Patterico's Pontifications

4/11/2008

A Tale of Two Recanters — Part Two [Posted by Guest Blogger WLS]

Filed under: General — WLS @ 5:22 pm



[Posted by WLS]

In case you missed it in the title and the first line above, this post is written by guest blogger WLS, and not by Patterico.

Returning to the story of the sordid history of Chuck Philips and his reporting on the murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, aka “Biggie Smalls”, I mentioned at the end of this post that the recantation by Waymond Anderson was only the most recent episode where a witness recanted after having previously implicated Suge Knight and David Mack — and by implication the LAPD, Mack’s employer at the time.

A few more facts to make the background of this post more understandable. Most of this is drawn from a lengthy Rolling Stone article by Randall Sullivan from 2005, which explains the full background for anyone interested.

In 2002 Voletta Wallace, the mother of Biggie Smalls, filed suit against the LAPD, claiming that Mack had been involved in the killing of her son, and that LAPD had conspired to hide his involvement. Mack was not thought to be the actual shooter of Biggie Smalls, even though a car matching one owned by Mack was identified as having been involved in the shooting. The shooter was described as having a long angular face, and wearing a bow tie in the fashion of the Nation of Islam. Other witnesses put Mack at the scene that night, and Mack had taken a family leave day to be off work — something he had also done when he committed a bank robbery. Det. Poole discovered that the first person to visit David Mack in jail following his arrest on the federal bank robbery charges was a man named Amir Muhammed, who had used a phony address and social security number to sign in. An LA Sheriff’s Office informant considered highly reliable had told investigators that the shooter in the Biggie Smalls murder was a contract assassin who was a member of Louis Farrakhan’s “Fruit of Islam” security squad by the name of “Amir” or “Ashmir.” Amir Muhammed and Mack had been friends for 20 years, having first met as scholarship athletes at the University of Oregon in the late 1970’s. Muhammed’s driver’s license photo had a striking resemblance to the composite sketch of Smalls’s killer developed from witness statements. More importantly, although the LAPD never showed Muhammed’s picture to any witnesses from the night of the shooting, a documentary film maker did. One of those witnesses, as reported in Randall Sullivan’s 2005 Rolling Stone article, actually identified a photograph of Amir Muhammed as the shooter:

Puffy Combs’ former bodyguard Eugene Deal…had impressed LAPD detectives as the most credible witness among those in the caravan of cars that had carried Combs and B.I.G. to the Petersen Museum party on the night of the murder. In his interviews with the police, Deal, a New York State parole officer, had strongly denounced the LAPD’s pet theory that Crips had committed the crime, mainly because the members of the gang he met at the Petersen party that night had shown him “nothing but love.” And Deal’s description of the “Nation of Islam guy” who seemed to be stalking Combs as they waited for their rides after the party had always been the most intriguing statement provided by any witnesses. As the Muslim approached from the sidewalk that evening, Deal said, he “seemed to be checking them out” — Combs in particular — before turning to walk north in the direction from which the black Impala would come less than ten minutes later. Deal said that police never showed him a photo of Amir Muhammad, but documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield did; with camera rolling, Deal was shown pictures of a half-dozen people who had been linked to the murder in one way or another. Deal immediately picked out one photo and said, “That’s him right there.” The man in the photograph was Harry Billups, a.k.a. Amir Muhammad.

Philips later reported that the LAPD had ruled out Muhammad as a suspect:

In May 2000, the L.A. Times ran an article under the headline MAN NO LONGER UNDER SCRUTINY IN RAPPER’S DEATH. It was written by Chuck Philips, a Pulitzer Prize-winning music-industry reporter. An LAPD detective had told Philips that the department was no longer investigating the theory that Mack and Muhammad had been involved in B.I.G.’s murder. The article, however, raised many more questions than it answered. The detective quoted in the piece gave no explanation for why the LAPD had abandoned this “theory.” LAPD detectives told Philips they still wanted to interview Muhammad — but didn’t explain why (if he was no longer a suspect), or why they had neglected to contact him. And while Philips did speak to Muhammad, he failed to report any answer to the most obvious question: If Muhammad’s visit to Mack in jail when he was arrested in December 1997 was an innocent contact between two old friends, why had the man used a false address, false Social Security number and an out-of-service phone number to arrange it?

But that is just the earliest episode of Philips writing a story that directed attention away from the theory of Knight’s involvement in the murder of Biggie Smalls that had been developed by Det. Russell Poole. Poole resigned from LAPD in 1999 over the manner in which his superiors had blocked several investigations he was conducting — all of which pointed towards a group of LAPD officers who seemed to be employed by or otherwise connected to Death Row Records and/or Suge Knight.

Biggie Smalls’ mother is represented in that suit by an attorney from Louisiana named Perry Sanders, who claims he was drawn to the case by a long article in Rolling Stone on the killing published in 2001. This is from the LAT article on the recantation by Waymond Anderson:

The attorney said he became involved in the case after reading about it in Rolling Stone magazine, which published an article in its June 7, 2001, edition, which was available online May 18.

“The lawsuit that we filed that put my name out there in the public, we didn’t file that until sometime in early 2002,” Sanders said…. The lawsuit was filed April 9, 2002.

The case actually went to trial the first time in June, 2005. Approximately two weeks before the trial was to start, however, Philips wrote an article in which he used deposition testimony which had been sealed by order of the federal judge presiding over the trial. In that article Philips revealed that a witness for the prosecution was a long-time paid informant who had worked for the LA Sheriff’s Dept., the FBI, and the DEA. Philips identified him in print by his street name: “Psycho Mike.”

The article, which can be read online at this link, is discussed in the long piece in Rolling Stone. Here are some excerpts from Sullivan’s piece on this subject:

Still, no one on the plaintiffs’ side was prepared for the front-page article by Philips that the Times ran in June, eleven days before the civil trial was scheduled to begin, under the headline INFORMANT IN RAP STAR’S SLAYING ADMITS HEARSAY.

The essence of the story was the headline: The secret informant who first told police that B.I.G.’s killer was a Nation of Islam member named “Amir” or “Ashmir” had “admitted” that his information wasn’t firsthand. Philips did his best to use the man’s own background — which he had described in a sealed deposition — against him: The informant, known as “Psycho Mike,” had grown up in Compton and had shot a man to death to avenge the murder of his brother; he had joined the Black Guerrilla Family while behind bars, stabbing another inmate fourteen times as his “blood in” initiation rite. He had later experienced a religious conversion that resulted in, among other things, his becoming an informant for agencies that included the L.A. Sheriff’s Department, the FBI and the DEA. He was also a diagnosed schizophrenic who had been on medication for most of his adult life and a man who had instilled fear in his enemies by cultivating a reputation for unpredictable eruptions of violence.

What the Times did not report was Psycho Mike’s consistency and lucidity during his deposition. He had not been caught in a single contradiction by the city attorneys who tried to trip him up. “Ten minutes into that deposition, I knew this guy was going to be an absolutely great witness for us in court,” Sanders says. “He came across as someone who was just going to tell it like it was, and to hell with you if you didn’t like it.”

The section of the article that embittered Sanders and Frank, though, was where Philips used Psycho Mike’s February 3rd, 2005, deposition to suggest he was confessing that his information about the involvement of Mack and Muhammad in the murder had come to him secondhand. In fact, he had never said it was anything else: Most of what he knew about this case, Mike explained, had resulted from trusted friends and family connections. One of Mike’s own brothers had been a professional killer (until he himself was murdered in his bed) and, in that capacity, was familiar with Muhammad, whom he also had understood to be a contract assassin. “He wasn’t a stranger to my brother,” the informant observed. “Two killers was in the same group.”

When Psycho Mike finally met Muhammad at the house in Compton where a Death Row Records employee named Rick James lived, he said he brought up the Smalls case. Muhammad immediately dropped his voice to a “killer’s whisper” and “said that if my brother was alive, I’d be dead,” apparently meaning that his own brother would have killed him for his insolence. “[He said] ‘I would not be here talking about it.'”

Despite what Psycho Mike claimed to know about how dangerous Muhammad was, he went along with an FBI plan to get incriminating statements from him on tape in December 2003, driving south to San Diego and knocking on the door of the house where Muhammad was then living. But Muhammad “got spooked when he seen me,” Mike recalled. “Thought I was coming there to kill him” and refused to let him inside.

Almost immediately after this encounter, Psycho Mike said, someone had leaked word of the FBI investigation to Chuck Philips, who promptly produced a story for the Times that “penned me out as the source of going down to San Diego with a wire.” He was furious: “I confronted [FBI agent] Phil Carson, and I wanted to jump on him. I wanted to hurt him.” Carson, though, insisted he wasn’t Philips’ source, and even signed an affidavit stating so.

Sergio Robleto described the release of the sealed deposition transcript of the “Informant Admits Hearsay” article as “tantamount to jury tampering.” And the Times‘ decision to reveal the informant’s street name was, he believes, like “signing his death warrant.” Within days of the article’s publication, Robleto says, Bloods gang members found Psycho Mike’s secret location, roughed him up on the street and promised to come back later and “take care of [him] for good.” He disappeared immediately after this incident, and neither Robleto nor the attorneys he is working for have been able to contact him since. Sanders and Frank had expected the man to be one of their strongest witnesses but now would have to make do with a DVD of his deposition.

So, now you have Philips and his reporting being connected to two episodes of recantation/disappearance by witnesses who supported the Poole theory of the murder of Smalls — Waymond Anderson and “Psycho Mike.” Not only that, but you have purposely misleading reporting — Philips’s claim that “Psycho Mike” disclosed his lack of first-hand information for the first time at the deposition was blatantly untrue, according to Sullivan. And this was the second time that Philips had reported that he was working with the FBI, clearly placing the label of “snitch” on him in the gang community.

A sealed deposition in a federal case is not going to just happen to fall into the hands of an L.A. Times reporter. And Philips must have certainly understood from his long-time reporting on this segment of the music industry that his reporting of the testimony, especially the disclosure of the witness’s street name, would place that witness in danger.

But there was a third witness who, on the witness stand, recanted earlier statements he had made not only linking Knight and Death Row records to the murder of Biggie Smalls, but also placing reporter Philips at many Death Row Records gatherings, and alleging that Philips received money from Death Row Records. This witness’s name was Kevin Hackie.

When Hackie was called as a witness in the first trial in June, 2005, this is how Philips reported his testimony (the description is taken from the Rolling Stone article since Philips’s LAT article is apparently no longer available):

The first important witness called by the plaintiffs, former Shakur bodyguard Kevin Hackie, promptly confirmed the two attorneys’ fears with what the Times described as “erratic” testimony. The newspaper’s coverage of Hackie’s appearance in court emphasized the bodyguard’s repudiation of his previous sworn testimony that Mack had worked in a “covert capacity” for Death Row Records. The Times made no mention of how Hackie’s testimony began with the following series of questions and answers:

Q: Do you want to testify in this case?
A: No, sir.
Q: Why not?
A: I’m in fear for my life, sir.
Q: What are you afraid of?
A: Retribution by the Bloods, the Los Angeles Police Department and associates of Death Row Records.

Hackie basically walked away from all his earlier statements that implicated Knight, Death Row, and LAPD officers in the murder of Biggie Smalls.

Another allegation Hackie made was that LAT reporter Philips had frequented Death Row Records parties and other social events, and that Philips received money from Knight.

Apparently, when Hackie was “working” as a bodyguard for Death Row Records, he was really acting in an undercover capacity while serving on an FBI gang task force. But it seems that Hackie has long since ended his law enforcement employment, and put a lot of distance between himself and his prior involvement with Death Row Records.

This brings me back to the trial of the Wallace/Smalls family lawsuit in June 2005. How the case ended was shocking. Perry Sanders received an anonymous telephone call in the middle of the night telling him that LAPD had conducted secret Board of Rights hearings in the basement of Parker Center, the headquarters of LAPD. The hearings were into the allegations of misconduct by LAPD officers as reported by Rafael Perez, the notorious LAPD Officer that kicked off the entire Rampart Division scandal after getting caught with 8 pounds of cocaine in his police locker — and eventually arrested by none other than Det. Randall Poole.

Perez and Mack had been partners and friends. Perez had been suspected of being involved in the bank robbery for which Mack was convicted, and Perez admitted having gone on a wild weekend in Vegas with Mack and another officer just after the bank robbery, which netted Mack $722,000.

A California prison inmate reported to LAPD that Perez had told him in prison that he (Perez) had made up many of the allegations of misconduct about various LAPD officers who had been caught up in the scandal, and that he had done so in order to gain consideration on his own sentence. That prison inmate was brought to LAPD to testify in one of those Board of Rights proceedings, to tell them what he claimed Perez had told him.

During his testimony, that prison inmate started to testify about Perez’s comments implicating himself (Perez) and Mack in the killing of Biggie Smalls. At that point an LAPD representative on the Board of Rights panel cut off further testimony on that subject, claiming that it was “under investigation.”

In fact, an LAPD investigator had visited this particular inmate and had taken a statement from him about Perez’s confession to his and Mack’s involvement in the Biggie Smalls murder, and promised to forward that statement to the detectives on the case. When the inmate was later visited by two LAPD detectives to discuss this particular subject, however, they repeatedly tried to trip the inmate up or catch him in an inconsistency.

What was clear at the Board of Rights hearing, however, was that this inmate’s claims about Perez and Mack’s involvement in the murder of Biggie Smalls were first made in 2000 — two years before any suit was ever filed. What was also clear was that LAPD investigators generated several hundred pages of reports concerning the allegations by this inmate.

What the caller to Perry Sanders revealed for the first time, however, was that LAPD had never produced those records as part of the discovery in the civil case brought by the family.

Sanders went into court in the middle of the first trial and laid out his allegations. LAPD Internal Affairs locked down the Robbery-Homicide Division in preparation to search for the records that had been described. Before the search took place, Det. Steven Katz, who had taken over the investigation after the resignation of Russell Poole, produced a couple hundred pages of reports on the inmate’s claims that he had “forgotten” about in his desk drawer.

The federal district court judge declared a mistrial, finding that the LAPD had purposely withheld the records that reflected the statements of the prison inmate about Perez.

That prison inmate’s name was Kenneth Boagni.

Mr. Boagni is the person that Waymond Anderson claimed — as reported by Chuck Philips — first approached him about falsely implicating Mack and Knight in the murder of Biggie Smalls in order to help the family get a larger settlement.

In his deposition, conducted at the state Substance Abuse Treatment Facility at Corcoran prison, where he is incarcerated, Anderson testified that a fellow inmate, Kenneth Boagni, approached him sometime in 2001 and asked him to join a scheme to implicate the LAPD in the Wallace murder to aid the Wallace family lawsuit. He said he was promised 5% to 10% of any settlement.

Anderson said that Boagni, a one-time police informant serving a 40-year term for burglary, told him he had already received $25,000, beginning with a $2,500 payment from Sanders to repair plumbing at his mother’s house. Anderson said a third convict, Mario Hammonds, was also in on the scheme.

But, as the evidence produced by the LAPD makes clear, Boagni was telling the LAPD about Perez’s statements at least two years before there ever was a lawsuit. And Hammonds was an inmate who had been deposed by the defense at length, had known Suge Knight in and out of prison, and had known Tupac Shakur years earlier when Shakur was a youngster growing up in Northern California where Hammonds was known on the street as an “OG” – “Original Gansta.” That’s a term of respect afforded to long-time gang members who have lived the life on the street and in the prisons.

So, lacking a clear route to undermine Boagni’s story about Perez, or Hammonds’ story about Knight, the next best thing would be to get another inmate to claim that their stories were a scheme intended to secure money for the inmates from the family of Biggie Smalls who would cash in with their help.

Now we’re back to where we started — Chuck Philips writing a sympathetic piece about Waymond Anderson being wrongly convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, without ever once noting that Anderson was one of the three inmates, the others being Boagni and Hammonds, who had implicated Mack, Knight and Death Row Records in the murder of Biggie Smalls. That piece is followed 8 months later by a recantation by Anderson of his statements to the police, and a claim that Boagni — the new witness for the family of Biggie Smalls against the LAPD — made the whole thing up.

As noted in the previous post, I am writing this post instead of Patterico, who (at least for now) wants me to write about issues touching on Waymond Anderson, because a supervisor of his prosecuted Anderson. He has not spoken with that supervisor about this, or used any information from his job to help me with this post. I wrote this post based on things I learned from the Internet.

If I get time, I’ll have another post covering the statements given by Boagni and Hammonds, the “investigation” done by the LAPD into their claims, the failure of LAPD to produce its reports in the lawsuit, and where the matter stands now.

— WLS

2 Responses to “A Tale of Two Recanters — Part Two [Posted by Guest Blogger WLS]”

  1. Isn’t it time for a federal investigation?

    DRJ (a431ca)

  2. Actually, they did one. Supposedly it’s closed and they couldn’t develop a case.

    Patterico (4bda0b)


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