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LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal

LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal

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by Randall Sullivan

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Acclaimed journalist Randall Sullivan follows Russell Poole, a highly decorated LAPD detective who in 1997 was called to investigate a controversial cop-on-cop shooting, eventually to discover that the officer killed was tied to Marion “Suge” Knight’s notorious gangsta rap label, Death Row Records. During his investigation, Poole came to realize


Acclaimed journalist Randall Sullivan follows Russell Poole, a highly decorated LAPD detective who in 1997 was called to investigate a controversial cop-on-cop shooting, eventually to discover that the officer killed was tied to Marion “Suge” Knight’s notorious gangsta rap label, Death Row Records. During his investigation, Poole came to realize that a growing cadre of black officers were allied not only with Death Row, but with the murderous Bloods street gang. And incredibly, Poole began to uncover evidence that at least some of these “gangsta cops” may have been involved in the murders of rap superstars Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur.

Igniting a firestorm of controversy in the music industry and the Los Angeles media, the hardcover publication of LAbyrinth helped to prompt two lawsuits against the LAPD (one brought by the widow and mother of Notorious B.I.G., the other brought by Poole himself) that may finally bring this story completely out of the shadows.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The most thorough examination of these much-publicized events. Exhaustively researched, the book methodically weaves a disturbing story of corruption, intimidation and murder.” –The Boston Globe

“[Sullivan] constructs a compelling story [and] writes like a man on a mission…no single source presents so complete or damning a record as LAbyrinth.” –Entertainment Weekly

“You don’t have to know anything about any of this to love this book. You just read it cover to cover with a big smile on your face.”—The Washington Post

“An intense, gripping tale of crime and deceit in the City of Angels.” –Willamette Week

“A deftly told, immensely relevant, true-life potboiler from the streets of urban America.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

In the fall of 1998, Los Angeles police officer Rafael Perez implicated more than 70 fellow LAPD officers in a conspiracy that involved robbery, brutality, drug dealing, false imprisonment, and perhaps murder. After a series of incomplete investigations, it became apparent to at least one honest homicide cop that police brass wanted the festering scandal to disappear. But, despite threats and resistance, detective Russell Poole would not let the investigation die. Linking the police conspiracy to the murders of hip-hop legends Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, he dug deeper into this hydralike case. Award-winning journalist Randall Sullivan digs even deeper in this electrifying book about an unprecedented police scandal., exploring the role of Death Row Records' Suge Knight in these strange perversions of justice.
Publishers Weekly
Sullivan (The Price of Experience) strikes again in the arena of California true crime, exploring the sordid world of big money, gangsta rap, guns and drugs. Opening with the shooting of a black man by a white man during a traffic incident, Sullivan underscores the not-so-well-known racial tempest brewing on the West Coast especially when he reveals that the shooter was an undercover narcotics investigator and the man killed was an off-duty L.A.P.D. officer who moonlighted for the disreputable Death Row Records. From here, Sullivan outlines the bad and the ugly of the music industry: mafioso-style music label management; the unsolved murders of rap superstars Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.; and a dizzying series of binary oppositions Crips vs. Bloods; West Coast rappers vs. East Coast rappers; Death Row Records' exec Suge Knight vs. Puffy Combs of Bad Boy Records, etc. Unfortunately, the basic material isn't exactly new; journalists Ronin Ro and Cathy Scott, among others, have previously covered the murders of Shakur and B.I.G. Still, Sullivan's reportorial writing style accurately reflects the investigative work of homicide gumshoe Russell Poole while building the drama within the truly labyrinthine political coverups, cop-to-criminal crossovers and the breaks in the L.A.P.D.'s code of silence. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This book documents the criminal investigation of the March 1997 shooting death of an off-duty member of the Los Angeles Police Department by a fellow officer. The investigation steers detective Russell Poole into a complicated inquiry, with connections to the hip-hop music industry, and leads him to discoveries of police corruption. Sullivan (journalist, Rolling Stone) does an excellent job of guiding the reader through the intricate chain of events and along the way intersperses mini-lessons on the history of hip-hop culture and music and gang rivalries. He also reveals interesting insights into the backgrounds of the major players, connecting this scandal to the world of some of the biggest rap stars. Sullivan includes supplementary material that is of great help to the reader: a "roster" of the protagonists and their affiliations and a time line that includes all major events (from 1987 to June 2001) mentioned in the book. An excellent selection for all public libraries, especially those with clientele interested in true crime and/or hip-hop music. Sarah Jent, Univ. of Louisville, KY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Freelance journalist Sullivan (The Price of Experience, 1996) scathingly indicts racial/cultural politics and law enforcement in post-Drug War America. The author shrewdly focuses on the experiences of veteran LAPD detective Russell Poole. Beginning with a seemingly random 1997 traffic shootout between a black plainclothes policeman and a white one, Poole was plunged into a maelstrom of felony investigations involving rap music figures and rogue cops. While the murders of Tupac Shakur in 1996 and Biggie Smalls in 1997 (the latter perceived as retaliatory for the former) exploded against the backdrop of celebrity gangsta-rap culture, Poole's initial investigation of the black officer killed in the shootout collided with departmental secrecy, revealing a cop kept on the job despite numerous unsavory incidents. As Poole's investigation overlapped Smalls's murder, the Death Row Records empire of the notoriously violent Suge Knight was linked to an LA gang, then to a network of cops who performed favors for Knight's criminal associates and who may have been involved in Smalls's murder. Yet Poole found his investigation stymied at every turn by LAPD Internal Affairs and the inner circle of then-Chief Bernard Parks, determined not to impeach the integrity of minority officers in the wake of the Rodney King scandal. Sullivan contrasts Poole's stellar career-fitness reports with the hostility he faced from fellow officers and superiors, especially after connections developed between Death Row, an ex-officer's brazen bank robbery, various murder investigations, and the emerging scandal involving the Rampart CRASH unit. (Poole eventually resigned from the LAPD and filed a civil suit against thedepartment.) Evidently, the drug money that first militarized the LA gangs also provided seed money for cultural behemoths like Death Row and corrupted officers in tactical units like Ramparts CRASH, unleashing further havoc on beleaguered communities. Sullivan uses unadorned prose to convey a complex tale rife with ambiguities. A deftly told, immensely relevant, true-life potboiler from the streets of urban America. Author tour

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Grove Atlantic
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8.98(w) x 5.88(h) x 0.89(d)

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A 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.

ISBN: 0-8021-3971-X

Chapter One

It 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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Orig 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Labyrinth by Randall Sullivan is a thrilling, action pact and an addicting read. The book starts with a controversial cop on cop shooting. The story tells how a white cop killed another off duty black cop but at the time of the shooting the black cop was driving erratically through traffic and cut off the other officer. One thing led to another and the white cop shot and killed the fellow officer. Racial tension was at an all time high in the LAPD (Los Angles Police Department) in the mid 1990s. The main character was a detective by the name of Russell Poole who investigates the murders of Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G. and the origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal and corruption witch he will later find that they are all linked to Death row records and owner of this record company Suge Night. One cop implicated over 50 cops who were involved in all of the following Drug trafficking, laundering money, robbery, and gun sales. I think the overall theme in the book was corruption because the book proves money can win over anyone even the police commissioner. I recommend this book to any one who wants a exhilarating good vs. evil book; it will give you insight on how a few bad cops can grab the department by the throat and bring them down.
Dankustka More than 1 year ago
After the recent release of Notorious, the movie depicting the life of rapper Christopher Wallace, A.k.a Notorious B.I.G. I decided to invest in this book, to learn more about the murders of Biggie and his largest rival Tupac Shakur. The book follows a Los Angeles based detective, and is investigation of the famous murders that rocked the American rap community in the mid 90's.

This book is awesome, it is really interesting, and shines the light on the corruptness of the LAPD. It depicts the involvement of the police, with Suge Knight, Death Row Records, and the rest of the gangster life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very multifaceted, yet Sullivan manages to tie the strings all together from police corruption, gang murders, drug trafficing, and a good detective's investigation of the two most promising rappers in history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was rather interesting. It makes me question (even more than I already had) the LAPD and LVPD in their investigations and involvement w/Death Row & Suge Knight. I also like how the author talked about Tupac. He didn't portray 'Pac as some rapper w/o a cause and someone who hated everyone like I've noticed some authors do. Over all, this is an interesting book, well written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that LAbyrinth was a great book. It gave a lot of information on the corruption that was going on in the Rampart Division. It explained a lot about all the events leading up to Tu Pac and Biggie's murders. I also thought it was a good book because it was mostly all facts and not jsut people giving their opinions on the subject. If you're into crime investigations you should really read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did not tead the nook yet