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Narcotics Unit Probes Don Simpson's Death

February 06, 1996|CHUCK PHILIPS and CARLA HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The narcotics division of the Los Angeles Police Department has launched an investigation into the death of movie producer Don Simpson after the discovery of thousands of prescription pills and capsules in his home.

"The interior of the place looked like a pharmaceutical supply house," said Det. Brad Roberts, a homicide detective who visited Simpson's Bel-Air home about four hours after the producer's body was found Jan. 19.

"There was a tremendous amount of prescription drugs on the property."

Initially, police said the 52-year-old Simpson's death appeared to be from natural causes.

But on Monday, a supervisor in the narcotics division said "there is a definite possibility that Don Simpson died of an accidental overdose."

Results of Simpson's autopsy and toxicology report are not expected to be released before March.

Narcotics detectives, however, are scheduled to meet next week with officials from the California Department of Justice to determine whether any laws were violated regarding the over-prescribing of narcotics by local doctors and pharmacies to Simpson.

"There were more than 2,000 individual pills and capsules found at Don Simpson's house--a number of which are Schedule 2 and Schedule 3 narcotics," said Det. David Miller, supervisor of LAPD's narcotics group in West Los Angeles.

"That's an inordinate amount of drugs as far as we're concerned."

Simpson's attorney Robert Chapman said he knew nothing about the narcotics investigation and declined comment.

Chapman had told paramedics that the producer's family had a history of heart problems.

The first officers on the scene told the coroner's office that they saw no evidence of foul play and found no drugs or drug paraphernalia near the body. After receiving a promise from Simpson's attorneys that a family physician would sign off on the death certificate, the coroner allowed the body to be released to a private funeral home.

But homicide detectives who visited the house about four hours later found thousands of pills and capsules on the premises and requested that the coroner conduct an autopsy.

"When I found out that no doctor had signed off on the death certificate, I decided that the coroner should take the case," said Det. Ron Phillips.

Simpson's death has ignited questions about the drug overdose of a doctor whose body was found in the pool house of Simpson's estate on Aug. 15.

A coroner's report revealed in September that Dr. Stephen Ammerman died of an overdose of drugs that included Valium, Venlafaxine, cocaine and about four times the lethal limit of morphine.

Police ruled that Ammerman's death was caused by an accidental overdose, but the doctor's family has retained an attorney to investigate.

"The autopsy says Dr. Ammerman died of a morphine overdose. So where did the morphine go?" said Alexander Lampone, a Pacific Palisades attorney representing Ammerman's father and son.

"What we want to know is why there wasn't any vial or pill container of morphine found near his body."

The absence of morphine or other drugs, Lampone says, "raises serious concerns" about whether the premises might have been cleaned up before paramedics or police arrived.

Investigators found a syringe and a vile of Valium near Ammerman's body, but Joseph J. Muto, the chief forensic toxicologist in the coroner's office, said it was morphine--not Valium--that caused the death.

No other drugs were recovered at the pool house.

A homicide detective who visited the scene about eight hours after the body was found determined that it wasn't a murder and investigated no further.

Sources who were in the house the day before the doctor died say that Simpson's dining room table was cluttered with syringes, medical equipment and a collection of drugs--including morphine.

The medications, sources said, were used in a "detox" program that Ammerman had designed to help Simpson kick an addiction to several drugs, including an illegal steroid called gamma hydroxy butyrate.

Individuals at Simpson's house also saw another West Los Angeles physician as well as two registered nurses and other medical technicians regularly on the premises during July and August.

Simpson's detox treatment was being conducted at the producer's home, sources said, because Simpson had opposed the idea of checking into a rehabilitation center, despite repeated encouragement to do so by friends and relatives.

On Monday, Chapman said he had no knowledge that Ammerman was treating Simpson.

But records show that Ammerman received a $14,000 check on Aug. 8 from Simpson as a payment for "medical services."

The producer also sent a $17,500 check to Ammerman's family in November for the "balance of professional services."

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