A new ruling by U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder is reopening questions about former DA Jackie Lacey’s handling of the Ed Buck case. In the ruling, Snyder finds that L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies acted properly when they collected illegal drugs and other pieces of evidence at Buck’s home when responding to a 911 call regarding Gemmel Moore’s fatal overdose in 2017.
When Lacey was District Attorney, she initially declined to bring criminal charges against Buck. It was her determination that the drug evidence was not legitimately obtained, and thus could not be used to establish a case.
The Los Angeles Times reports that she described an “inadmissible search and seizure” in a 2018 memo and, in a subsequent interview, stated that upon arrival at the home the deputies “found some things, but we contend that it’s illegal how they searched for it. They needed a warrant in order to get that stuff.”
Less than 18 months after Moore’s death, a second man, Timothy Dean, would die at Buck’s home under similar circumstances. Buck was ultimately arrested in September, 2019 and charged by Lacey at that time with battery, administering methamphetamine, and maintaining a drug house. Just two days later, federal prosecutors charged him as well, with their charges explicitly connecting his actions to Moore’s death.
In that federal case, Buck’s attorneys had requested that the drugs and paraphernalia collected at the scene be thrown out as evidence, asserting that the search was conducted illegally. The judge’s ruling denies that request, finding that no illegal search took place.
Deputies were summoned to the home by a 911 call regarding Moore’s overdose, and were at the scene in the normal course of those duties, Synder determined. The evidence they found was, she determined, in plain sight when they arrived, some just feet from the body, and thus not the product of a warrantless search of the property.
Buck’s attorneys dispute that some of the materials were in fact in plain view. They assert that at least some of the drugs or paraphernalia were taken from a tool chest which Buck claims to remember being closed at the time of the deputies’ arrival. Federal prosecutors countered that claim with video footage that they claim shows Moore and Buck with the drawers of the tool chest open.
While Judge Snyder’s ruling is regarding a federal case and Lacey oversaw the state’s, state and federal standards for legitimate searches and seizures are the effectively the same, both stemming from the Fourth Amendment.
Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor who now teaches at Loyola Law School, told the Times that it was “not a good reflection on the D.A.’s office that Judge Snyder pretty quickly found evidence admissible that the D.A. didn’t see as admissible for prosecution.” Levenson also noted that the evidence would have, at a minimum, likely been sufficient grounds to immediately bring a drug-related charge against Buck.