Were Cops Complicit in the Murder of Biggie Smalls? Updated for 2021
Almost quarter of a century has passed since Biggie Smalls was gunned down in the heart of Los Angeles. Despite the shooting occurring on a busy street after a music industry party, it remains unsolved. If you want to know why, I recommend that you read Randall Sullivan’s excellent book Dead Wrong (2019). And follow up by listening to the engrossing 16-part podcast The Dossier (2020).
One of the most enduring theories of the March 9, 1997 murder concerns the possible involvement of off-duty LAPD police officers. It was this hypothesis that lay at the heart of Nick Broomfield’s 2002 documentary Biggie and Tupac and Randall Sullivan’s first book on the case, Labyrinth, published the same year and based on extensive interviews with retired LAPD detective Russell Poole.
Being a hardcore Biggie fan, I recently took a deep dive on the case and thought it would be a good idea to summarise some of the evidence behind the theory that cops were complicit. First, a TL;DR on the theory itself: essentially it posits that Death Row Records boss Marion ‘Suge’ Knight ordered the hit, which was coordinated and carried out by crooked LAPD cops David Mack and Rafael Perez (logistics) in concert with hitman-for-hire Amir Muhammad (and possibly others). That’s it in a nutshell.
So, here’s the evidence.
1) Gene Deal, Puff Daddy’s bodyguard, positively identified Amir Muhammad as the suspicious man who approached him moments before the murder. According to Deal, the man walked towards Biggie’s entourage as they assembled in the ground-floor parking garage and prepared to leave the Petersen Automotive Museum in convoy. Deal thought there was something fishy about him and the pair had a bit of a staring contest before Deal lifted his shirt to show Muhammad the pistol in his waistband. Muhammad abruptly about-turned and left the garage, heading in the direction of where the shooting occurred moments later.
What’s interesting is that the man’s appearance matched the description of the shooter given by Lil Cease, who witnessed the drive-by from the backseat of Biggie’s GMC Suburban. According to Cease, the driver of a dark Chevy Impala rolled up next to Biggie’s vehicle and fired repeatedly into the passenger door before speeding off. A sketch artist’s impression was produced from this testimony: the hitman was wearing a blue suit and bowtie – the exact same clothing worn by the suspicious man who approached Deal in the parking garage. Moreover, the artist’s impression resembled Amir Muhammad (high forehead, crew cut).
Deal first fingered Muhammad as the man who approached him when documentarian Nick Broomfield presented him with several head shots in his film Biggie and Tupac. According to Deal, the LAPD had never shown him a photograph of Muhammad before; however, Deal says they had shown him a photo of himself standing near the strange man in the garage, with the latter’s face fuzzed out. FBI agent Phil Carson confirms that he too came across this photo in the official LAPD murder book – but was disallowed from copying it.
2) “Psycho” Mike Robinson – reputed to be one of the finest confidential informants in the history of policing in Southern California – fingered “a professional hitman from the Nation of Islam named Amir” within days of the murder.
Robinson, who had worked as an informant for the FBI, LAPD, LA County Sheriff’s Department and the DEA, also revealed that he had attended a party at the home of Death Row employee Rick James in 1999; also in attendance was Amir Muhammad. Robinson revealed that his younger brother, a contract killer since deceased, once told him that Amir Muhammad was in the same line of work.
3) Mario Ha’mmonds, an old associate of Tupac Shakur who had been an informant with both the FBI and LAPD and worked as muscle for Northern California drug lord Felix Mitchell, contends that Suge Knight once asked him if he would take out Biggie. According to Ha’mmonds, the conversation occurred in 1995 or 1996. Ha’mmonds also said that he had met David Mack and Amir Muhammad at Suge’s parties in Las Vegas and Los Angeles in the mid 90s, and that both Suge and Tupac had intimated that Mack was security. Furthermore, Ha’mmonds revealed that Mack held a ‘shot-caller’ position while attending a Death Row music video around this time.
No admissible evidence here, but interestingly, Ha’mmonds was housed in jail with Suge Knight in the late 90s. It was there, at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, that he claims Suge confessed to having ordered the Biggie murder while saying that “they just missed Puffy.” (The vehicle in which Puffy was riding, ahead of Biggie’s in the convoy, ran a red light seconds before Biggie – whose SUV halted at the lights – was blasted.) Suge implicated David Mack, Amir Muhammad, Death Row Head of Security Reggie Wright Jr, and Blood gang member Devon Sykes aka Big Sykes. According to Ha’mmonds, Knight intimated that two females at the party were also involved in some capacity (presumably as spotters). The team coordinated events on the night using burner cellphones.
4) Ex-LAPD officer Kevin Hackie, who was once on the payroll of Reggie Wright Jr’s firm Wrightway Security, says Mack operated in a “covert capacity” for Suge Knight; David Mack also owned a black Chevy Impala in March 1997. Moreover, a search of Mack’s house – carried out after he robbed a bank in November 1997 – turned up five 9mm handguns and numerous rounds of ammunition, some of which were GECO 9mm: the same rounds used in the Biggie murder and rarely found in the United States.
FBI agent Phil Carson contends that no ballistics have ever been completed to compare the rare armour-piercing bullets that killed Biggie with those found in Mack’s garage. Carson asked to perform forensics on the ammunition himself and was refused by the LAPD.
5) A member of Biggie’s entourage, Damion ‘D-Roc’ Butler, told Detective Russell Poole that he saw David Mack at the Petersen that night, standing near the door to the museum as they entered the party.
Agent Carson corroborates this claim, saying that there are photos of both Mack and Perez at the Petersen.
6) An inmate named Kenneth Boagni, who was locked up with Rafael Perez for eight months, insists Perez admitted participating in the Biggie murder alongside David Mack. Boagni claims Perez told him he’d been stationed outside the museum that night; when he spotted Biggie’s entourage preparing to leave he called Mack, who was inside the building, to say Biggie was “available.” Mack called back five minutes later advising Perez to “get out of the way”: Perez withdrew from the vicinity to a spot where he could watch the shooting occur.
Boagni says two LAPD detectives warned him against testifying at the civil trial, as did City Attorney for Los Angeles Don Vincent. Curiously, the LAPD later “lost” his statement and only found it during the aforementioned wrongful death lawsuit filed by Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, in the mid 2000s. This concealment maddened Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, who referred to “more and more evidence that the police had a connection with the case surfacing.”
When Boagni’s statement came to light, Judge Cooper declared a mistrial, remarking, “I am very concerned that this is, in fact, a different case from the one we started out with, and that the plaintiffs are looking at a deliberate concealment and cover-up, which is extremely disturbing to me.”
Interestingly, Boagni says the bank robbery carried out by David Mack later that year was perpetrated in order to pay off hitman Amir Muhammad, after Suge reneged (presumably because the contract had been for both Biggie and Puffy). According to Boagni, it had been Mack who hired the contract killer, acting as a go-between for Suge. Boagni says Perez never mentioned Muhammad by name, but alluded to him as someone that both Mack and Reggie Wright Jr knew from way back.
7) Boagni’s comments were supported by Felipe Sanchez, another person who knew Perez in jail – but at a separate time to Boagni, whom he’d never met. Sanchez said Perez claimed to have been on the scene with “Mack Attack” on March 9, and bragged about being part of the murder. (FYI: Perez and Mack were best friends.)
Interestingly, Sanchez later revealed that he too was discouraged by the LAPD from testifying, claiming that officers visited him in prison and warned, “Don’t testify or you’ll get shanked.” The officers fit the physical description of those who had visited Boagni.
8) Another inmate, Bennie Keys, said Mack boasted about being a member of the Mob Piru street gang when housed at the Montebello City Jail after his arrest for the Bank of America robbery. (A subset of the Blood gang, the Mob Piru were closely affiliated with Death Row.) Keys also said that Mack told him he was at the scene of the Biggie murder and implied he’d been part of it.
Although the LAPD have always refuted that Perez and Mack were Compton gang members, FBI agent Phil Carson alleges that he uncovered a photograph of the pair dressed head to toe in red (Blood gang colours), alongside Michelle Parks, daughter of Chief of Police Bernard Parks, buried in files at LAPD Robbery-Homicide (the same files concealed by Detective Steve Katz, referenced in point 6). In the picture, Parks is cutting a cake that refers to the Bloods ruling.
It’s probably also worth noting that Mack’s half brother, Dale Williams, is a Compton Blood gang member. After one arrest, Williams told Detective Brian Tyndall that he stole vehicles for Mack’s activities and stole a van for him prior to the bank robbery.
9) Senior LAPD officer Ken Knox reported seeing both Mack and Perez at Death Row Records’ HQ in late 1996/early 97 in plainclothes. He compiled a dossier on the activities of off-duty cops working for DR but was ordered to cease his investigation by a lieutenant at LAPD Robbery-Homicide, who claimed the order came from Chief of Police Bernard Parks. His intelligence and surveillance reports later vanished.
10) R&B artist Waymond Anderson told Wiltshire Detectives in April 1997 that Suge Knight had previously offered him a contract on Biggie’s life. Anderson also implicated Mack and Perez in the hit. Although Anderson later recanted, he then claimed Assistant City Attorney Don Vincent had told him that if he kept implicating the disgraced officers, he’d never get out of jail. Anderson also claimed to have received threats from Suge himself.
11) According to The Dossier host Don Sikorski, a legal document that was part of the civil proceedings (and therefore under seal) reveals that in January 2001, the LAPD instituted a formal Internal Affairs investigation (CF010190) alleging that Mack and Perez conspired to murder, and assisted in the murder of, Biggie Smalls. The IA was assigned to the Rampart Corruption taskforce that was investigating the criminal actions of rogue officers.
Sikorski also alleges that the LAPD have known, since March 1997, that Perez was on duty on the night of the Biggie murder, and that evidence existed that placed him at the scene “looking for shell casings.”
12) According to FBI agent Phil Carson, in a nine-year police career David Mack only ever took family sick days just before and after the November ’97 bank robbery, and the day before and after the Biggie murder. Coincidence? Make your own mind up. Amazingly, despite all the evidence against Mack summarised above, the original detective on the case, Russell Poole, was never allowed to question him.
Well, that’s about the sum of it. While far more evidence exists than is cited above (Agent Carson alludes to seven or eight confidential informants), these points represent the main plank for the prosecution as I understand it. According to Don Sikorski, Voletta Wallace’s attorney Perry Sanders intends to re-file the civil case against the LAPD in 2021. The LA field division of the FBI is also rumoured to be taking another hard look at the case. Let’s hope Biggie and his family finally get the justice they’ve been waiting for.