WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - Detectives have opened an investigation into a second death in less than two years at the West Hollywood home of a Democratic donor, the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department said Tuesday.
A lawyer for Ed Buck, who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to California candidates and is well known in LGBTQ political circles, said his client had done nothing wrong and is cooperating with authorities.
Deputies were called to the residence at 1:05 a.m. Monday on a report of a person not breathing, and county firefighters pronounced the man dead, according to a sheriff’s department statement. The cause of death will be determined by the coroner.
In July 2017, a young black man, Gemmel Moore, was found dead of a drug overdose in Buck’s apartment. Buck, who is white, was not charged and critics later questioned if wealth, race or political ties influenced the investigation.
The man found dead at Buck’s residence Monday was also black, said Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department. Authorities have not released his identity.
In response to the latest death, the city of West Hollywood and the Los Angeles LGBT Center separately called for a full investigation.
“While much is still to be learned, it appears this tragedy is linked to substance use. LGBT people and other marginalized groups are at elevated risk for impacts that result from the current epidemic uses of opioids, methamphetamine, and other dangerous drugs,” the center said.
Buck’s attorney, Seymour Amster, told the Los Angeles Times that he was cooperating with investigators.
“From what I know, it was an old friend who died of an accidental overdose, and unfortunately, we believe that the substance was ingested at some place other than the apartment,” Amster said. “The person came over intoxicated.”
In 2017, Amster described Buck and Moore as friends and said his client had nothing to do with his death.
An autopsy report said Moore, 26, died of a methamphetamine overdose. He was found naked on a mattress in the living room, which was littered with drug paraphernalia.
A charge evaluation worksheet obtained by the Times said that the “admissible evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that suspect Buck furnished drugs to Gemmel Moore or that suspect Buck possessed drugs.”
The investigation into Monday’s death will include a review of the 2017 death, the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department said.
Buck came to political notice in Arizona in the 1980s as a leader of a recall drive against then-Republican Gov. Evan Mecham, who had attracted widespread publicity for canceling a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for state workers.
During the campaign it was disclosed that Buck had been arrested twice, in 1983 for fondling another man in an adult bookstore and in 1987 for trying to obtain a drug without the proper prescription. The public indecency charge was reduced to disturbing the peace and Buck paid a $26 fine. Prosecution in the drug case was suspended after he agreed to counseling.
At the time, Buck said he was gay and acknowledged that he had tried to obtain a painkiller with a photocopy of a prescription his dentist had given him earlier.
In California, Buck ran unsuccessfully for the West Hollywood City Council about a decade ago. He has frequently opened his checkbook in recent years to support Democratic candidates. His donations include $2,000 to then-candidate and now Gov. Gavin Newsom’s campaign and $5,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the disclosure of a second death at Buck’s home and donating $18,500 in contributions he received from Buck to charity.