. Health care professionals also treated Temple for a contusion of his left knee, neck strain and a concussion. His complaint indicates that he has incurred about $115,000 in medical expenses, which include dental, psychiatry, neurology and orthopedic costs.
Temple insists that he was, in lasting ways, physically wounded and emotionally traumatized by his experience in Beckham’s house. Temple claims that he now suffers from sleepless nights and incident-caused depression, severe anxiety, heart palpations and feelings of severe emotional distress. Temple further contends that he has been blacklisted in the Hollywood event community and no longer secures NFL player clients. Such alleged professional exclusion has resulted in a “drastic loss of income” for Temple.
On behalf of Temple, Nsahlai reached out to attorneys for Beckham in January in hopes of negotiating a settlement. A settlement would have avoided a lawsuit. Nsahlai demanded $999,999. Beckham, through his attorney Daniel Davillier, countered with an offer to pay only $20,000. It was obvious the parties were very far apart.
In April, Temple filed his lawsuit against Beckham, Sikder, Thomas, Puryear and others. It details several legal arguments, including those for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress. In law, homeowners and (to varying degrees) others who possess land owe their social guests and business invitees a high duty of care to warn of potential dangers and minimize chances of injury. Temple portrays himself as both a friend and business partner of Beckham, meaning Temple reasons Beckham was responsible for the injuries Temple suffered. Further, Temple depicts Beckham as negligent in his supervision of body guards. Along those lines, Temple asserts that Beckham was aware of his security guards’ ill-will toward Temple and yet Beckham took no preventative steps.
Temple also charges that Beckham defamed him by telling others that he “does not f— around” with Temple anymore. Beckham also allegedly discouraged people in his circle from hiring Temple for any events. Temple insists these statements have seriously damaged his professional reputation. Temple also describes Beckham as being “fully aware” of Temple’s assorted business dealings with NFL players, NBA players and other celebrities and thus Beckham ought to have been aware of the deleterious impact of his harsh remarks.
Linking that depiction to a legal claim, Temple asserts that Beckham tortiously interfered with Temple’s business relations and prospective economic relations. Beckham allegedly did so through such “despicable conduct” as trying to destroy Temple’s business relationships. Temple describes Beckham as trying to subject Temple “to cruel and unjust hardship” through “fraud, oppression [and] malice.” Temple demands at least $11 million in claims related to Beckham and additional millions of dollars in other claims.
Beckham strikes back
Beckham’s depiction of the incident that led to Temple’s injuries differs widely. In court filings, Beckham (through his attorneys) stresses that Temple claiming the incident occurred at “Odell Beckham’s residence in Beverly Hills” is simply false. Beckham is not the owner of the house. As noted above, Sikder owns it. While Beckham’s lack of ownership does not automatically relieve him of legal responsibility for injuries that occurred in the house—he could still be held liable if he rented or otherwise possessed the house—Beckham gains some degree of legal distance from the injuries by virtue of the fact that it wasn’t his house.
Beckham also rejects Temple’s assertion that Thomas and Puryear were “all in the employment of Beckham.” Beckham insists that neither man worked for him. Thomas, in fact, is an employee of another of the defendants, ChefRLI, a private chef network that prepares meals for professional athletes. Beckham also rejects Temple’s depiction of he and Temple as long-time friends.
Beckham also stresses that neither he nor his attorneys could have committed defamation when his attorneys publicly rejected Temple’s claims and raised questions about Temple’s veracity. Under California’s anti-strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) statute, statements to media about matters of public concern are protected under the First Amendment and thus not defamatory. In addition, public statements about judicial proceedings are normally privileged and exempt from defamation claims. Nsahlai, for his part, rejects the Temple-Beckham dispute as one of public concern since it involves as “private matter” between an “NFL player and a totally unknown, non-publicity seeker, anonymous plaintiff.” National media outlets, however, have covered this litigation as part of the news cycle. This suggests the litigation is of public concern.
Not only does Beckham contend that Temple’s claims are false and unsupported by law, he also dismisses them as “little more than an effort to extort a highly visible athlete.” Beckham insists that Temple is merely trying to capitalize on Beckham’s fame and fortune through “pursuing a windfall settlement of trumped up claims.”
Beckham went a step further in July when he sued Temple and Nsahlai for engaging in “extortion.” Through his attorney, Andrew Jablon, Beckham—who is attempting to negotiate a lucrative contract extension with the Giants—insists that he presents an “enticing target for shakedown artists.” To that point, Beckham highlights an email sent by Nsahlai to Jablon on July 4. In his email, Nsahlai refers to possession of a text message in which Beckham allegedly offers to pay $1,000 to have sex with a “female friend” of Temple who was “visiting from Arizona.” Nsahlai warned Jablon that Beckham (allegedly) offering to pay another person for sex amounts to solicitation of prostitution, a crime under California law. The email also references Nsahlai feeling free to conduct interviews with TMZ and other media in which Nsahlai would presumably damage Beckham’s reputation.
Beckham contends that Nashlai’s communications amount to extortion. Through Jablon, Beckham charges that Temple and Nsahlai engaged in civil extortion as prohibited by California Penal Code sections 518, 519 and 523. Beckham asserts that the defendants made a threat in writing to accuse Beckham of a crime in order to induce payment of money. Beckham also notes that the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which regulate Nsahlai as a licensed attorney, instruct that “a member [of the state’s bar] shall not threaten to present criminal, administrative or disciplinary charges to obtain an advantage in a civil dispute.”
In their defense, expect Temple and Nsahlai to contend that any contentious communications between attorneys on opposite sides reflect the normal tugs and pulls of settlement talks. Further, Nsahlai referenced the alleged solicitation text for an ostensibly lawful purpose: to respond to Jablon invoking California’s anti-SLAPP statute.
Where it goes from here
Despite their acrimonious relationship, Temple, Beckham and their respective attorneys will almost certainly engage in continued settlement talks in hopes of avoiding further litigation. It stands to reason that companies with whom Beckham has signed endorsement deals would prefer he resolve the matter before a trial. Last year, Nike signed Beckham to a 5-year endorsement deal worth $29 million—a deal described as “the most lucrative shoe deal in NFL history.” Nike probably wants Beckham, who missed most of the 2017 season with an ankle injury, to find common ground with Temple. Along those lines, Nike would like Beckham to resume his place as one of the three or four best wide receivers in football and to avoid off-field controversies.
But how does Beckham feel? He believes he is the victim of an extortion plot and he doesn’t want to reward the person he regards as the architect of the plot. Which viewpoint will win out? We’ll find out.
Michael McCann is SI’s legal analyst. He is also Associate Dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law and editor and co-author of The Oxford Handbook of American Sports Law and Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA.