The jury in the federal trial of political donor Ed Buck is set to begin deliberations on Tuesday. Buck faces charges of supplying methamphetamine that killed two men, years apart, who were at his apartment in West Hollywood. That includes 26-year-old Gemmel Moore, who died from a meth overdose in 2017. At the time, his death was ruled an accident.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies investigated the case and gave then-District Attorney Jackie Lacey several possible charges to file against Buck. She chose not to pursue charges, saying there wasn’t enough evidence. Community activists argued Buck was responsible for the deaths and sought his arrest.
Then less than two years later, Timothy Dean died from a meth overdose in Buck’s apartment. Both Moore and Dean were Black men, while Buck is white. Activists claimed that Buck’s wealth and privilege kept him from being arrested.
Then in 2019, police arrested Buck on a slew of federal and state charges, including giving methamphetamine to men, or in some cases, injecting people without their knowledge.
Why did it take so long for law enforcement to bring a case against Buck, given the circumstances of both deaths?
During the two-week trial, dozens of witnesses took to the stand, stating that they did drugs at Buck’s apartment, as well as in some cases, were injected with meth while asleep or unconscious. Prosecutors also played a number of videos that showed men doing meth in the home. That’s all according to LA Times reporter Hailey Branson-Potts.
“The videos were so graphic … that the judge in the case advised the prosecutors to maybe provide counseling,” Branson-Potts tells KCRW. “They have played 911 calls, and they had scores of text messages between Buck and the men he was trying to hire and with a drug dealer who actually took the stand.”
She adds, “The defense wrapped up Friday with their only witness in the case, which was a pathologist who tried to argue that the men died of underlying health conditions, and Ed Buck did not take the stand. It's been a lot of the government's case over the last two weeks.”
According to USC law professor Jody Armour, it’s possible Lacey did not file charges against Buck due to the amount of evidence needed for drug-induced homicide charges. In this case, however, federal prosecutors are charging Buck under Section 841. Armour says that under that provision, if someone knowingly distributes a Schedule II substance like meth and it results in death, they could be liable for at least 20 years in prison.
“That's the equivalent kind of a punishment that you get for a second-degree homicide in a lot of states, for example. You're punished as a murderer. And so all the prosecution has to prove is that you knowingly distributed the meth. They don't have to prove that you distributed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury or anything else.”
Armour says this form of prosecution was often used in the war on drugs. Now it’s being used against Buck.
“It’s mostly used against Blacks and other marginalized groups and poor people. So there's a lot of tensions and ironies in this case. They have some compelling evidence that he was preying on vulnerable people who were desperate, and they came to him in desperation and exploited it. No doubt about that.”
Armour says he agrees with activists like Jasmyne Cannick who argued that Buck’s power and privilege protected him from being charged with any crimes.
“The response to these victims is not the same response that there would have been had the victims not been Black. Had the victims not been poor, [or] perhaps also involved in escort services, or involved in drugs in some ways. Those Black lives are viewed as disposable by society. And society reflects their disposability and how the criminal justice system approaches their death and injury.”