California

2 say they saw attackers of slain rapper

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Two witnesses to the slaying of Tupac Shakur told The Times this week that they saw the assailants who shot the rap star but have never been asked by police to view pictures of possible suspects.

The two men say they informed Las Vegas investigators of their observations just hours after Shakur was gunned down Sept. 7 at a busy intersection near the Las Vegas Strip. The men were in the vehicle directly behind the car in which Shakur was attacked.

The statements underscore the wide gulf between Las Vegas police, who say they have been stymied by uncooperative witnesses, and Shakur’s family and associates, who say police bungled the investigation by mistreating witnesses and failing to contact them for further interviews. Both men said they would cooperate with police if asked to identify possible suspects.

New York attorney Richard Fischbein, who represents Shakur’s mother, said Wednesday, “Afeni Shakur and I would certainly hope that the Las Vegas police would at least call these witnesses in now and show them a line-up. Even Inspector Clouseau would do that at this point.”

Las Vegas police Thursday disputed the witnesses’ account of what they told police the night of the shooting. But they said their statements could lead to a major breakthrough in the investigation. They immediately placed a call to one witness and asked The Times for help in contacting the other.

Malcolm Greenridge, a rap singer and member of Shakur’s former back-up quartet who performs under the name E.D.I Mean, said, “I saw four black males in a white Cadillac as it rolled by our car just before Tupac got shot. I couldn’t see which of those four people pulled the trigger, but I saw the gun come from the back seat out through the driver’s front window--and I saw the driver. I did see all four faces for a few split seconds before the shooting though--and I told the police that. I can’t promise you I could identify them, but nobody has ever even asked me to try.”

Shakur’s former bodyguard Frank Alexander, who was driving the car in which Greenridge was a passenger, said he caught a brief glance of the shooter’s face.

“Could I identify the killer of my friend Tupac Shakur if the police showed me photos or a lineup of suspects? Possibly so,” Alexander said. “The thing is that the Las Vegas Metro Police never even tried to show me a photo of the shooter. Nor did they call me at any time for a lineup or to ask me anything concerning the shooting and death of Tupac.”

Alexander and Greenridge said they did not try to contact Las Vegas detectives over the past five months because they distrusted them after investigators allegedly harassed them and ignored their initial accounts. The two men said they decided to air their complaints publicly in The Times because they were tired of hearing the Las Vegas police blame their failure to solve the case on a lack of cooperation by Shakur’s entourage.

Las Vegas detectives say Alexander, Greenridge and other members of Shakur’s entourage--including Death Row Records owner Marion “Suge” Knight--have impeded the probe by not cooperating.

Police have said that their investigation has narrowed to a handful of suspects, but that they doubt that anyone will ever be arrested--unless a witness comes forward to identify the shooter.

On Thursday, Las Vegas Metro Police Sgt. Kevin Manning said, “Malcolm Greenridge and Frank Alexander gave us taped statements on the night of the shooting that are totally inconsistent with what they told the L.A. Times. We would welcome their additional information and are surprised that they haven’t contacted us sooner.”

Several sources in Los Angeles area law enforcement said they believe Las Vegas officials were pressured to back off the case by casino operators concerned that national media coverage of a murder trial could damage tourist business. Las Vegas City Councilman Michael J. McDonald denied this week that anyone from the casino industry tried to interfere with the probe.

“I spoke personally with a majority of the big casino owners, and I can assure you that nobody even suggested the idea that this case should be shut down,” said McDonald, who works as a Metro police officer and was one of the first officers to arrive after the attack on Shakur. “The casino owners were concerned about the shooting, but all they asked about were details about rumors they heard in the media and around town.”

The rapper’s associates now challenge assertions by Las Vegas police that the investigation suffered a setback three months ago when Yafeu “Kadafi” Fula, a 19-year-old rapper in the car behind Shakur, was gunned down in an unrelated shooting.

After Fula’s murder in November, police said Fula was the only witness who told them he might be able to identify the driver of the getaway car. Las Vegas detectives said they had been eager to interview Fula and show him a folder with photos of possible suspects, but never heard from him despite leaving messages with an attorney for Death Row.

But the rapper’s mother, Yassmyn Fula, said investigators misled the media about her son’s pivotal role in the case.

“I believe that the Las Vegas police department exploited my son’s death by telling everybody that they had lost their only witness to the shooting of Tupac. But that was a lie and they knew it,” said Fula, whose son was sitting in the same car occupied by Alexander and Greenridge. “The police used our family’s tragedy as a convenient excuse for the failure of their own investigation.”

On Sept. 7, Shakur and Knight attended the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon heavyweight fight at the MGM Grand Hotel, and on their way out, Shakur and several Death Row employees attacked Orlando Anderson, a reputed Los Angeles gang member, in the lobby. The assault, as captured about 8:50 p.m. on a hotel surveillance videotape, shows Anderson being hit and kicked by as many as six men.

About three hours later, Shakur and Knight were sitting in Knight’s 750 BMW at a red light just off the Strip when four men in a white late-model Cadillac with California plates pulled up in the next lane.

“I just happened to be looking out the window and saw their faces by chance as they drove by,” Greenridge said. “It’s not like you’re expecting the people in the next car to start shooting a gun at your friend a few seconds after they drive past. You know what I’m saying? You’re just staring out the window waiting for the light to change. It’s not like you’re really paying attention to what you’re looking at. But I saw four faces and I told police that.”

Greenridge and Alexander say a man in the back seat of the Cadillac stuck a Glock .40-caliber pistol out of the driver’s window and sprayed the BMW at close range with bullets--about a dozen in three seconds.

Knight, who was driving, was grazed in the head and chest. Shakur was hit four times.

Alexander jumped out of his car and attempted to run to the passenger side of the bullet-riddled BMW, but Knight made a sudden U-turn and began racing west down Flamingo Boulevard. As a result, police say, several witnesses at the scene initially mistook Alexander for the shooter.

Alexander got back in the vehicle he was driving and joined Death Row’s four-car convoy in following Knight’s BMW. Patrol officers quickly arrived, forcing those in the cars out at gunpoint while the Cadillac disappeared.

Greenridge, Alexander and other witnesses told The Times they were reluctant to talk openly to detectives on the night of the shooting because police initially treated them as suspects.

“The police shoved guns in our faces and threatened us,” Greenridge said. “They made us lay face down in the middle of the street. Even after they realized we were telling the truth, they never apologized.”

After paramedics took Shakur and Knight to a hospital, patrol officers began to interview witnesses, who were then told to sit on the curb for two hours until homicide detectives arrived.

“The way this whole thing was handled I have no faith in the Las Vegas PD--I don’t trust them,” Greenridge said. “All they kept asking me that night was if I saw the face of the shooter when the gun was being fired. And when they asked me that, I told them, ‘No, I didn’t.’ I told them I saw four faces before the shooting, but they never asked me anything else about that.”

Within days of the shooting, police in Compton and Las Vegas received numerous tips that Anderson--who goes by such gang monikers as “Lando” and “Lane"--was responsible for Shakur’s shooting, according to a Sept. 25 affidavit filed in court by Compton police to justify an Oct. 2 gang sweep.

Through his attorney, Anderson has denied involvement in Shakur’s killing. Anderson invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked in court about his gang ties.

Undercover detectives from Los Angeles were called in that week to view the surveillance tape and identified Anderson as an alleged Crips gang member from the Lakewood area. They also identified Knight and the Death Row employees involved in the altercation as individuals considered to be affiliated with a Bloods gang in Compton, sources said. Knight has denied being a gang member.

Although Greenridge, Alexander and others in Shakur’s entourage maintained a vigil outside the hospital room where Shakur remained in intensive care for six days, investigators did not conduct follow-up interviews or show potential witnesses a photo of possible suspects, investigators acknowledge.

“The only time we ever saw the police again was when they came by the hospital that week and frisked us while they were looking for a gun,” Greenridge said. “They threatened to arrest us. At one point, they even handcuffed Yafeu. The fact that they didn’t ask us to look at suspect photos right there and then is proof to me that they had no intention of catching the killer.”

Police say they had not yet obtained photographs of suspects.

Although Alexander and Greenridge said they welcomed an opportunity to view the folder of suspect photos, both men said they still distrust the police.

“My personal opinion is that the Las Vegas PD didn’t ever really want to solve Tupac’s murder, and I don’t trust the police enough to just sit around and be conversating with them for nothing,” Greenridge said.

“If you ask me, I don’t think they really care who killed Tupac. Although he was loved and admired by many young people, to them, Tupac was just another black man that had a strong opinion--and now he’s out of the way. I do not think justice has been served.”