When paramedics arrived at the 600 block of Cerritos Avenue, Steven Brown was still alive.
It was just after 7 in the morning on May 17, 2011, and the 32-year-old Brown was face-down in his own blood in an alley just a block from Long Beach's Franklin Middle School and the Museum of Latin American Art. While the ambulance raced him to the hospital in critical condition, police began an investigation that quickly led them to two suspects: Emmanuel Walker, 35, who was arrested that same day, and Norvin Dizadre, 33, arrested on May 19. When Brown died of his injuries at 5 p.m. on May 21, both men were booked for murder, robbery and kidnapping.
According to the initial press release on the crime issued by the Long Beach Police Department, Brown was an acquaintance of both Walker and Dizadre and "had been at a social event" with his attackers "prior to the assault, which occurred as a result of a dispute," the nature of which wasn't specified. However, police believed Walker and Dizadre had attacked Brown at a house "before dragging him away from the house to conceal their involvement."
At the bottom of the press release, police invited anyone with information about the assault to contact homicide investigators. The statement didn't provide any further details about the victim or the suspects, but Walker's name was familiar to several people who read it in subsequently published articles. They already knew Walker as a police informant who, in the months leading to his arrest, was busy helping police raid Long Beach medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Katherine Aldrich's 562 Collective was raided without a warrant by police on Feb. 15, 2011, a day after Walker, who'd carried a written doctor's recommendation for cannabis, had purchased marijuana there. Aldrich didn't suspect Walker was an informant until after she received a call from Dallas Alexander, operator of another club, Dank City, which police raided on March 17. That morning, Alexander was pulling up at the dispensary when he saw squad cars. He walked next door to a tire shop, whose owners told him they'd seen someone get out of a police van and enter the collective, then get back in the vehicle, just moments before the raid began. They'd captured the event on their security camera, the tape of which they showed to Alexander.
A few hours later, after the police left with a haul of confiscated cannabis and three employees in handcuffs, Alexander checked the paperwork of the last patient who gained entry and came up with a photocopy of Walker's doctor's note, which helpfully included his signature and an image of his California driver's license.
"He'd just come in and bought a gram of King Louie the XVIII, one of our most popular strains," Alexander recalls. "That's when I called everyone and said, 'Do not let this guy in; he's the snitch.'"
Like Aldrich, Alexander had the misfortune of being raided by Long Beach police because his club hadn't been a winner in the city's controversial September 2010 lottery, which promised to provide permits in return for expensive application fees. Only 18 of the 45 or so locations that won the lottery have been allowed to remain open—none has received an actual permit—while the city continues to study whether to pass a permanent ban on even those dispensaries that won the lottery (see "Collective Punishment," Feb. 2).
On March 31, 2011, Walker visited the now-shuttered Canna Collective Long Beach (CCLB). After hearing from Alexander, Josh Howard, who managed CCLB at the time, hung on the lobby wall a photocopy of Walker's doctor's note, along with "R.C.I.: DO NOT LET IN!" in bold black marker—the acronym stands for "Reliable Confidential Informant."
Unfortunately, Howard's employees failed to heed his instructions. "The girls weren't paying attention," he says. "A few days later, they just let the guy in, and that was the day CCLB got raided." Howard checked the paperwork to see if Walker had stopped by on the day of the raid. "I go look through the files," he recalls, "and yep, that's him."
Walker's next stop was the Giving Tree collective on Broadway Avenue, just east of downtown Long Beach. But he chose a week when the dispensary's computer system for verifying new patients wasn't working. Mark Rosebush, one of the shop's owners and who had already been alerted to watch out for informants, was on duty when Walker knocked on the door.
"I had a sign up saying we can't verify new patients, but he came back a second day and a third time," Rosebush says. "Finally, on the last time I refused him, he was insistent as hell." Rosebush wondered why. "There were a million weed stores in the city—it's like getting a six-pack from 7-11—so why does he want to come to my store so bad?"
The more Rosebush refused to sell any marijuana to Walker, the more insistent Walker grew, so much so that Rosebush got the distinct feeling the conversation was being recorded. He began yelling at Walker.
"You are nothing but an RCI, a fucking rat-bastard snitch," he screamed. "And I am putting your picture up here and sending it everywhere else. You are behind all this. Get your goddamn ass out of here!"
When Rosebush followed Walker out of the building, he saw several men he knew to be cops walking toward the store. Walker made a "cut" sign by running his finger along his throat. The officers stopped in their tracks. "I lifted my hands in the air—like, 'I know who you are'—and walked back down the alley."
Rosebush says he didn't think about Walker again until he saw the name in a newspaper article about Brown being murdered by two men. He's plagued by the thought that by blowing Walker's cover shortly before the crime, he perhaps played some role in Walker turning his attention from snitching on pot clubs to committing murder. He asked his ex-employee, Sergio Sandoval, to follow Walker's murder case in the courtroom.
At a pretrial hearing on Jan. 12, Sandoval met Brown's mother, Kathy Windom, and told her that one of the suspects in her son's murder case was working as a police informant, something prosecutors had never bothered to mention. Sandoval says that after he told Windom, they walked into the hallway and she confronted the prosecutor with the news. "He said, 'Yeah, everybody knows, and we're not allowed to talk about it, and at this point, I'm not going to talk about this,'" Sandoval recalls.
The Weekly could not reach Windom by press time, but in a letter she sent to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, she refers to the hearing. "It came to my attention that my son's main assailant . . . was at the time of my son's death in the employ of the Long Beach Police Department and that he was working as a Reliable Confidential Informant," she wrote. "This information was further verified by a city attorney in front of myself and three other witnesses.
"I want to believe the police department and the Long Beach City Court System is on the side of getting my son and I the justice that I am demanding, but I am finding it hard to believe that I will get Steven's life and death the proper respect he deserves if such facts are kept hidden and secret from me and our case," Windom's letter concludes.
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Neither the Los Angeles County district attorney's office nor the Long Beach Police Department would comment on Walker's status as an informant, and whether prosecutors were considering a plea bargain with him before Windom became aware of his status remains unclear. Meanwhile, the city of Long Beach continues to raid cannabis clubs that didn't win the lottery and is now also arresting patients who are captured at the clubs. The city is currently being sued by several of the collectives Walker helped to raid.
After a brief trial that received no headlines in the local press, both Walker and Dizadre were convicted of second-degree murder. Each man faces 15 years to life in prison at a May 4 sentencing hearing.
This article appeared in print as "The Snitch: Emmanuel Walker's journey from Long Beach police informant on cannabis collectives to convicted murderer."