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Family of Slain Rap Star Drops 2 Men From Lawsuit

The move by relatives of Notorious B.I.G. leaves the city of Los Angeles as sole defendant in case.

June 13, 2005|Chuck Philips | Times Staff Writer

Less than two weeks before trial, relatives of the late rap star Notorious B.I.G. have dropped from their wrongful-death lawsuit two men they had accused of conspiring to kill the entertainer.

The move appears to mark a retreat from a theory at the center of the lawsuit: that corrupt police officers orchestrated the slaying of the 24-year-old rapper, born Christopher Wallace, and that top Los Angeles Police Department officials covered up their actions.

Wallace's mother, Voletta, and other relatives sued the city three years ago, identifying an ex-LAPD officer named David A. Mack as an alleged mastermind of the shooting.

Friday the plaintiffs dropped Mack as a defendant. Papers filed in U.S. District Court offer no explanation for the move. They do indicate that in return for being dropped from the case, Mack agreed not to sue the family for malicious prosecution.

Today attorneys for the Wallace family are expected to file papers dropping a second defendant, Amir Muhammad. The plaintiffs had alleged that Muhammad, a college classmate of Mack's, shot Wallace dead at Mack's urging.

Neither Muhammad, a Southland mortgage broker, nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

The city of Los Angeles is now the only remaining defendant in the case. The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, is scheduled to go to trial June 23.

Perry Sanders, an attorney for the rapper's family, said the dropping of the two defendants would not damage the plaintiffs' efforts to prove their case. "This is a civil rights case against the city of Los Angeles," Sanders said Sunday. "This has always been a case against the city."

A third figure in the alleged conspiracy, rap entrepreneur Marion "Suge" Knight, was never named as a defendant, although the lawsuit contends that he ordered the killing.

The Wallace family had previously dropped as a defendant former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks. The suit alleged that he orchestrated a cover-up of police involvement in the murder.

Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, was gunned down March 9, 1997, after a music-industry party in the Mid-Wilshire district.

The killing occurred six months after rap star Tupac Shakur, a friend-turned-rival of Wallace's, was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.

No one has been charged in either slaying.

Early on, LAPD detectives speculated that the murders stemmed from a turf war between East Coast and West Coast rappers. Before their deaths, Shakur and Wallace had been feuding, and a rivalry between their record labels, Knight's Los Angeles-based Death Row and New York-based Bad Boy Entertainment, had escalated into a series of assaults and shootings.

Each label used gang members for protection, and police investigated the possibility that both killings were committed by Compton's Southside Crips.

The theory at the core of the Wallace family lawsuit was first advanced in 1998 by then-LAPD Det. Russell Poole.

According to Poole, Knight had Shakur killed because the rap star was about to leave his label -- and then had Wallace killed to make it appear that both slayings were the result of a bicoastal feud. Poole contends that Knight enlisted corrupt police officers, including Mack, to arrange both killings.

Mack came under suspicion in the Wallace murder after he was arrested in December 1997 for robbing a Bank of America branch near USC. He was convicted of the robbery and is serving a 14-year prison term.

Mack owned a black Chevrolet Impala similar to the car that witnesses said was used in the Wallace slaying.

Poole began scrutinizing Muhammad after learning that he had visited Mack in jail 10 days after the officer's arrest for the bank robbery. The two had been student-athletes at the University of Oregon, and Muhammad was godfather to Mack's two children.

Several months earlier, a jailhouse informant had told detectives that Wallace's killer was a Southside Crip who went by a Middle Eastern name, possibly "Amir." Poole resigned from the LAPD in October 1999. He later sued the department unsuccessfully, alleging that he was forced out as part of a cover-up of police involvement in the Wallace murder.

Since then, Poole has promoted his theory in newspaper interviews and books and through appearances on documentaries and TV shows. He plans to testify as an expert witness at the trial.

The plaintiffs have suffered apparent setbacks in recent months. In August, the city refused Voletta Wallace's offer to settle the case for $105 million. The family later agreed to accept $18 million, but the City Council rejected the proposal in September.

In January, the FBI shut down an 18-month probe into the murder after finding insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone. The investigation was based primarily on Poole's theory.

In February, a jailhouse informant who provided information central to the conspiracy theory admitted under oath that his identification of Muhammad as the triggerman was fraudulent and that his allegations about Mack and Knight were "all hearsay." Last week, a second informant admitted in a sworn deposition that he gave authorities contradictory accounts about the killing.

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