Ex-LAPD Officer Is Suspect in Rapper’s Slaying, Records Show
A former Los Angeles police officer already in prison for bank robbery is among the suspects in the 1997 slaying of rap star Notorious B.I.G., according to sources and confidential LAPD documents obtained by The Times.
Among the theories investigators are pursuing is that ex-Officer David A. Mack conspired with Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight to arrange the contract killing of the 24-year-old rap sensation whose real name was Christopher Wallace, according to a former detective on the case.
Specifically, detectives are trying to determine whether Mack arranged for a longtime friend to carry out the attack outside the Petersen Automotive Museum on March 9, 1997, according to sources and Los Angeles Police Department documents. Police would not say whether they have been able to locate or question the man they suspect of being the gunman under that theory. He is Amir Muhammad, who was known as Harry Billups when he and Mack were college classmates at the University of Oregon, according to sources and documents. Muhammad apparently dropped from sight after visiting Mack in prison on Dec. 26, 1997.
No one has been arrested or charged in the shooting, which some investigators believe was motivated by a bitter bicoastal feud between Death Row and a rival rap record label based in New York City. Eight months ago, LAPD homicide detectives served search warrants on several locations linked to Death Row and the man in charge of its security.
Mack, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for a Nov. 6, 1997, bank holdup, has not been publicly identified as a suspect in Wallace’s slaying. But according to sources and LAPD investigative documents, detectives have been trying to build a case against the former police officer for nearly two years.
Mack’s attorney, Donald M. Re, rejected the notion that Mack was involved in Wallace’s slaying.
“It sounds absolutely ridiculous to me,” Re said.
Knight’s attorney, Robin J. Yanes, also dismissed the theory.
“A year ago it came up and now they’re recycling it to cover their butts,” Yanes said. “Suge doesn’t know” Mack.
Mack is a former partner and close friend of Rafael Perez, the disgraced officer at the center of the LAPD’s unfolding corruption scandal. The two officers, in fact, partied in Las Vegas two days after the bank robbery, spending thousands of dollars. Investigators on the LAPD corruption task force are continuing to look for a criminal link between the two former partners.
Dispute Over Money Probed
Wallace, a 360-pound rapper who also was known to fans as Biggie Smalls, was gunned down as his motorcade was leaving a music industry party at the museum at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. Eyewitnesses described the lone gunman as an African American wearing a suit and bow tie, similar, police say, to the attire favored by Nation of Islam members. The assailant was driving a dark-colored Chevrolet Impala, witnesses said. The precision with which the attack was executed makes investigators suspect that it was a professional assassination.
In addition to the rap feud theory, investigators have pursued information that Wallace’s death was related to a dispute with Southside Crips gang members in Los Angeles, who claimed that the rapper owed them money for providing him security.
Over the past two years, the investigation has been headed by several teams of detectives. Recently, the pair who conducted the searches of Death Row have retired. The two new detectives assigned to the investigation declined comment for this story. But sources close to the case say that neither the rap feud angle nor the gang dispute theory has been ruled out. The sources refused to say which theory, if any, was being given more credence and pursued more vigorously. Over the years, the sources said, different detectives have not always agreed on which investigative path to follow or on which of the open leads might be most productive. One high-ranking police official familiar with the case said crimes committed within the rap music industry often are difficult to solve because witnesses are hostile toward authorities and fear retribution if they do cooperate.
Detectives have previously identified Knight as a key suspect, theorizing that he may have ordered Wallace’s killing while he was in jail on a parole violation. He currently is serving a nine-year prison sentence in connection with an unrelated 1992 attack on two aspiring rappers in a Hollywood recording studio. In addition to Mack, detectives continue to look at other possible associates of Knight in connection with Wallace’s death.
As for Mack, investigators are intrigued by several pieces of circumstantial evidence that they believe may tie him to the crime.
Mack came under scrutiny after his December 1997 arrest for robbing a bank of $722,000--money that to this day remains unaccounted for. In the wake of his arrest, detectives received tips that Mack drove a black Impala similar to the car seen speeding away after the Wallace slaying.
As investigators began to probe Mack’s possible involvement in the killing, they found that the officer apparently had ties to Knight and his record label.
A friend of Mack told detectives that Mack offered to arrange an off-duty job for him with Death Row Records. “Mack stated the job was providing security for a . . . wife or girlfriend . . . of [a] Death Row executive,” according to confidential LAPD investigative notes.
A former Compton police officer who worked security for Death Row told investigators that Mack and another LAPD officer, Kevin Gaines, sometimes socialized in Death Row circles. The ex-Compton officer said neither Mack nor Gaines worked for the company’s private Wrightway Security, but rather appeared to be associates of Knight.
Mack grew up in the same Compton neighborhood as the now-imprisoned rap executive. Since Mack’s own incarceration, sources say, he has renounced his law enforcement background and instead claims to belong to the same street gang, the Piru Bloods, as Knight is reputedly associated with. Mack also boasted of shooting people and allegedly tried to arrange a contract killing of his former lover and co-defendant in the bank robbery.
“The weak and those who talk too much get eliminated,” he was quoted in court documents as saying.
When detectives searched Mack’s house in connection with the bank robbery, they found what one police source called “a shrine” to rapper Tupac Shakur, who, until his own slaying, was Death Row’s leading artist. Although Shakur’s murder remains unsolved, police investigators say that Knight blames Wallace and his record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, for the crime.
As detectives delved further into Mack’s possible involvement, they noticed similarities between his work schedule in the periods surrounding the bank robbery and the Wallace killing. In both instances, the officer took days off before and after the crimes, according to sources and documents.
Then, the investigation into Mack dovetailed with an earlier clue in the case. Several months after Wallace was killed, but well before Mack was arrested, a jailhouse informant told detectives that the rapper’s killer went by a “Middle East” sounding name, possibly “Amir.”
The day after Christmas 1997, Mack was visited in jail by his longtime friend Amir Muhammad.
Composite Drawing Is Questioned
Investigators’ suspicion grew when they obtained a driver’s license photo of Muhammad and it resembled a composite sketch of Wallace’s killer compiled from descriptions given by witnesses to the murder.
The composite, drawn a day after the slaying, was withheld from the public and differs from the one that was provided to the media more than two weeks later. One witness criticized the sketch that police ultimately released, saying police added details to the drawing that he and others never suggested.
Detectives searched for Muhammad, but many of the addresses that came up in a background check were either false or led to post office boxes, according to LAPD robbery-homicide documents. Police surveillance of some of those locations failed to find him. Numerous attempts by The Times to locate Muhammad through public records and a former friend were unsuccessful.
Mack, who has refused to cooperate with authorities since his arrest in the bank robbery, was placed at the scene of Wallace’s slaying by a witness who was riding in the rap star’s motorcade, LAPD documents show.
Damien Butler, who was in the same vehicle as Wallace, picked Mack out of a photo lineup of six men during an April 15, 1998, meeting with LAPD homicide detectives in New York.
“I’m sure this guy was standing just outside the door to the museum, as we were entering into the party,” Butler said, according to notes of the interview obtained by The Times.
Sources associated with Bad Boy Entertainment said that the last time LAPD investigators contacted witnesses linked to the record label was about six months ago. At that time, investigators again showed them a composite sketch of the gunman, but no photographs.
Although police officials refuse to comment about the ongoing investigation, the former Compton police officer who worked security for Death Row said in an interview with The Times this month that he was shown pictures of Muhammad earlier this year, shortly after detectives served the search warrants on the locations linked to Death Row.
Two other sources, including a former police officer, said they were questioned about Mack’s possible role in the rapper’s killing. The ex-officer said detectives also queried him about Mack’s longtime friend and Mack’s vehicle.
A family friend of Mack who provided information to authorities about Mack’s role in the bank robbery before being sent to prison on unrelated charges said he was also asked about Mack’s possible involvement in the Wallace slaying. Speaking on the condition of anonymity in an interview at Corcoran State Prison, the inmate said he began to cooperate with investigators, but stopped when he felt it was no longer in his interest.
According to LAPD documents, detectives seized at least one gun belonging to Mack and had it test-fired to determine whether the weapon matched the gun used in Wallace’s slaying. It did not, the records show.
There also are weaknesses in the circumstantial evidence linking Mack to the rapper’s killing. The jailhouse informant who told detectives that the assailant’s first name might be Amir said it could also be Ashmir or Abraham, police records show. Moreover, the informant said that the gunman’s true name could be Kenny or Keeky and that the killer is a former member of the Southside Crips street gang and at the time of the shooting belonged to a security force connected to the Nation of Islam, a Muslim group.
That information does not appear to match Muhammad’s background, and could in fact lend support to the theory that the killing was the result of a dispute over money with the Crips. At one point in the investigation, detectives interviewed Dwayne Keith “Keefee D” Davis, a Crips member, who also owned a Chevy Impala. Some detectives, however, say privately that Davis is not considered a suspect.
Rumors have swirled for years in law enforcement circles about ties between Mack and other former LAPD officers and Death Row Records.
Gaines, the officer who allegedly attended Death Row parties with Mack, was dating Knight’s estranged wife Sharitha at the time. Gaines also was under investigation by the LAPD’s Internal Affairs division and sported a personalized license plate on his Mercedes-Benz reading, “ITS OK IA"--a taunt aimed at Internal Affairs.
Gaines was shot to death March 18, 1997, during an off-duty traffic dispute with a fellow officer who was undercover. An investigation found that Gaines was hostile toward the other officer, threatening to “cap” or shoot the officer and eventually drawing a gun on him. The other officer, Frank Lyga, was cleared in the shooting.
Meanwhile, Perez, the ex-officer cooperating with authorities in the ongoing corruption investigation, does not implicate Mack in any crimes--a silence detectives have greeted with skepticism.
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Searching for a Suspect
One entry in an LAPD investigative log in the murder of rapper Christopher Wallace, also known as Notorious B.I.G., notes the similarity between Amir Muhammad, right center, and the composite sketch of the suspect, top right, drawn March 10, 1997, the day after the murder. The sketch was not provided to the Times or other media. A second composite sketch of the suspect, right bottom, was widely released to the media March 19, 1997. Muhammad, also known as Harry Billups, is a longtime friend of former LAPD Officer David Mack.
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Investigative material from LAPD files includes a photo of then-police officers David A. Mack and Rafael Perez. There are also notes by an LAPD detective investigating the 1997 slaying of rap star Christopher Wallace, also known as Notorious B.I.G., showing that a witness riding in Wallace’s vehicle on the night of the killing identified Mack as being at the scene