September 13 marked the 19th anniversary of Tupac Shakur's murder. In the years since his death, those attempting to come to terms with his absence have been matched by those fixated on understanding who was responsible. Does the key to unlocking the mystery involve understanding the rampant corruption in the LAPD at the time? We investigate further.
Between March 24-26, 2004, Chris Rock recorded his fourth comedy special, Never Scared, in front of packed audiences at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The album would go on to win the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album - solidifying an already legendary comedic career. But as the saying goes, "In jest, there is truth."
One of the standout musings by Rock during that night was his bit on the death of Tupac Shakur. "I love rap music," he proclaims, before going off on a signature rant on how he was tired of having to defend the genre. "Tupac was gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip after a Mike Tyson fight. Now how many witnesses do you need to see some shit before you arrest somebody?! More people saw Tupac get shot than the last episode of Seinfeld. And you know what's fucked up? Every year, Tupac goes back from the dead, records a new album with clues in it."
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The death of Tupac Shakur remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in all of music. With the recent speculation that Eazy-E's passing from AIDS was the result of a targeted hit by Suge Knight, the oft-in-trouble Death Row head who is currently incarcerated awaiting murder charges once again finds his name being floated as the potential mastermind behind Shakur's death.
While many believe that his killer will never be caught - or that the trigger man/men have already been killed during the ongoing feud between the Bloods and Crips and the fallout from the death of The Notorious B.I.G. - Suge Knight's exploits then and now suggests the possibility that his involvement was much more than merely being in the car at the time of the murder. If anything, Knight was one of the primary beneficiaries of Shakur's death which created a real world scenario where seven of Shakur's 11 platinum albums were released posthumously.
Two months after Shakur's murder in Las Vegas, Suge Knight was interviewed by ABC while incarcerated for a parole violation. When asked "if you knew who killed Tupac, would you tell the police?" Clad in a blue prison jumpsuit and white T-shirt, Knight calmly responds "absolutely," before pausing and including "not" into his statement. "Why not?," reporter Brian Ross barked back. "Because it's not my job. I don't get paid to solve homicides."
Writer Randall Sullivan also appears in the same ABC news report. Having honed his craft as a contributing editor for Rolling Stone for decades, his name in subsequent years has also become synonymous with the deaths of both Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls after publishing LAbyrinth - one of the most definitive works on the subject that featured the writer working closely with Detective Russell Poole of the LAPD. Sullivan noted, "The common link in both murders is really Suge Knight and the implication of Suge Knight."
Sullivan's suspicions about Suge Knight center on his close ties to the corruption inside of the LAPD during the '90s. Dubbed "The LAPD Rampart Scandal," those involved in the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) anti-gang unit saw 70 of their own officers charged with various crimes like executing shootings, planting of false evidence, frameups, dealing drugs, bank robbery, perjury, and the covering-up of their illegal activities.
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Sullivan keyed in on a strange and violent occurrence between two members of the LAPD in the spring of 1997. Officer Kevin Gaines was killed in an apparent road rage incident by LAPD narcotics detective Frank Lyga. Upon closer investigation, Sullivan discovered that Knight was known to employ Gaines for various tasks related to running his Death Row Records empire.
According to The New Yorker, "[Lyga] and other members of his team were staking out a suspected methamphetamine dealer, and Lyga was the point man, which meant sitting in his unmarked 1991 Buick Regal and waiting for a drug deal to happen, so that he could follow the suspects back to their source. He’d sat there for three hours trying to look like an inconspicuous badass—with a Fu Manchu mustache and a ponytail, and dressed in jeans, a tank top, and a baseball cap adorned with a marijuana-leaf logo—when the deal was called off and the team agreed to reconvene at the Hollywood station. Lyga pulled his car onto Ventura Boulevard. While he was stopped at a red light, he heard the thumping beat of rap music at high volume emanating from a green S.U.V. that had pulled up next to him. Lyga says he glanced at the driver, a black man with a shaved head. The driver stared back. When Lyga rolled down his window and asked, 'Can I help you?,’' the man made a menacing gesture and said, according to Lyga, 'Ain’t nobody looking at you, punk.' Lyga, who prided himself on his Aryan Brotherhood cover—'All I lacked was the lightning bolts on my neck’'—was surprised by the confrontation. He assumed that the other driver was a gang member, especially when, he says, the driver of the S.U.V. shouted, 'Punk, I’ll put a cap in your ass.'”
While investigating the shooting, detectives discovered that Gaines was living with Sharitha Knight - the estranged wife of Suge Knight - after they had met in 1993 at a Chevron gas station at La Brea Avenue and Adams Boulevard. In fact, Gaines was driving Sharitha Knight's 1995 Mitsubishi Montero when he was killed.
According to court records and interviews, "Gaines was a troubled officer. When he wasn't cruising the streets of Los Angeles in an LAPD black and white, he drove a Mercedes 420 SEL. The vanity tag read: 'ITS OK IA,' an apparent reference to the fact he thought he was being investigated by LAPD's internal affairs."
"The department had an official policy that officers could not work for Death Row Records," Randall Sullivan told Hard Knock Radio. "Because Death Row Records was considered to be a criminal organization," he continued.
"It would be like the officer's working for the Gambino family, said Detective Russell Poole. "Suge's entourage was constructed of the Blood gang members in Los Angeles. Suge Knight was a very powerful individual. And what made him powerful was he had access to just about the entire Blood gang. And he also had dozens of police officers in his back pocket. He also had a District Attorney in his back pocket who was actually handling one of his probation cases."
When Poole refers to having special treatment from the justice department, he is referring specifically to prosecutor Lawrence M. Longo who had 26 years of experience in the office. Many believed that Knight had curried favor with Longo after signing his daughter to a record contract in 1992. Further blurring the lines between music, gang lifestyle, and the justice department was that Knight was actually leasing Longo's oceanfront home in Malibu, California while the prosecutor was overseeing Knight's case stemming from a 1992 assault.
In an interview, Longo said, "Why should Suge Knight bother to sign [my daughter] if she doesn't have any talent? What was he going to gain? I told Suge Knight before he signed her to the label that he was not going to get any special treatment from me. That's all there is to it."
However, many found it suspicious when Longo agreed to settle Knight's assault case with a plea bargain that spared him nine years in state prison. Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk approved the deal but termed it "rather unusual." Legal ethics experts at the time said that the circumstances bore the appearance of impropriety. "The appearances are terrible," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School dean and former federal prosecutor.
Ultimately, Longo was removed from his position in February of 1997 for "his family's financial ties to rap mogul Marion 'Suge' Knight."
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When the FBI released a heavily-redacted report as it related to the murder of The Notorious B.I.G, investigators noted (on page 20 of 165) that Officer Kevin Gaines was seen hanging out in Las Vegas two days prior to Tupac's murder. While names have been removed, it indicates that Gaines was on a "special assignment."
The rumor in the music world in the mid '90s was that after the release of his fourth studio album, All Eyez on Me, Shakur planned to leave Death Row and forge a new path nurturing artists like The Outlawz.
"Tupac Shakur was becoming a very outstanding actor. And it came to Suge Knight's attention that Tupac was going to leave Death Row Records - and the evidence shows you just don't leave Death Row Records and get away with it," said Detective Poole.
Two year prior to his death, Shakur sat down for an interview with Entertainment Weekly writer Benjamin Svetkey. Shakur touched on his thoughts on what his life would be like in 15 years. "They believe in the machine, not Tupac no more," he explains. "They don't even know me, they just know about the machine. Everybody wants to use me -- everybody," Pac replied. "From this level to the street level. I'm used on every level. I have no friends, I have no resting place, I never sleep. I never close my eyes, it's horrible."
According to Vanity Fair, "Months before, he had filmed his own death in a video." "It’s just a fun little game . . . the game of life," Tupac said while working on the piece which showed him expiring, bullet-riddled, in an ambulance. “I know one day they’re gonna shut the game down, but I gotta go around the board as many times as I can before it’s my turn to leave.”
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There's no disputing several facts which occurred on the night of Shakur's death. Both he and Suge Knight attended a boxing match at the MGM Grand between Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon. After the fight, there was a brawl between Death Row and a Los Angeles Crip, Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson, which stemmed from an incident in which three Piru Bloods had been approached by South Side Crips in a Foot Locker in Lakewood Mall. One of the Pirus, Trevon 'Tray' Lane, was wearing a gold necklace from which dangled a Death Row emblem - a personal gift from Suge Knight. One of the Crips snatched it. The night of the fight, one of the members of the Death Row entourage recognized Orlando Anderson as the perpetrator of the robbery.
By all accounts, Shakur had gotten the best of Anderson during the brawl. He then proceeded to get in Knight's car to attend Club 662 which the mogul had rented out for the evening. While stopped at a red light at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane, a white, four-door, late-model Cadillac with an unknown number of occupants pulled up to the sedan's right side, rolled down a window, and rapidly fired gunshots at Shakur. He was hit four times in the chest, pelvis, and his right hand and thigh. Knight was hit in the head by fragmentation.
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"He looked at me, and he took a breath to get the words out, and he opened his mouth," says Chris Carroll, a retired sergeant with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in a feature with Vegas Seven about Tupac's final moments. "And then the words came out: 'Fuck you.'"
"He was conscious on the way to the hospital, he was conscious in the ambulance, and he was conscious after the surgery," Knight told MTV a week after the shooting.
However, Chris Caroll recalls the situation completely differently. "As soon as he got to the hospital, he went into surgery and was heavily sedated, and I guess he went into a coma and really never came out of that, until they took him off of life support," he said. "So that moment I talked to him was his last real living moment where he was speaking. I talked to the cop who rode in the ambulance with him. He said Tupac never came out of it, and he never said anything at the hospital. There was nothing else."
Since Knight was also wounded, many assumed that he couldn't have had any involvement in the shooting. However, Randall Sullivan isn't convinced that Knight wouldn't put himself in harms way.
"The rebuttal is that [Knight] was in the car when Tupac got shot, but if you look at the police report, the shooter's car pulled up and shot at an angle that could really only hit Tupac," Sullivan told VICE. "No shot really came close to hitting Suge."
Following the shooting, Suge Knight returned to prison on a parole violation as a result of his participation in the beating of Anderson at the MGM Grand. According to The New York Times, "At Mr. Knight's parole hearing, however, Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Knight did not harm him and was trying to stop the fight." Many suspect that Anderson's protection of Knight stemmed from a mutual agreement that had either been established before or after Shakur's murder. Eighteen months later, Anderson admitted that he had lied under oath and that "he was punched and kicked by Mr. Knight."
"I still think the shooter was who everyone thinks it was: Orlando Anderson," says Randall Sullivan. "If it wasn't him, it was one of his associates. And the ties between Anderson and Knight still buttress each other. Who else had a motive to kill Tupac other than Suge?"
On the night of October 2, 300 police officers conducted a massive sweep of known gang members in Compton. According to The Guardian, "The police arrested Orlando [Anderson} - not for the murder of Tupac Shakur, but for the April 12 slaying of a man named Edward Webb, who had been attacked from behind at a party and shot dead by 'several black males'. Las Vegas detectives accompanied the Compton police, ready to question Orlando about the Tupac murder, but neither the Compton police nor the Las Vegas police department was able to turn the circumstantial evidence of the informants into anything that would make a case. In reality, much of their affidavit only detailed what members of Blood gangs and their associates at Death Row Records were saying about an alleged Crip. The Las Vegas police could not link Orlando to Tupac's murder, nor were the Compton police able to satisfy the district attorney that they had enough to hold him even for the murder of Edward Webb. DA Janet Moore ordered that Orlando be released. At the time, her spokesperson merely announced: 'We felt they needed to do some more work.'"
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With Knight's confirmed influence over both the justice system and the police at the time, it could be surmised that he could thwart any and every investigation into Shakur's death. If there is one common thread shared among people interested in the subject, it's that the case has never been solved because no one wants it to be solved.
On May 29, 1998, Orlando Anderson departed a hospital after the death of his grandmother. A little after 3 p.m., driving a borrowed Chevy Blazer, he pulled into the parking lot of Cigs Record Store at the intersection of Alondra and Oleander where he spotted a man, Michael Stone, whom he believed owed him money. A firefight ensued, and four people were struck - with Anderson, Stone and Stone's nephew all killed.
In June of this year, Detective Russell Poole emerged with a new theory about Shakur's murder. While many have always focused on the late rapper as the intended target, there is now a new belief that both he and Knight were actually meant to be shot and killed - planned and executed by Knight's estranged wife, Sharitha, and Death Row Security head, Reggie Wright Jr.
"Suge wasn't divorced yet and if he died in that hit, she'd get most of everything," Detective Poole said. "So she went to Wright Jr., who was in charge of Death Row and ran it while Suge was in prison," he theorized.
Following his death, Afeni Shakur, Tupac's mother, hired attorney Richard Fischbein after discovering a handwritten contract that was signed by her son that suggested he never capitalized off the millions of records that he sold. As Entertainment Weekly noted, "Fischbein flew out to Los Angeles. He found that the rapper, who died at 25, had barely anything to show for his chart-topping career. No mutual funds. No IRA. No real estate. Tupac didn’t even own his Woodland Hills, Calif., home. There was only a five-figure life insurance policy (the beneficiary was his half sister, Sekyiwa), two cars, and a single checking account that contained less than $105,000."
In fact, Vanity Fair noted that "Though Tupac had sold more than $60 million in records since his release, by the label’s reckoning, he owed Death Row $4.9 million."
Where was the money? Over the years, the Death Row empire collapsed after Suge Knight was forced to pay a hundred million dollar settlement to the initial investors in the label. With each subsequent sale, the evaluation was valued at less and less money. In 2009, Death Row was acquired by a self-proclaimed " Canadian soccer mom" for $18 million USD.
It seems quite apropos that as Suge Knight awaits his own murder trial, one of the key witnesses/victims in the hit-and-run in which Knight allegedly used a Ford F-150 Raptor pickup to barrel into Cle “Bone” Sloan, he still refuses to testify.“I don't want it to get misconstrued that I told on this man,” Sloane said in court, pointing at Knight. “I'm no snitch.... I will not be used to send Suge Knight to prison.”
The death of Tupac Shakur is an example of how Suge Knight thought the West could be won. Without the threat of justice, it's easy to get away with a crime. As Chris Rock might put it, "When you wake up in the morning, you should look yourself in the mirror and say 'fuck you.' Fuck your hopes, fuck your dreams, fuck your plans. Fuck everything you thought this life was going to bring you."