LOS ANGELES — How do you prove racial discrimination in a court of law? That is the dilemma now facing civil rights attorney Nana Gyamfi and her client, LaTisha Nixon.
On Jan. 17, U.S. District Court Judge Carney J. Cormac granted a motion to dismiss claims of civil rights violations levied against Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Assistant Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum.
Gyamfi delivered a passionate argument alleging the D.A.’s office had violated Nixon’s constitutional right to equal protection under the law by not opening an investigation into the death of her son, Gemmel Moore. Gyamfi asserted that Lacey, who is African American, has a history of discriminating against African-American women and refused to meet with Nixon because of her race. The court ruled that the evidence Gyamfi provided did not prove racial discrimination on the part of the D.A.’s office.
“A bare assertion that a decision was motivated by racial animus is insufficient,” Judge Cormac wrote in his ruling. “A plaintiff must show that the defendants acted with an intent or purpose to discriminate.”
Moore, 26, a black gay escort, died of a methamphetamine overdose in the home of political donor Ed Buck, 65, on July 27, 2017. According to Nixon’s lawsuit, Buck, a gay white man, “forcibly injected Mr. Moore with the dose of methamphetamine that caused his death.”
The sheriff’s investigation into Moore’s death concluded there was insufficient proof to charge Buck with a crime. Nixon and her supporters gathered evidence in an attempt to compel the D.A.’s office to conduct its own investigation.
She discovered other gay black men who were willing to testify that Buck was a sexual predator, who also injected them with higher and higher doses of meth, just to watch their reaction and brought these men to the D.A. to be interviewed. In May 2019, she held a rally in front of Lacey’s office on the steps of the Hall of Justice and presented 30,000 signed petitions requesting an investigation into Moore’s death. According to Nixon’s lawsuit, time and time again, Lacey refused to meet with her.
During a presentation at the Stonewall Democratic Club, Lacey defended her actions. She asserted that she did interview men who alleged Buck injected them with meth in exchange for money, but was unable to corroborate their stories with hospitals records or police reports.
Lacey also stated that in the aftermath of Moore’s death, that the Sheriff’s Department illegally searched Buck’s apartment and the evidence gathered was inadmissible in court.
In January 2019, a second man, Timothy Dean, 55, was found dead in Buck’s apartment. The county coroner’s office determined that Dean also died of a meth overdose and alcohol toxicity.
In May 2019, after almost two years of trying to present evidence, Nixon filed a civil rights discrimination lawsuit against Buck and the District Attorney’s office.
Last September, a third man overdosed in Buck’s apartment. He was able to escape and notified the authorities. Buck was finally arrested later that month.
Based on the surviving victim’s statement, Lacey filed felony charges of battery causing serious injury, administering methamphetamine and maintaining a drug house against Buck in state court.
In federal court, Buck was charged with distributing methamphetamine that directly resulted in the overdose death of Moore. The federal charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a maximum of life in prison without parole.
During the hearing, Cormac expressed an understanding for Nixon’s longstanding plight to get justice for her son.
“Telling Ms. Nixon to go pound sand, not really listening to her, not giving her day with the D.A. or with high level law enforcement. It was just so insensitive and so irrational that it must be race-based. That’s what I’m hearing from Ms. Gyamfi,” Cormac said.
“She’s saying, ‘if you give us a little time, and a little discovery, we’ll be able to investigate whether there are numerous black women who’ve encountered the same fate.’”
In his ruling to dismiss the motion, Cormac gave Nixon’s attorney two weeks to amend her compliant and provide the court with “factual allegations” to substantiate her claims against the district attorney.
By Cynthia Gibson