RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For the second time in less than two years, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating a death at the West Hollywood apartment of a prominent political donor named Ed Buck. You may not know the name, but Buck is active in the Democratic Party and has raised a lot of money for various Democratic candidates and issues. Buck is white. Both of the men found dead in his apartment are black. Now civil rights activists say Buck's status as a wealthy white man could be shielding him from prosecution. We're joined now by reporter Benjamin Gottlieb. He's been covering this story for member station KCRW in Los Angeles. Ben, thanks for being here.
BENJAMIN GOTTLIEB, BYLINE: You're welcome.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about how these men died?
GOTTLIEB: Well, we know a lot more about the first death. Back in 2017, Gemmel Moore, a 26-year-old black man, died of a crystal meth overdose. He was found lying unresponsive with drug paraphernalia all around him at Buck's apartment in West Hollywood. And Mr. Buck was there at the time when first responders arrived. The second man is 55-year-old Timothy Dean of West Hollywood. He died earlier this week. Now, there's no confirmation yet as to what caused his death. But investigators are also looking into whether or not drugs played a role.
MARTIN: And do we know if Buck was there when the second man died?
GOTTLIEB: He was there. Yes.
MARTIN: He was. So civil rights leaders are now getting involved. What's their message? What are they arguing?
GOTTLIEB: Well, they want to see him in handcuffs. And this really stems from the first case. There were reports that Moore blamed his addiction - this is the first gentleman - blamed his addiction to drugs on Buck and that Buck introduced him to meth. Now, it's important to point out that the LA County Sheriff's Department did investigate this last year. But the county DA - the DA's office decided that there was not enough evidence to charge Buck. However, civil rights activists believed Buck should have been held responsible for the first death. And the second death has amplified those calls. There was a rally outside of Buck's home this week. Another is planned for later this evening. Here's Jasmyne Cannick. She's one of the organizers.
JASMYNE CANNICK: In order for there to be justice, you know, Ed Buck would need to be arrested and prosecuted and convicted.
GOTTLIEB: And Cannick has also implied that Buck has not faced charges - and many feel this way in the community - has not faced charges because of his race and his wealth. And I should mention Buck is a known entity here in Los Angeles, especially in the LGBTQ community.
MARTIN: So he's got a really high profile. Has Buck himself or his attorneys - have they made any public statements at this point?
GOTTLIEB: Well, Buck's attorney is a man named Seymour Amster. And he described Moore's death as a tragedy but said that Buck had nothing to do with it. As for the death of Timothy Dean this week, Amster told reporters that his client is innocent.
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SEYMOUR AMSTER: This is not a situation where Mr. Buck has caused a death. This is a situation where Mr. Buck has had longtime friends who unfortunately do not handle their life well.
GOTTLIEB: And that's really the key question here. Are these deaths accidental, or did Buck have some role in them?
MARTIN: So setting aside any criminal wrongdoing, which is still to be decided, these cases have really focused attention on the drug problem in West Hollywood, right?
GOTTLIEB: Absolutely. It's a major problem in West Hollywood. We at KCRW spoke at length with the mayor this week. And he confirmed it's a big problem and that there's a very large community in recovery in West Hollywood. So when you add all those factors together, it makes things a lot less clear.
MARTIN: Benjamin Gottlieb, reporter with our member station KCRW who's been following this case. Ben, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
GOTTLIEB: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.