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Another Black man found dead in Ed Buck’s WeHo apartment

Raises questions and begs for clarity

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Ed Buck’s apartment complex in West Hollywood (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

When the news first hit early Monday morning, it sounded tragically familiar and frightening: a source alerted a Los Angeles Blade freelancer that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide investigators, along with Medical Examiner personnel from the County Coroner’s office, were on the scene at 1234 N. Laurel Ave. in West Hollywood investigating the death of a young black male.

That was Ed Buck’s apartment, site of the apparent overdose death on July 27, 2017 of Gemmel Moore, a 26-year old Black male escort who had been a frequent visitor to Buck’s apartment and, through his discovered journal, posthumously claimed Buck hooked him on crystal meth as part of a sexual predilection.

“It is suspicious that this has happened twice now,” L.A. County Sheriff’s Lt. Derrick Alfred told KTLA Monday afternoon, Jan. 7.  But, KTLA added, “Buck is currently not considered a suspect and not in custody, officials said.”

“Currently” perhaps being the word that might catch the eye of those who still angrily believe that Moore’s case was treated differently than if the dead person in Buck’s apartment had been white and Buck had been African American.

Moore’s mother and community activists believed Buck had injected Gemmel with the drugs that killed him, making his death a homicide. But the gruesome Coroner’s report ruled the death an accidental overdose and the case was eventually dismissed by the LA County District Attorney for lack of evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Though the initial investigators questioned Buck’s neighbors and confirmed his penchant for young Black men, the Coroner ruled Moore’s death accidental and there was nothing to directly tie Buck to Moore’s overdose. That prompted calls of racism.

“If that incident had occurred in my home, the police would have kicked down my door, guns drawn and had me in handcuffs. There’s no doubt about it. That’s how it goes,” Jeffrey King, executive director of In The Meantime Men told the Los Angeles Blade after Moore’s death.

Ed Buck

“That’s part of the bigger issue here. That guy [Buck] was treated like a respectable citizen. But a drug-related accident occurred in a man’s house. He should have been taken down to the station and questioned, at minimum. This is a matter of race on a minimum level. The value of this kid’s life is not the same as a prominent person’s child—he would have been handled different. The police would have been relentless; the DA would have been relentless; the whole system would have been relentless,” King said.

That’s why the chaos that resulted from the second death in Ed Buck’s apartment is so shocking: from very early Monday morning to very late Monday night, despite urgent calls and pleas for accurate information, several levels of the LA Sheriff’s Department stonewalled and stymied press inquiries as well as community members—thus allowing misinformation to dominate the fevered discussions. Surely someone in the Sheriff’s Department remembered the outcry over Moore’s death. Surely someone realized the indignity silence conferred on the second Black man to die in Ed Buck’s apartment in 18 months. Surely someone would react publicly as if this was a hate crime in West Hollywood. But, no.

One easy to convey piece of information that was withheld from the public: the victim was a black man in his mid-50s. In the information vacuum, the community passed along the inaccurate news provided by that first tipster and some of Buck’s neighbors that this death was essentially another Gemmel Moore.

Ed Buck’s apartment complex front door. (Photo by Troy Masters)

One unidentified neighbor interviewed by KTLA said she was out walking her dog around 12:15am when she saw a young black man go into Buck’s apartment. She then saw an older Black man, a “huge gentleman,” go into Buck’s apartment but she didn’t see either of them come out. She called the man’s death a “tragedy.”

Most reports from neighbors indicated that Sheriff’s deputies were on the scene around 3:15am. But Alfred told the Los Angeles Blade that a sheriff’s deputy and paramedics arrived at Buck’s apartment shortly before 1:00am after a 911 call of a person not breathing. The caller was the other person in the apartment—Ed Buck—who performed CPR on the man and called 911 when he was unsuccessful. The Fire Department pronounced the man dead at the scene.

Alfred said they do not yet have a positive identification from the Coroner’s office. However, the man is believed to be “a male Black adult, who is approximately 55 years old, if it’s the person we think it is, the person is definitely in his mid-50s.”

Gemmel Moore Photo via Facebook

Was there any evidence to indicate this death was in any way drug-related? In the Gemmel Moore case the coroner’s report noted “24 syringes with brown residue, five glass pipes with white residue and burn marks, a plastic straw with possible white residue, clear plastic bags with white powdery residue and a clear plastic bag with a ‘piece of crystal-like substance,’” according to the LA Times. 

“We’re not going to comment on the conditions we found at the time until it’s fully investigated,” Alfred said. However, “there were no obvious indicators of what may have caused the death. So at this time we don’t know. We won’t know until we hear from the Coroner’s office after they conduct a post-mortem exam, which would include any toxicology testing that would give us an indication of whether it was drug-related.”

So what happened in the roughly hour and a half between the first and second responses? What happened to the third person in the room, the young Black man the neighbor saw enter Buck’s apartment?

“I personally have no knowledge of that,” Alfred said. “I know the investigators canvassed the apartment complex—they’ll probably go back to try to talk to the neighbors to try to get those statements. We’ll review the information and probably reach out to that person who provided that but to our knowledge there was only the two people in the apartment at the time.”

Lt. Derrick Alfred talking to KTLA (screen grab)

Alfred said he would not comment on any statements that were made by Buck to investigators.

Buck’s attorney, Seymour Amster, showed up outside Buck’s apartment to talk to reporters. He told KTLA that the man at Buck’s home “had already been partying … and already taken some substances” when he arrived. Amster asserted that Buck had been in the shower for some of the time between the man’s arrival and death and that Buck had not taken any substances with him.

“The individual was exhibiting bizarre behavior,” Amster said of the dead man.

“From what I know, it was an old friend who died of an accidental overdose, and unfortunately, we believe that the substance was ingested at some place other than the apartment,” Amster told the Los Angeles Times. “The person came over intoxicated.”

When Alfred returned the Los Angeles Blade’s calls in the late afternoon, he said he was not aware that the community was responding with anger and heartbreak throughout the day, thinking a second young man had died like Gemmel Moore.

But it was a day gripped by anger, stirred by silence, disrespect and lack of or misinformation.

After the Los Angeles Blade’s freelancer reached out to Det. Rodriguez in the morning, the Blade’s news editor drove to Buck’s apartment, left a message, then drove to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station seeking answers. The Blade asked West Hollywood Watch Commander Sgt. S. Hewitt to please confirm or clarify the timeline since that station no doubt responded to the 911 call. Though explicitly informed that West Hollywood residents were concerned about two similar deaths at this apartment, Hewitt would only say that Homicide was handling the incident, catching herself mid-eye roll when the Blade persisted with questions and the answer was always the same.

In The Meantime Men’s Jeffrey King was among those angered by being stonewalled and disrespect at several levels of the Sheriff’s Department.

“I got several calls, text messages, and messages through Facebook asking what does “In the Meantime intend to do?” King told the Los Angeles Blade late Monday. “ I thought it was important to first find out the facts before I do something. I wanted to know what I was talking about.”

King says he was met with “disrespect, impatience, and lack of willingness to address the concerns I addressed that were community concerns.” When he finally spoke with two people at Homicide, he and the lead detective had a “fairly decent conversation going,” but he still couldn’t confirm or give out information.

“One more time here is a black person—forget his age—being found dead in this man’s apartment. And his death is not being addressed properly. Our community is not being respected. No one is saying anything to the family. There is no dignity to the lives of these individuals and it’s because they’re Black.”

The Homicide official who first responded to several calls from the Los Angeles Blade said there was no homicide investigation and that Homicide detectives routinely roll out for death investigations. He said LASD press relations would issue a statement and forwarded several Blade calls to Alfred, which went to voicemail. The Sheriff’s press person, while trying to be nice and polite, at first had no knowledge of the incident. She finally said a press release was being cleared by “the administration” and would be sent out when completed.  But the Sheriff’s News Room site was impossible to search for press releases.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Blade contacted the City and members of the West Hollywood City Council for comment—hoping the Sheriff’s Department was at least telling them the facts of what happened.

The City of West Hollywood has requested “a full investigation” by the Sheriff’s Department, a press release stated.

WeHo Mayor John Duran said he would not comment and is leaving the matter in the hands of the sheriffs and District Attorney

Councilmember Lauren Meister’s response illustrates the misinformation that was circulating throughout the day. “This is tragic,” Meister told Los Angeles Blade. “My heartfelt sympathies go out to the family and friends of this young man.” However, she says she has “discussed with our City Manager and Public Safety Director this morning — the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney must provide a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this incident and any similarities to prior incidents at the same location.”

Councilmember John D’Amico said he was not going to comment, but added some information. “I asked the city manager to contact Sheriff Villanueva’s office first thing this morning and I’m going to let the DA and LASD do their jobs,” he wrote. “Mr. Buck made donations in 2011 and 2014, $1,000 total, those dollars were spent on those campaigns and the campaign accounts were closed years ago.  Keith and I have made donations many times that amount every year to social service agencies that help with sobriety, HIV AIDS, mental health and homelessness. I thought that a better use of the money than returning it to Mr. Buck.”

KTLA got Alfred on camera in the afternoon, by chance, it turns out. When the Blade and other news outlets were staking out the apartment to no avail, KTLA stayed on and suddenly noted activity in the afternoon. Alfred later told the Los Angeles Blade that a call had come in saying someone was throwing something out the window that could be evidence in the second death so a patrol deputy and fire fighter dashed to the scene and recovered the object. He would not say what was found.

By late afternoon, news outlets were reporting the story—presumably because they still think Buck is a “wealthy prominent Democratic donor,” though he has been political kryptonite since Gemmel Moore’s death. The LA LGBT Center issued a statement around 4:30pm calling on the Sheriff to keep the public fully informed—which had not happened by then, and presuming that like Moore, the second death was also linked to drug abuse:

“The Los Angeles LGBT Center calls upon Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department to fully investigate this tragedy and aggressively seek justice wherever the investigation might lead. “Although the investigation is in its early stages, we urge Sheriff Villanueva to keep the public fully informed as LGBT people have a considerable and urgent interest in a case that is so clearly linked to the health and safety of our community. The reports we have heard provide more questions than answers. The fact is two black men have died at Mr. Buck’s home in less than two years. “While much is still to be learned, it appears this tragedy is linked to substance use. LGBT people and other marginalized groups are at elevated risk for impacts that result from the current epidemic uses of opioids, methamphetamine, and other dangerous drugs. The Center provides free or low-cost, comprehensive, and judgment-free addiction recovery services and has a service to provide free fentanyl testing strips to those who request them. For help or more information, contact the Center’s Addiction Recovery Services at [email protected] or 323-993-7448.”

At the end of the 11-minute interview, Alfred asked for the public’s help and indicated that he is willing to reopen the Gemmel Moore case and file criminal charges with the DA, if new evidence emerges.

“We always appreciate any help we can get from the community. They may have more knowledge about this or any similar instances that occurred—or any type of activity that occurs in the area or that particular apartment. We’re always interested in finding out what’s going on,” he said, asking anyone with information to come forward.

“Our first concern for the Homicide Bureau, specifically, is to be to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of this individual. Also we’re going to look into the prior incident where Gemmel Moore had died at the scene to see if there’s any similarities,” Alfred said.

“We’re just going to look at everything we have and we’re going to see where the information and evidence takes us. And if it takes us to criminal filing or if we uncover new information—although Gemmel’s case was determined to be an accidental overdose—if we learn something new and that has to be looked at a second time, then of course, we’ll take that new information and we will investigate fully.”

From there, they’ll work with the District Attorney’s office “to determine what, if any criminal activity may have occurred and if so, present it for potential filing. But we won’t know until we’re able to do a thorough exam and all the facts come in.”

Anyone with information can call the Homicide Bureau directly at 323-890-5500 and ask for Det. Q. Rodriguez or Sgt. P. Cardella. To make an anonymous tip, go through Crime Stoppers.

The “Decline to File” notice from the LA DA in the Gemmel Moore case

Finally, if the community considers Ed Buck and the alleged use of illicit drugs in his apartment to be a public menace or nuisance, Alfred suggested that the community work with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station to find a solution akin to the “broken windows” policy of community policing.

“As it pertains to any type of public nuisance – we’ll work with West Hollywood Sheriff’s station—who could probably get the community involved—concerning these ongoing public nuisance situations,” Alfred said. He defined public nuisance as “anything that would cause quality of life for people who live in a particular area to be lessened by these ongoing criminal acts,” major or minor. “Either way, they affect those around them. Life quality is something that can be looked at in a community policing type of thing where the station can look at the assets available and pour resources into the community to try to effect change.”

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U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows Biden administration to end MPP

Trump-era policy placed LGBTQ asylum seekers at increased risk

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5-4 ruling said the Biden administration can end a policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico.

The previous White House’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, took effect in 2019.

The Biden administration suspended MPP enrollment shortly after it took office in January 2021. The program was to have ended six months later, but a federal judge in Texas ordered MPP’s reinstatement after the state and Missouri filed suit against the Biden administration.

Thursday’s ruling sends the Texas and Missouri case back to lower courts.

“As Secretary Mayorkas concluded in October 2021 after a thorough review, the prior administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border,” said the Department of Homeland Security in a statement. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision affirming that the Secretary has the discretionary authority to terminate the program, and we will continue our efforts to terminate the program as soon as legally permissible.” 

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) also welcomed the ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program,” he said in a statement. “For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.”

Advocates sharply criticized MPP, in part, because it made LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers who were forced to live in Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, Matamoros and other Mexican border cities even more vulnerable to violence and persecution based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

[email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo on Thursday told the Washington Blade the Supreme Court ruling “will certainly impact our community in a positive way.”

“We know that people who have to remain in Mexico to wait continue to be victims of violence,” said Salcedo. “This is definitely a step in the right direction and we’re grateful that this happened in this way.”

Emilio Vicente, communications and policy director of Familia: TQLM, an organization that advocates on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming immigrants, echoed Salcedo.

“We’re glad to finally have some good news from the Supreme Court after horrible rulings on abortions, climate change, Native American rights,” said Vicente. “Ending ‘Remain in Mexico’ will allow LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who face increased discrimination and abuse during the journey to the U.S., to be able to seek asylum here.” 

Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán is a South Texas-based immigration attorney and human rights law and policy expert who the LGBTQ+ Bar in 2021 recognized as one of its 40 best LGBTQ lawyers who are under 40.

He told the Blade on Thursday the Supreme Court ruling is “a victory we must celebrate.” Echevarría-Cabán also said MPP placed LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers at increased risk. 

“Refugees in general, but especially LGBT refugees, are extremely vulnerable to other type of harms such as kidnappings by cartel members, extortion, physical and psychological abuses from Mexican law enforcement authorities and third parties given the high levels of discrimination for LGBT refugees in Mexico,” said Echevarría-Cabán.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling a day after the Justice Department filed charges against four people in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants who were found in the back of a tractor trailer truck in San Antonio.

The Biden administration in April announced its plans to terminate Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. Title 42 was to have ended on May 23, but a federal judge ruled against the White House.

“This decision isn’t the end of the fight for ensuring that people seeking asylum get asylum but it’s an important step in protecting vulnerable people,” Vicente told the Blade after Thursday’s ruling. “President Biden must follow through on his commitment to end MPP and protect all asylum seekers.”

Salcedo noted to the Blade the “system, as it is, particularly when it comes to trans women, needs to be completely changed so that we can be at a better place as a community.” Padilla in his statement urged the Biden administration “to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all.”

“Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system,” he said. “We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

The Department of Homeland Security in its statement notes Title 42 remains in place.

“The department also continues to enforce our immigration laws at the border and administer consequences for those who enter unlawfully, and will continue the court-mandated enforcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order,” it reads.

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Politics

Kamala Harris hosts Pride month reception

Upwards of 200 people attended Naval Observatory event

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Vice President Kamala Harris hosted about 200 guests for Pride Month celebration at her official residence on June 28, 2022. She spoke at the Capital Pride festival in D.C. earlier in the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris helped bring Pride Month to a close Tuesday at her residence with a celebration for high-profile members of the LGBTQ community, recognizing successes achieved but also urging continued movement.

“When we celebrate Pride, it’s because we understand not only the strength of what we have accomplished, and the fight for equality, but we [also] understand the fragility of these gains, and so we know what we must do to be vigilant and maintain [those rights],” Harris said.

The Advocate reported in coverage of the event the Pride celebration was the first ever to take place at the vice president’s residence, but that’s incorrect.

President Biden as vice president hosted a Pride event with LGBTQ leaders in 2014. Harris also said during the event her understanding was it was a first for a sitting vice president.

An estimated 200 attendees were present for the event at the Naval Observatory in D.C., which serves as the vice president’s official residence. Guests at the party mingled by the pool and partook of drinks served on a spinning wheel placed just outside.

High-profile officials from the Biden administration who were present included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Neither delivered remarks. Also at the event was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Shangela, who addressed the crowd.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who were among in plaintiffs in the litigation against California’s Proposition 8, were also present at the event. Harris married the couple in 2013 as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling restoring marriage equality to the state.

Perry and Stier spoke before the crowd and urged them to continue to stand strong in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as first Black woman Supreme Court justice

Roe v. Wade struck down last Friday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, representing a welcome change on the bench for progressives who are still outraged after the decision last week overturning the right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade.

Jackson, who’s now the first Black woman to serve on the high court, has replaced Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee who is retiring upon the end of the Supreme Court’s term. Breyer announced his forthcoming departure months ago as progressives urged him to stop to ensure a replacement appointed a Democratic president and confirmed by a Democratic Senate.

The briefing swearing-in was conducted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who administered the oath of office for Brown before a small gathering of Jackson’s family, including her two daughters, according to a report in the New York Times.

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement the beginning of Jackson’s tenure on the Supreme Court “will bring long-needed representation to the Supreme Court at a critical juncture in our nation’s history, and after the court’s disastrous term dismantling personal liberty.”

“It bears repeating the obvious that women, people of color and LGBTQ people are Americans deserving of equal protection under law,” Ellis said. “Justice Jackson will be a visible and inspiring presence on a court currently dominated by extremists, reminding all that America should always be moving forward to expand freedom.”

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