Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey told a political club Monday night that errors committed by Sheriff’s Department deputies and a coroner’s office investigator may have played a significant role in the decision not to criminally charge Ed Buck in the death of a man who overdosed in his West Hollywood home in 2017.
Speaking to the Los Angeles chapter of the Stonewall Democratic Club, which posted a video of the event to Facebook, Lacey told the group that responding deputies illegally searched a red toolbox inside Buck’s home that was found near the body of Gemmel Moore in July 2017. The deputies, who were assigned to the West Hollywood station, did so based on the erroneous advice of a coroner’s department investigator at the scene, she said.
“They noticed around Mr. Moore’s body that there was a red toolbox. And they wanted to search that toolbox for evidence. A coroner’s investigator gave them information that turned out to be incorrect,” she said.
Moore’s death in 2017 has long served as a crucible for Lacey, who has repeatedly been blasted by activists in the LGBT and African American communities for failing to hold Buck accountable for alleged predatory behavior toward young men. Another man, Timothy Dean, died of an overdose in Buck’s home in January of this year and a third man nearly suffered the same fate in September, according to court records.
Many activists have argued that the gap in status between Buck, a wealthy Democratic donor, and his victims, many of whom had been homeless and people of color, played a role in the decision not to prosecute him.
Buck was arrested in September, more than two years after Moore’s death, and charged with running a drug den. A short time later, federal prosecutors charged Buck with providing the drugs that led to both Moore’s and Dean’s deaths as well as three counts of drug distribution.
Buck faces a minimum of 20 years in federal prison if convicted. His attorney, Seymour Amster, has repeatedly declined to comment.
The details of the federal indictment only intensified questions about why it took so long to charge Buck, despite the fact that several men had come forward and claimed Buck engaged in predatory behavior and injected them with drugs against their will.
Prosecutors cited an “inadmissible search and seizure” among the reasons not to prosecute Buck in connection with Moore’s death when they filed a memo declining to charge him with manslaughter in 2018. But neither Lacey nor the Sheriff’s Department has answered questions beyond that one document.
Jasmyne Cannick, an activist who has led the charge calling for Buck’s arrest, said Moore’s family was unaware of the specific issues with the search until Lacey spoke on Monday.
Lacey told the Democratic group that a coroner’s official incorrectly told deputies they could search the toolbox. The investigator cited a government code believed to give law enforcement certain permissions to conduct a search at the scene of a death, Lacey said Monday. She did not elaborate.
Court records show that nearly two grams of methamphetamine, syringes and drug paraphernalia were found throughout Buck’s home the night of Moore’s death. All of the drugs were inside the toolbox and would have been inadmissible, Lacey said Monday night.
“That presented a challenge,” she said.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Lacey said much of what she discussed Monday night was contained in federal court filings but noted she only recently learned of the sequence of events she described as leading to the problems with the initial search of Buck’s home.
“Many of the details of the search that were discussed last night are included in the declaration filed by the Drug Enforcement agent in the federal indictment,” she said. “I was briefed over the weekend about the details of the search and learned about the government code section used to justify the search. I included that in my remarks.”
The court document Lacey referred to is a 22-page criminal complaint filed in mid-September charging Buck with providing the drugs that led to Moore’s death. While the complaint discloses that deputies recovered 1.76 grams of meth from inside a toolbox at Buck’s residence, there are no references to the legality of the search or what role, if any, a coroner’s office investigator played in the decision to conduct a search.
A coroner’s office investigator is simply described as having “seized the narcotic evidence,” according to the complaint.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on Lacey’s remarks because Moore’s death is the subject of a pending federal criminal trial.
Sarah Ardalani, a spokeswoman for the coroner’s office, said she was “unaware of any concerns raised by any government entities about its handling of or actions during the investigation of Gemmel Moore’s death.”
Lacey also repeated her past assertion that several potential witnesses who made allegations against Buck gave statements to investigators that could not be corroborated, maintaining that her office did not have a viable case until the most recent victim came forward last month.
Roughly 100 people packed Stonewall’s meeting on Monday night as the membership was set to issue a vote of no confidence against the district attorney, according to Cannick, who said Lacey’s comments only enhanced community frustrations over the alleged mishandling of Moore’s death.
“Why would the deputies be taking instructions from the coroner’s office on what’s legal and what’s not legal?” Cannick asked.
The Stonewall Democratic Club, a political group that works to advance LGBT causes, has yet to offer an endorsement in the 2020 district attorney’s race. Lacey is trying to fend off multiple contenders to earn a third term, including former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon, who formally announced his candidacy just hours before Lacey spoke Monday night.
Lacey’s visit to the group lasted about 40 minutes and was often marked by screams and tense exchanges over the Buck case and with members of the audience whose loved ones had been shot and killed by police officers in recent years.