Labyrinthby Randall Sullivan
Los Angeles has one of the nation's most controversial police departments. In the fall of 1998, still reeling from the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson debacles, the LAPD took a far more damaging hit when officer Rafael Perez implicated over seventy fellow officers members of the elite Rampart street-crimes unit in a conspiracy of robbery, brutality, drug dealing, false imprisonment, and allegedly murder. Now award-winning journalist Randall Sullivan delivers a masterpiece of reportage that reveals how members of the LAPD became caught up in the violent world of Suge Knight and his Death Row Records rap empire. LAbyrinth shows how officers became gangsters, and how officials at the highest levels covered it up. Sullivan has had unprecedented access to Russell Poole, the upright homicide detective whose investigation into two of hip-hop's most infamous unsolved crimes the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. led him straight into the darkest corners of his own police force. LAbyrinth introduces such renegade officers as Kevin Gaines, killed by fellow cop Frank Lyga after he threatened Lyga's life; Rafael Perez, who, in retaliation, may have attempted to frame Lyga for drug theft; and David Mack, the highly decorated officer and former Olympic-class track athlete who orchestrated one of the biggest bank heists in Los Angeles history. LAbyrinth is the first book to break down powerful walls of silence raised by an internal-affairs department and a police chief who protected criminal cops in order to avoid making waves in a city torn by racial politics and legalistic intrigue. It is an epic true story of the brutal men who ruled the nation's meaneststreets and an unflinching expose of the incredible reasons why they were not stopped.
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LabyrinthA Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal
By Randall Sullivan
Grove Atlantic, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Randall Sullivan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was after dark by the time Russell Poole arrived at the shooting scene. Cahuenga Boulevard, the main thoroughfare linking downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley, was closed off in both directions by yellow police tape and patrol cars with flashing lights. The enclosed area was crawling with brass, captains as well as lieutenants. Poole's squad leader, Lt. Pat Conmay, his partner, Detective Supervisor Fred Miller, and the members of the LAPD's Officer Involved Shooting team were all standing in a group. The Internal Affairs investigators, as always, kept to themselves.
Frank Lyga was still at the scene and had been informed that the dead man was a police officer. "Lyga was very confident at that time," Poole recalled. "He felt certain he had done nothing wrong. I don't think he realized that the fact Gaines was black was going to be as much of a problem for him as it was."
The OIS team drove Lyga back to the North Hollywood station to take his statement. Poole was informed that his assignment would be to investigate a possible charge of assault with a deadlyweapon against the undercover detective. Poole was collecting spent cartridges and making measurements of the shooting scene when he and Miller received a tip that Gaines, although married, had been living with a girlfriend at an address in the Hollywood Hills. The two detectives drove to the Multiview Avenue address and found themselves at the gated driveway of a mansion belonging to the notorious gangsta rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight, CEO of Death Row Records. Gaines's girlfriend was Knight's estranged wife, Sharitha.
Sharitha Knight already had been informed of Gaines's death, and was cried out by the time Poole and Miller interviewed her. Sharitha's mother, who introduced herself as Mrs. Golden, did most of the talking at first, explaining that her daughter was married to but separated from Suge Knight, and that Kevin was her boyfriend. They had seen Kevin only a few hours earlier, Mrs. Golden told the detectives. He said he was going to the gym and intended to pick up new tires for the Montero on his way home. "Sharitha did say that Kevin had done some 'security work' for Death Row, but she gave no details," Poole recalled.
Sharitha Knight had met Gaines in 1993 at a gas station on La Brea Avenue just south of the Santa Monica Freeway. Gaines (who had been reprimanded repeatedly for attempting to pick up women while on duty) pulled up in his patrol car next to her Mercedes, Sharitha said, and began a casual conversation that grew more animated when she told the officer who she was and described her mansion in the hills above Cahuenga Pass. Gaines bet the woman dinner that she was exaggerating, and the two began dating exclusively after he paid off. Gaines soon took up residence in the mansion, separated by twenty-five miles and two million dollars from the house in Gardena where his wife, Georgia, and their two children lived. Sharitha was working at the time as Snoop Dogg's manager, and obtained work for Gaines as the rapper's bodyguard.
Poole and his partner made no protest when Sharitha Knight cut the interview short after less than half an hour. "This was her boyfriend and she was distraught," Poole explained. "It was a delicate situation."
As he drove back down Cahuenga Pass toward the LAPD's North Hollywood station to interview Frank Lyga, Poole recalled, "I thought to myself, 'This case is going to take me to places I've never been.'"
* * *
Poole already had been to places that few people raised in the suburbs ever see. Now a burly forty-year-old with a sunburnt squint and glints of silver in his reddish-blond hair, Poole had been a slim twenty-two-year-old with freckled cheeks and bright green eyes when he accepted his first assignment with the LAPD, as a patrol officer in Southwest Division, working out of a station near The Coliseum. "The department didn't try to prepare me for what it was to be a white officer in a black neighborhood, because there's no way to do that," he recalled. "But you learn real quick. All of a sudden this shy kid from La Mirada is working ten hours a day in South Central Los Angeles. It's like you've been given a front-row seat on life in the inner city."
At La Mirada High School, situated on the border between Orange and Los Angeles Counties, Poole had been voted most valuable player on a baseball team that won the Suburban League Championship. Pete Rose was his childhood idol, and Poole's teammates tagged him with Rose's nickname, "Charlie Hustle." "I ran everywhere I went, full blast," he explained. "It was the way I was brought up, to give all you had all the time."
His father was a twenty-seven-year veteran of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department who had spent much of his career as a supervising sergeant of the detective bureau at Norwalk Station. "I looked up to my dad," Poole recalled. "He had been in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, and I used to love to look at his medals. We were a very traditional family. My father was the breadwinner, my mom stayed home and took care of us kids. My two sisters shared one bedroom, while my brother, Gary, and I shared another. I thought that was pretty much how everybody lived." His father never encouraged him to become a cop, and Poole kept his dream of playing baseball in the major leagues alive until a torn rotator cuff during his second season at Cerritos College ended his athletic career. Although he graduated with a degree in criminal justice, the young man went to work in a supermarket and was night manager at an Alpha-Beta store when he married his wife, Megan, in 1979. The two had known each other since they were children, and the bride wondered out loud whether her young husband would be satisfied with a comfortable life in La Mirada. Her question was answered less than a year later, in the autumn of 1980, when Russell Poole entered the Los Angeles Police Academy. "I decided that I needed something more stimulating than the grocery business," he explained. Fewer than half of those who entered Poole's Police Academy class would finish with him.
The culture of the LAPD back then was "quasi-military," recalled Poole, who liked it that way. Every day began with a three-mile run that ended with alternating sets of pull-ups and push-ups, followed by wind sprints. "I went into the Academy at a pretty solid 185 pounds and finished at a little over 165," he recalled. "But you learned pretty fast that physical ability wasn't the point-character was. They wanted to see whether you would drop out or keep trying. Would you quit if you got cramps while you were running, or would you grind it out, cry it out, gut it out. A lot of the women in the class impressed me in that way."
Only about a year after Poole graduated, though, a series of lawsuits forced the Academy to make failure all but obsolete. "After that, if you were lousy or wouldn't try hard enough, they'd pat you on the back and say, 'It's okay, we have remedial classes you can take,'" Poole recalled. "They'd get you counseling. They also started lowering the standards on written tests, in order to encourage diversity and avoid controversy."
Poole didn't think the department was doing its new recruits any favors. "When you get out on the streets, nobody's going to baby you there," he explained. "You are going to be caught in situations where all you can do is survive."
The more harrowing the circumstance, the more intense the experience of connection to one's fellow officers, as Poole discovered soon after his assignment to patrol duty in South Central L.A. "What I remember most about those early days was how it felt to stop a car and approach it from the rear," Poole recalled. "The whole key was to stay alert, but not come on aggressive. On patrol, you had to be ready for anything. You might go through a whole day totally bored, then plunge into an experience of complete terror fifteen minutes before the end of your shift."
The most feared part of Southwest Division was an area called the Jungle, a collection of apartment buildings along Martin Luther King Boulevard between Crenshaw and LaBrea that was surrounded by huge, droopy eucalyptus trees. All that low-hanging foliage was what made the Jungle so dangerous, along with an unusual layout of buildings that created a lot of places where a suspect could hide until an officer was almost on top of him. "Anytime we went in there, the only color we saw when we looked at each other was the blue of our uniforms," Poole recalled.
Before crack cocaine, PCP was the street drug of choice in the ghetto, and Poole had never been more frightened than the first time he was attacked by a suspect high on horse tranquilizer. "I had dropped my guard because at first he appeared to be friendly-'Hi, officer, how you doin'?'-but when he got close he grabbed for my throat," Poole recalled. "My first instinct was to throw out my hands to push his face back, but he caught my left forefinger in his mouth and bit it all the way down to the bone. My partner was trying to hit him upside the head to get him to release, and finally he did, but we went to the ground and the guy was spitting and scratching and punching and kicking. He was shredding our shirts and uniforms, scratching our arms and faces. I had deep cuts all over my face and so did my partner. Blood was everywhere and my finger was dangling, barely attached.
"Pretty soon we were surrounded by this big crowd of people, all black, and this was very scary for me, because I was fairly new and had never been in a situation like that. We didn't have handheld radios back then, so I looked up at this one older black man and said, 'Please get on that radio and request help.' I didn't want to draw my gun so I took out my sap and hit the guy across the forehead. It didn't even faze him. So I hit him a second time, as hard as I could, and that split his head open. Right about then I started hearing those faint sirens from far away, gradually getting louder and louder. Nothing ever sounded better to me. And in a couple of minutes there were like twenty LAPD patrol cars on the scene, with cops of all colors, and the crowd was breaking up. I remember thinking, 'This is what they meant by backing each other up and being there when another officer needs you.' It made me feel really good to be part of this organization filled with people I could count on, no matter where they came from."
One of Poole's first mentors was a black training officer named Richard Lett, "a shy, nice man who had about fifteen years on the job." During the entire time they worked together, Poole recalled, the two of them never spoke once about communicating across racial lines. "He saw that I take people as they come, and so he really didn't think it was necessary," Poole recalled. "I was making friends of all races and I felt this was my education in life. My time as a patrol officer taught me how to connect with people from very different backgrounds, and I learned not to make general assumptions about anyone."
Back in those days, the LAPD talked about itself as a family, Poole recalled: "We greeted each other with hugs, brother officer, sister officer, civilian employees." The only discordant note was sounded at roll calls, where black officers invariably sat in a section of the room separate from the white and Hispanic officers, who tended to intermingle. "But nobody ever talked about it," Poole remembered.
Everything changed in 1991, though, when the videotaped beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers at the end of a vehicle pursuit was broadcast on local television. Poole was at home ironing a shirt the first time he saw it: "I remember thinking, 'Oh, shit, I wonder how many times they're gonna play that?' I never imagined it would be hundreds and hundreds. That wasn't the LAPD I knew, but it became the LAPD to the rest of the world, and that was awful to live with. It created terrible tensions within the department. Getting along with both civilians and your fellow officers along racial lines suddenly became a lot more difficult. Even people you thought were friends weren't saying 'Hi' when you passed them in the hallway."
The riots that followed the acquittal of the four officers accused in the Rodney King beating at their first trial in Simi Valley only increased racial divisions within the LAPD. The department maintained a mobilization plan for such emergencies, but for some reason it wasn't implemented. Chief Daryl Gates had been relieved of duty (by the first black president of the Los Angeles Police Commission), and then reinstated, but his position was weakened. "Everybody wanted to be the new chief," Poole recalled. "All these deputy chiefs were practically begging Gates to retire so they could take over, and the early response to the riots was controlled by some of these same people, who really didn't mind if the LAPD looked bad, because it would make Chief Gates look bad. We had subcommanders pulling units out of the area around Florence and Normandie when they should have been pouring in."
When Gates, who had been attending a function in Mandeville Canyon, finally arrived at the LAPD Command Post in the bus depot at 54th and Van Ness, he was astonished to find captains and lieutenants standing around in groups. When a black captain approached him carrying a coffee cup, Gates slapped the cup out of the man's hands and shouted, "What the fuck is happening? Why aren't my men out there deployed?"
Even before the rioting stopped, word of this incident had spread through the department, "and people of different races were even more uncomfortable with each other," Poole remembered. By the time Gates was replaced by the LAPD's first black chief, Willie Williams, an import from Philadelphia, the department had become an institution seething with thinly veiled resentments. White officers did not doubt that Williams had won the job with the color of his skin, while black officers wondered why the position hadn't gone to the LAPD's highest-ranking African American, Assistant Chief Bernard Parks.
To a lot of people, and for the longest time, it had looked as if Bernie Parks might be the one man who could reconcile the contradictory legacies that he had inherited from his two most notable predecessors, William H. Parker and Homer Broome. During the 1930s and '40s, Parker had occupied the unenviable position of a clean cop in a dirty department. The LAPD of that period was almost astonishingly corrupt; Los Angeles's mayor sold hiring and promotion exams out of his office in City Hall, while vice officers earned the bulk of their income by protecting prostitutes, pimps, and pornographers. At one point, the LAPD's head of intelligence was sent to San Quentin for bombing the car of an investigator who had been hired by civic reformers to ferret out crooked cops.
Excerpted from Labyrinth by Randall Sullivan Copyright © 2002 by Randall Sullivan. Excerpted by permission.
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. . . was a much better book are unrelatable, barely interesting.
This was a fantastic read! Did not let you put it down, too much tension and need to find out what happens next to stop reading! LOVED It!
This book is a takes a great look inside of Death Row Records and how a few bad cops can take a police department by the neck and make it fall from the inside. A great look on how much trouble it can be for one person to try to find answers that nobody wants answered.
This book is amazing. I am a fan of Tupac Shakur!! Russ Poole puts all of the pieces together linking the murders of Tupac and Biggie all back to one main man.... Suge Knight! Suprise, Suprise!
I am a HUGE Pac fan and i had not even thought about many things this book had mentioned. It was complete and off the hizzzook! I now a true believer in corruption in society and conspiracy behind the untimely deaths of 2Pac and Biggie. Russ Poole deserves a damn award!
In 2004 at the University of Tennessee, internationally renowned physicist Dr. MacPherson notices the findings that an assistant Gregor obtains with a moon rock specimen. An elated MacPherson claims the results that show rock 66095 contains strong superconductivity traits as his own. He boasts how he will receive the Novel prize for the work. A stunned Gregor kills the professor. Gregor is convicted of the crime, but not before he hides the rock inside Labyrinth Cave, Kentucky. Three years later NASA hires Tom Burke and his daughter Cricket to escort them into Labyrinth Cave to find the missing rock. His wife Whitney suffers nightmares and though internationally famous refuses to enter the cave where last year her assistant died while she barely escaped. However, Gregor escapes with some fellow prisoners and heads to Labyrinth Cave to collect the rock that will make him rich and famous. He and his associates capture the Burkes and the NASA team inside the cave. Only Whitney can lead a rescue party, but she has not entered any cavern since the nightmare occurred, but the stakes are the two people she loves most. At times LABYRINTH seems more like a Hollywood thriller than a novel, but Mark T. Sullivan cleverly augments the plot with a personal crisis and an incredible underworld panorama. The story line is loaded with action on a global scale and on an individual level as the world is in trouble if Gregor regains the rock while Whitney battles herself. Mr. Sullivan provides a powerful tale that winks at the movie industry, which works fine for this novel. Harriet Klausner
What a fantastic book! I enjoyed it more than anything I have read in a long time. I raced through it in record time and it was a big mistake to start reading at night because I stayed up way too late hooked on this fabulous story. It starts out with an astronaut's amazing experience on the moon, zips you into the life of a woman who has been traumatimzed by the horrible death of her dear friend while they were caving together, then introduces you to her husband and teenage daughter and their problems as a family since the friend's death. This family plays a major role throughout the book and the teenage daughter turns out to be quite a gal. There is a prison breakout, more caving, more about the moon rock and it all is tied together beautifully. There's a semi-mad scientist, incredible adventures in the cave as the criminals force hostages to lead them through the underground labyrinth in search of the moon rock which has wonderous powers. There's some very interesting science in the book as well as great stuff about caving. This review may make the book sound too convoluted but the novel does not come across that way at all. The ending is exciting and clever. I cant wait for this author to write again!