Capt. Sergio Aloma, head of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, last night explained the Sheriff’s Department’s approach to the death of Gemmel Moore, a young black escort, at the home of local political figure Ed Buck in July.
“Deputies received to a call for service at the address on Laurel [Avenue],” Aloma said, responding to a question for Estevan Montemayor of WeHo’s Public Safety Commission. “It was a person in some sort of medical distress.
“They responded along with L.A. County Fire and paramedics who, once they got there, were rendering aid to the victim, Mr. Moore. The victim was subsequently deceased at the address. Our deputies who responded, along with the fire department, did not see anything that was obviously criminal in terms of foul play that was involved in his death.”
Aloma, speaking at the monthly Public Safety Commission meeting, said that his deputies contacted the sheriff’s homicide bureau, as is standard procedure. The homicide bureau decided it was an overdose death, which is not something they respond to.
Deputies also contacted the coroner’s office, which is also protocol. The coroner’s office also saw no evidence of foul play.
“Once the coroner’s office responded to the scene, they concurred with the deputies that this was possibly an overdose death and there was no foul play or malice of forethought, which you would need in a homicide for example, so they treated it as such,” Aloma said.
The intense media attention regarding Moore’s death caused the homicide bureau to open an investigation “out of an abundance of caution,” Aloma reported. He also confirmed that the district attorney’s office has granted limited immunity to a certain number of witnesses, “individuals who claim to have information and our homicide detectives are proceeding with interviews of those folks to see what information they have and what type of bearing it will have in the case,” Aloma said.
Although the homicide bureau is presently questioning the people granted immunity, at this time Ed Buck is not considered a suspect, Aloma said.
“We don’t know if there is in fact a crime yet,” he said. “That is still part of the investigation at the bureau to determine whether a crime actually occurred and to whether or not Mr. Buck, or anyone else, is a suspect in this case.”
Moore, 26, was found dead in Buck’s Laurel Avenue apartment on July 27. A report from the L.A. County Coroner’s Office states that the death was an accident and lists its cause as “methamphetamine use.” A Coroner’s Office spokesman has said that drug paraphernalia was discovered in Buck’s apartment.
Moore’s death has sparked outrage among members of the African-American community, many of whom accuse Buck, a white man in his early 60s who is relatively affluent, of exploiting young black men. Jasmyne Cannick, a political and media consultant who is working with Moore’s family, has published pages from the young man’s diary claiming an illicit paid relationship with Buck. Cannick has also published statements from other young black men who say Buck has paid them to use drugs with him. Buck to date has not responded to the allegations. However his lawyer has suggested that Buck simply was helping people in need.
At the suggestion of Commissioner Montemayor, the Public Safety Commission adjourned in honor of Gemmel Moore, a symbolic action taken to note the group’s sympathy over his death.
Local residents attending the Public Safety Commission hearing last night asked that the City of West Hollywood form a task force focused on public safety in the Mid-City area and one suggested that the 7-Eleven convenience store on Santa Monica Boulevard at Hayworth hire a security guard.
Those comments came in response to a report from the Sheriff’s Station about the arrest of a man who allegedly attacked another man with a hatchet around 4 a.m. on Sept. 2 at that 7-Eleven store. The man, Kisu Bradey Brown, has charged with attempted murder and aggravated mayhem, according to Sheriff’s department officers.
Detective Sergeant Jeff Bishop told the Commission that if Brown is convicted, he would be facing 25 years to life in prison. Brown was apparently homeless and has a history of violent crimes.
Bishop reported that the man who was attacked is recovering but has “serious injuries.” The man’s name has not yet been released at his request.
The incident occurred when the victim spotted Brown shoplifting food from the 7-Eleven and offered to pay for the things Brown was stealing. As a security camera video of the incident shows, Brown attacked the victim with the hatchet as soon as they exited the store.
Bishop reported that they likely would not have been able to catch Brown without the video camera footage from the store.
Bishop also confirmed rumors that Brown had been involved in a prior attack, but the victim in that case had not been able to positively identify Brown as the man who hit him, so deputies had to let the Brown go.
“This guy’s criminal history includes assault with a deadly weapon, stealing, fighting with the police and presenting false ID to the police,” Bishop said. “The outcome of this is still to be set, but he was a bad individual and the video attests to that.”
During a public comment period, resident Victor Omelczenko suggested the city form a task force to deal with crime in the city’s center area (the area between La Cienega Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue), the most populated portion of West Hollywood.
Resident Kevin Burton suggested that convenience stores like the 7-Eleven should hire security guards to deal with homeless people who hang out in front of the stores. Burton said such convenience stores are “hot spots” for potential problems and attacks because of the homeless.
Burton said that homeless people used to congregate at the Ralphs grocery store on La Brea Avenue at Fountain Avenue until Ralphs regional manager agreed to hire security guards.
Commissioner Tory Berger cautioned residents to be careful when approaching homeless people as many of them carry weapons such as knives, scissors or screwdrivers.
West Hollywood’s City Council is busy considering various options regarding the sale of cannabis, trying to beat a Jan. 1 deadline.
On that date, adult recreation use of marijuana is set to become legal in California, thanks to the passage of Prop 64. Cities across the state have until that date to enact local ordinances regarding cannabis, otherwise state laws will prevail.
On Monday night, city staff and sheriff’s department personnel discussed the city’s plans for cannabis ordinances with the Public Safety Commission, asking for feedback from the seven-member commission.
Under the plan currently being considered, the city intends to allow a maximum of 32 cannabis-related facilities, including medical marijuana dispensaries, recreational marijuana outlets, on-site consumption lounges (similar to cigar lounges), testing facilities and more. If an outlet sells both medical and recreational marijuana, it would count as two of the 32. Similarly, if a recreational store also has a smoking lounge, it would also count as two of the 32.
State law requires that cannabis-related facilities must be at least 600 feet from schools, parks, playgrounds, etc. Current city regulations require medical marijuana dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet apart from each other, but Jeff Aubel, the city’s code compliance manager, reported that rule will likely change with the new regulations.
Commissioner Desiree Sol questioned if indoor smoking of marijuana will be allowed. Aubel said that smoking marijuana, like smoking tobacco, would not be allowed inside, per state law (except in designated and licensed lounges). Any on-site consumption areas would have to be outside and away from the sidewalk.
Commissioner Tory Berger wondered about people caught smoking marijuana on the street, sidewalk, or in a park. Aubel said such situations would be treated the same as when people are found on the sidewalk with an open container of alcohol, which is a misdemeanor.
Commissioner Estevan Montemayor asked about people caught smoking marijuana while driving. Aubel said that too would be treated like an open container of alcohol.
As for people are caught driving under the influence of cannabis, Captain Aloma of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s station said that proving such influence is still a gray area because there is currently no cannabis equivalent of a blood alcohol test.
Commissioner Robert Oliver suggested that cannabis facilities be forbidden from selling pipes that can be used for smoking crack or crystal methamphetamine. However, Jerry Hittleman, a cannabis consultant working with the city, said that could be difficult to enforce since oil burning pipes, the kind typically used for smoking crystal meth, can be used for other legal things.
Commissioner Ruth Williams worried about edible productions like candy and brownies that contain cannabis, fearful that children might mistake them for regular candy bars or baked treats. Aubel reported that the city’s regulations would require them to be in wrappers or containers that are clearly labeled and thus easily distinguishable from regular candy.
During the public comment period, resident Esther Baum reminded the Commission that cannabis shops are a cash-only business. Consequently, people going to purchase cannabis could have large amounts of cash on them and could be an easy target for thieves. She suggested security measures be taken to protect shoppers as they come to and go from shops, a sentiment that Commissioner Marcy Norton echoed.
Resident Rick Watts suggested that vehicles delivering marijuana to customer’s homes should be equipped with cameras, otherwise it could be “rife for potential abuse” by the drivers. However, Aubel said that cameras could be cumbersome, especially for a brand new business, and could create issues of privacy concerns.
Commissioner Estevan Montemayor announced his resignation from the Public Safety Commission during Monday’s meeting. Montemayor joined the commission in 2015 as the appointee of Councilmember Lindsey Horvath and served as the commission’s chair last year.
Montemayor was vague about his reasons for resigning, telling WEHOville that he has some exciting possibilities on the horizon. Montemayor, who works as the communications director for L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu, also indicated he likely would be moving out of West Hollywood, but not right away.
Montemayor released this statement to WEHOville:
“Serving the people of West Hollywood has been a great honor. I am so grateful to Councilmember Horvath for affording me this opportunity the last two years. The men and women of the Sheriff Department, Fire Department and Block by Block are some of the finest public servants I know. I have no doubt they will continue to keep West Hollywood one of the safest cities in California. I urge my commission colleagues to continue to fight for the installation of safety cameras in public spaces and increased Sheriff patrols on the east-side. I also urge new voices to step up and serve the community they know and love.”
The other commissioners were stunned by Montemayor’s announcement and thanked him for his two years of service. Commission Chair Ruth Williams called him dedicated, honest and passionate. Williams, who become especially close friends with Montemayor, said she would miss him terribly and that she considers him her “fourth son.”