Prosecution witnesses in the trial of Ed Buck, the white gay activist who’s accused of conduct leading to the deaths of two Black gay men, this week described a plethora of drug paraphernalia in his West Hollywood apartment.
Buck, who had been a prominent donor to Democratic candidates, is on trial on nine federal-level felony counts. Two of the counts are distribution of controlled substances resulting in death. Gemmel Moore, 26, died in Buck’s home in July 2017, and Timothy Dean, 55, died there in January 2019. Prosecutors say Buck had a fetish for drugging Black men with whom he had sexual encounters, and that Moore and Dean were among many with whom he engaged.
Buck was “obsessed” with the practice of “party and play,” which involves drugs and sex, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Norell told jurors in the trial, which opened this week in Los Angeles.
“The party is the drugs, the play is the sex,” she said in her opening statement Wednesday, according to City News Service. “If they didn’t party, he wasn't interested.”
But one of Buck’s lawyers, Christopher Darden, said this is “conduct millions of people engage in” and that the men who died in Buck’s apartment had underlying medical conditions that led to their deaths. Buck is being singled out for prosecution, said Darden, who rose to prominence when, for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, he helped prosecute O.J. Simpson on murder charges in the 1990s.
Prosecutors say Buck coerced men to come to his home and be injected with drugs, sometimes giving them large amounts of cash, and that he forced some of them to engage in sex work. The defense team says the men went to Buck’s apartment of their own free will and that many of them were already addicted to drugs.
L.A. County sheriff’s officers who testified Thursday described what they said was drug paraphernalia and fetish gear in Buck’s apartment. Sgt. Robert Martindale and Deputy Grehtel Barraza said that while investigating Moore’s death, they found items that could be used to inject and smoke methamphetamine, such as syringes and glass pipes, City News reports.
Barraza said that syringes, a pipe, and a “crystal-like substance” that she believed was meth were visible in open drawers of a cabinet. The defense sought to have her testimony stricken from the record, saying she could not have seen what was inside the cabinet, but the judge refused.
Martindale said he saw syringes and other paraphernalia as well, in addition to masks and an electronic dog collar, even though there was no evidence Buck had pets. During cross-examination, Darden said some of the items the officer found could have been used to smoke marijuana, not meth.
Buck was arrested in September 2019 after a man overdosed in his apartment but survived. That man, Dane Brown, is expected to testify, the Associated Press reports. Buck is facing state-level charges besides the federal ones, but the federal trial is being held first. And Moore’s mother has filed a civil lawsuit against him.
Friends and relatives of the men who died in Buck’s home spoke to reporters Tuesday. “Just getting to trial is a victory,” political strategist and Advocate contributor Jasmyne Cannick told the AP. She had long pushed for Buck’s arrest. She noted that he has already been jailed for nearly two years. “Who knows who could have died in that time,” she said.
“I wish I could wake up from a dream, and this was just a dream and Tim is still here,” added Joyce Jackson, Dean’s sister. “However, that’s just something that I’m dreaming that’s never gonna come true again. So today is a somber day, but it’s still a good day.”
Buck’s federal trial is expected to last about 10 days, with the prosecution presenting its case first and the defense following next week.