Ed Buck case: Drug evidence collected legally, judge rules

Ed Buck Gemmel Moore

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey speaks at a news conference Sept. 19, 2019, about the arrest of Ed Buck. U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna stands behind Lacey. Photo: KTLA screen shot

UPDATE: Ed Buck has been sentenced.

A federal judge’s ruling has raised questions again about Jackie Lacey’s handling of the case of Ed Buck, a former Democratic donor who has been charged in connection with the drug overdose deaths of two gay Black men in his West Hollywood apartment.

Buck’s attorneys had requested, during a Zoom hearing earlier this month, that drugs and paraphernalia collected as evidence at his home be thrown out. The attorneys said the items were taken illegally because they were found in a closed tool chest and Los Angeles County Sheriff Department deputies didn’t have a search warrant.

U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder, however, ruled last week that the search was legal and didn’t need a warrant because the evidence was clearly visible when deputies arrived at the home of Buck, who called 911 shortly after Gemmel Moore, 26, overdosed in 2017.

A sheriff’s deputy testified March 2 that a pipe and plastic bag with white crystalline residue were found in drawers of the tool chest that was open. During the same hearing, Buck, 66, said he was almost certain that the drawers were closed.

In her ruling Wednesday, Snyder said she found the sheriff’s deputy testimony more credible than Buck’s and ruled the items were obtained legally.

Lacey was Los Angeles County District Attorney at the time, and refused to charge Buck. In various media interviews, Lacey has said the search was illegal, and therefore, the drug items couldn’t be used in a case against Buck, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In the Times article, Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School, told the paper that it was “not a good reflection on the D.A.’s office that Judge Snyder pretty quickly found evidence admissible that the D.A. didn’t see as admissible for prosecution.”

Levenson also said that the evidence would have, at a minimum, likely been sufficient grounds to immediately bring a drug-related charge against Buck, according to the Times.

“What’s of grave concern here is that I think there were just a lot of signals that this was a really serious event that was putting people in danger, so you might want to move as aggressively as the law would permit,” she said.

About a year and a half after Moore’s death, in January 2019, Timothy Dean, 50, died of a drug overdose in Buck’s apartment.

After a third man overdosed on meth at Buck’s residence, but survived, Buck was arrested. Lacey eventually charged Buck, in Sept. 2019, with operating a drug den and battery. The case is on hold as the federal case makes its way through the court.

The Times said Lacey and a spokesman for Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon refused to comment on the ruling or how it might affect any future prosecution of the Buck case.

Buck faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole if convicted at his federal trial scheduled to start July 21.

In the federal case, prosecutors have said that Buck preyed on vulnerable gay Black men and pressured them to let him inject them with drugs as part of a sexual ritual.

Buck is also charged with providing meth to three more men, including one who overdosed, but survived and alerted law enforcement officials to Buck’s behavior, prosecutors have said.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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