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Wednesday brought the sad news that retired LAPD detective Russell Poole had died from an apparent heart attack. He and I worked together in South L.A. in the mid-1980s, and like everyone who worked with him, I very much admired his skills as a cop. He became a detective and worked homicide in South L.A. for almost 10 years before earning a coveted position at Robbery-Homicide Division, the most elite detective assignment in the department.
It was while at Robbery-Homicide that he was assigned to investigate a controversial incident in which Frank Lyga, an on-duty LAPD undercover detective, shot and killed Kevin Gaines, an off-duty LAPD patrol officer. (I discussed the incident last year at PJ Media.) In the course of that investigation, Poole discovered links between the deceased officer and various figures connected to rap music label Death Row records. As chronicled in Randall Sullivan’s book LAbyrinth, Poole wanted to follow up on leads that suggested other LAPD cops were working for or were otherwise inappropriately cozy with some unsavory characters in the rap music world. Poole was ordered not to pursue those lines of inquiry.
That order came from Bernard Parks, who at the time of the shooting was in charge of internal affairs at the LAPD, but within a few months would become the department’s new chief. It has always been my opinion, an opinion shared by many in the department, that Parks shut down the investigation because he did not want the LAPD embroiled in what would be seen as a “black” scandal. Had Poole been allowed to follow the evidence he had discovered, the troubles that became known as the Rampart Scandal surely would have been detected earlier. “With all the stuff that had come out about Kevin Gaines’s connection to Death Row,” Poole told Randall Sullivan, “you’d think the brass would have wanted the detectives investigating Gaines to know about this, but in fact the opposite was true. They wanted to keep it hidden from us. That really started me wondering what the hell was going on.” It started a lot of us wondering, and we still do.
Poole’s disagreement with the command staff over this willful blindness to a cancerous element within the LAPD led to his premature retirement from the department, and, if I may speculate on such things, it contributed to the heart attack that claimed his life on Wednesday.
If you or someone you loved had been the victim of a crime, Russ Poole was precisely the kind of detective you wanted to see investigate it. He was smart, dedicated, tenacious, and scrupulously fair. He deserved better treatment from the LAPD, and he deserved a longer life. R.I.P.