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Outraged Nigerians Help LAPD in Murder Probe : Crime: Two arrested in slaying of visitor from Africa. Victim's brother questions U.S. attitudes on violence.

June 02, 1993|ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joseph Chinedu came to the United States two years ago from Nigeria with dreams of becoming an engineer and one day returning to his native land. But whatever hopes Chinedu had for his future were shattered by gunshots last month as the 26-year-old drove away from Glam Slam, a popular downtown Los Angeles nightclub.

Today, when Ogboko Nwakibe flies home with his younger brother's body, he will take with him something else as well: a stark lesson in urban violence, American style.

Chinedu's death outraged Los Angeles' small Nigerian community, which embarked on its own investigation.

Since the shooting, Nwakibe and a determined group of Nigerian immigrants have helped police, using a miniature recorder provided by officers to secretly tape interviews with reluctant witnesses. The Nigerians also held a protest outside the Glam Slam and pressed their own government to use its clout to solve the case.

On Tuesday, police announced that two limousine drivers hired by Troop, the Atlantic Records singers who performed at the Glam Slam the night Chinedu died, have been arrested in the May 14 killing.

Investigators say Clarence Jones, 31, of Los Angeles and Luther Getter, 28, of New York fired into Chinedu's borrowed BMW, causing him to lose control and crash into a fire hydrant. He bled to death from a bullet that severed a leg artery.

Neither Troop nor its representatives could be reached for comment. Atlantic Records referred a reporter to a public relations firm, which did not return messages.

Police say a curbside argument outside the Glam Slam at closing time sparked the shooting--Chinedu had complained that Troop's limo was blocking his car and he may have flirted with a woman in the Troop party. For that, he was beaten by a Troop security man, said Los Angeles Police Detective Adrian Soler.

When Chinedu pulled his car alongside the white stretch limousine three blocks away and complained about the beating, Soler said, Getter and Jones, apparently thinking someone had thrown something at the car, got out and opened fire.

Police said the two drivers were employees of Special Services Limousine, a Long Beach-based firm.

The arrests brought some solace to the victim's friends and family, but Nwakibe, a Lagos businessman who happened to be visiting his brother at the time of the shooting, says he still cannot understand why it took three days for police to notify him that his brother was dead and why witnesses were so reluctant to aid police.

"Somebody's life is gone," Nwakibe said on a day he spent solemnly making arrangements to ship his brother's body home. "There is something in the society here that is very disturbing."

In Asaba, the midwestern Nigerian town of 80,000 where the brothers lived, murder is rare, said Nwakibe. But failure to help police in a homicide investigation is unheard of.

"What bothers me most is the nonchalant attitude people here have about human life," Nwakibe said. "There must have been hundreds of people coming out of (the club who) saw what happened. Here nobody wants to talk to the police."

Police confirm that the shooting occurred only half an hour after the closing of the popular club, which is partly owned by the performer Prince. The beating occurred as customers were streaming out of the club, some witnesses said.

Chinedu, who shared an apartment in Hawthorne with another Nigerian student, had gone out earlier in the evening with a roommate and another friend to a club in Hawthorne. He then left alone in a borrowed car for the Glam Slam.

Maduka Nkuku, the young man's roommate, said Chinedu had been to the club only once before but appeared to like it. Chinedu had dropped out of Cal State Dominguez Hills earlier this year because he ran out of money for tuition, his brother said.

When Chinedu failed to return home the next day, Nwakibe and a group of Nigerian friends went looking for him, then filed a false report that the BMW had been stolen, hoping Hawthorne police would stop the car and put an end to their worries. Over the next two days, they also visited three Los Angeles Police Department divisions, including the Ramparts Division where Soler already had begun his investigation.

A desk officer at the station became angry with the Nigerians when he found out about the false stolen car report, but apparently did not know of Soler's case, Nwakibe said.

Soler said the notification was delayed because Chinedu's driver's license did not have his current address.

From the police, Chinedu's friends went to Glam Slam, where they got little cooperation from employees, they said. It was only when police contacted the owner of the BMW three days later that Nwakibe learned of his brother's fate.

Several street people who saw the killing would not talk to police. The street people were so hostile to investigators, Soler said, that the Nigerians had to surreptitiously record their statements on a microcassette tape recorder provided by police.

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