By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It comes as no surprise that Matthew Bogdanos, the combative prosecuting attorney in the gun and bribery trial of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, is itching to bare the controversial backgrounds of Combs and his codefendants Jamal "Shyne" Barrow and Anthony "Wolf" Jones. Jury selection in the December 27, 1999, Club New York shooting case begins on January 17. Colleagues and adversaries who are familiar with Bogdanos's litigation style say he has witnesses, rap sheets, and corroborated anecdotes of misconduct that he intends to wave in jurors' faces. Bogdanos is seeking permission from the presiding judge to introduce lyrics to some of Combs's and Barrow's gangsta rapslyrics he has hinted will give the panel insights into their violence-plagued careers. This week, theVoice, which has been investigating the careers of several gangsta rappers, delves into the tragic life of Larry "Biz" Pagett. If Pagett's story resembles anything Bogdanos has in his dossier on Combs, Barrow, and Jones, the accused celebrities may have a hard time convincing the jury not to convict them in the nightclub shooting in which three patrons were injured.
For three months last year, Larry Pagett agonized about going to prison. As the avowed Crips gang leader and aspiring rapper swaggered drunkenly one April morning into state supreme court in Brooklyn to seal a plea bargain deal for assault with a gun, he reminisced about the blustery winter night he bumped into his old dawg, Patrick Dorismond.
Pagett and Dorismond, the son of Haitian singer Andre Dorismond, became close friends in 1996 when Pagett, in his early teens, already was deeply entrenched in hardcore thug life. Pagett, now 20, was the head gangsta in G-Storm, a Flatbush-based set with strong ties to the Crips. But it was Dorismond, a burly figure nicknamed "Avalanche," who befriended Pagett after learning of Pagett's gang affiliation and his cultural roots in Belize. In the early 1980s, Dorismond was a member of the U.K. Crew, a forerunner to groups like Killa Gangsta Crips. "It was based on Crips," recalls Pagett. "It was a little set. But by the time I met Avalanche, he was already calmed down. He was into some music shit."
Dorismond was an underground hip hop deejay who coined the phrase "Haitian Hop" while playing at the Caribbean Dome in Brooklyn. "He had the whole party talking Haitian. He used to say, 'Everybody say, 'Sak pasé[What's up]?' He was like a comedian, man," says Pagett. "He used to be buggin'. We'd be chillin', we'd all be talkin', and he'd just make an outburst, say some Haitian shit that had everybody laughin'. This is the same nigga whose mother used to call him out from her window, 'Patrick!' while we hangin' an' shit."
Young wannabes like Pagett drew inspiration from movies and music videos about the Crips, Bloods, and other gangs in cities like Chicago.
As they talked that night last February, Dorismond told Pagett he no longer hung out in the streets. "I'm turnin' ma life around," he said in a sleepy ebonicized drawl. "I work now. I got ma own crib, and me and ma girl about to git married. I got ma li'l seed, ma li'l daughter." Dorismond was 26 and working as a security guard with the Times Square Business Improvement District. Pagett wanted Dorismond to know that he too was at the crossroads in his life and was trying to make it as a hip hop artist. Pagett bragged about his rap group Brooknam Dodgermade up of "Me, dat Biz Loc, ma man Omega, ma man Relapse, and ma man Flatbush"which was shooting a music video for their first single, "Brooklyn," in which Pagett goes off "on some gangsta shit."
Then Pagett told Dorismond he'd done something really criminala stickupbut that he'd fessed up and cut a deal with the Brooklyn D.A. to keep from doing 15-to-life. His surrender and sentencing was set for April. Pagett asked the Haitian immigrant what he should do. "He was mad at me 'cause I was gonna turn myself in," Pagett remembers. "He wanted me to run. He begged me to go to L.A. or somethin'." It was the last time Pagett saw Dorismond.
On the night of March 16, during a break in the filming of the "Brooklyn" video, someone told Pagett, "Avalanche got kilt; the police kilt him." Dorismond had been fatally shot during a scuffle with an undercover police officer as he left a nightclub in Times Square. The officer had approached Dorismond as part of a drug sting and asked if he would sell him marijuana. Dorismond rebuffed him, a struggle ensued, backup officers arrived, and one officer's gun went off, killing Dorismond. It was the fourth shooting of an unarmed black civilian by undercover officers in the city in 13 months, and it occurred only a few weeks after an Albany jury acquitted four white undercover officers in the shooting of Amadou Diallo, who died in a hail of 41 bullets. There is a bitter irony to the shooting that haunts Pagett. He remembers Dorismond saying shortly after Diallo had died, "You don't wanna catch 41."
Today Pagett imagines himself being stopped by a cop. Although the hypothetical scenario is about the wrong the officer has done to him, Pagett's true fantasy is about him avenging "da murdah" of Patrick Dorismond. "Man, if I got a gun on me and police confront me, I'd just let off, man," he says. "It goes like this: You get searched, police pull their gun, you back up and touch 'em and suddenly it's justifiable homicide. You know what I mean? You had a gun on you and you reached for it. But you really didn't have no gun. I would run and make sure I can get it off on you or somethin'. I'm sayin' that it's either kill or be killed on the streetsto hell with them dudes."
Pagett's anxiety builds when the sentencing is delayed for another four hours. "Oh, Lord," he sighs. He'd stayed up the night before reshooting some scenes for "Brooklyn," and gotten bombed on Hennessy cognac, his favorite liquor high, as the hour of his surrender drew closer. "I was just drinkin'," he says slouching on a bench outside of the courtroom. "I think that's what got me here right now. I drank some this morning, too. I'm just tryin' to enjoy what's left of the freedom I agreed to give up. Shit, I did the crime."
Larry Pagett's crime started out as a robbery around 2:30 a.m. on May 22, 1999, outside of the Trinity nightclub at the corner of Clarkson and New York avenues in Flatbush. According to court papers, Pagett pounced on Ravon Andrew and Gary James. The gangsta rapper stuck a .357 Magnum in James's back and announced, "Give me your shit!" He then yanked a $700 gold chain from James's neck and began to run.
"I didn't know who it was, whose chain I took," Pagett recalled in a handwritten statement he would later give to detectives from the 67th Precinct station house. "I didn't know that I knew the guy and the guy knew me. When I was running and they were chasing me, is when I realized I knew the guy, and I threw back the chain. I was drunk and was bugging out and thought they were coming to kill me. Everything was like one big rush because I drank a whole big thing of Hennessy. I didn't have the gun that long, maybe only a week. I really don't want to say where I got it. I didn't know someone got shot. I didn't really bust shots to hit anyone. I was really only busting shots in the air to scare the people who were chasing me. I knew they knew me because just before I bust the shots I heard them calling me. They were calling, 'Biz! Biz!' They were people I used to hang with back in the days."
One of two rounds Pagett had fired hit bystander Jorge Cuebas in an arm. Pagett ditched the gun as he fled. He was arrested shortly after at the corner of Linden Boulevard and New York Avenue. A grand jury indicted Pagett on several charges, including attempted murder, robbery, grand larceny, criminal possession of a weapon, assault, reckless endangerment, menacing, petty larceny, and criminal possession of stolen property. "Right now, I'm about to go do five years, nigga," says Pagett resignedly, referring to the sweetheart deal that former Abner Louima attorney Carl W. Thomas had negotiated for him. "I feel messed up, just wanna git it over with so I can get back in the world an' git ma money, man."
The gangsta world lured Larry Pagett when he was only 12 and was bouncing back and forth between his mother, who lived in New York City, and his father, who resided in Los Angeles. In L.A., Pagett lived in South Central, which was known as America's gangsta capital. Home was a single-family house at the corner of West 81st Street and Normandie Avenue in a depressed working-class area under the control of the Crips gang. The 'hood erupted almost daily in turf wars triggered by druglords in the rival Bloods gang, who are as numerous as the Crips, but more powerful and more central to L.A.'s soaring crime problem. Young wannabes like Pagett drew inspiration from movies and music videos about the Crips, Bloods, and other gangs in cities like Chicago. "I was livin' with ma pops, ma cousins, ma uncles and aunts," he says fondly. "Ma whole family Crip'. All ma li'l cousins Crip'. All ma big cousins Crip'."
But a desperate Myrna Pagett, an immigrant from Belize, wanted to keep her son away from the Cripsthe people who'd brainwashed him into thinking that they were his true blood, his real "family." When Pagett turned 13 in 1991, she snatched him from his South Central "family" and brought him back to live with her in Flatbush. Pagett landed in the midst of an immigrant middle-class neighborhood that was going through its own changes, nurtured by social conditions and police indifference. In Flatbush, youngsters like Pagett were even more dazzled by jewelry, cars, and fat cat crack dealers. At the time Pagett returned to Brooklyn, the Crips and Bloods were still an L.A. phenomenon. Then some Bloods sets began forming inside the Rikers Island jail system. In Flatbush, Pagett was disturbed by media reports of Crips and Bloods engaged in drug enterprises and other criminal alliances. "In New York, I'd heard about Bloods and Crips hangin' with each other, but it ain't supposed to be like that, it should be like when [the rivalry] first jumped off." Pagett, who vowed to show these amateurs "what gangsta is about," became a Crips pioneer of sorts in Brooklyn. (Some of Pagett's "family" from Belize already had established Crips affiliated gangs like Harlem Mafia and Roaming '30s in Harlem.) He went into Brownsville and recruited some street toughs who later took on monikers such as Pana Loc, Excite Bike, Frenzy, Nut Loc, Franzy Face Loc, and Burger. They called themselves Eight Deuce Tray, but as the gang began to expand they became known as G-Storm, then Eight Tray Killa Gangsta Crips, and later as Killa Gangsta Crips. "It was only right," Pagett says. "Ya couldn't just come and do what the Bloods do. We showed them what it is."
The Killa Gangsta Crips claimed most of Brownsville and parts of Flatbush as their territory, on which no Bloods ventured. Pagett, who says he has a nose for Bloods, smelled one in a youngster who called himself Bishop after the serial killer character played by Tupac Shakur in the movie Juice. "He thought he was Tupac," says Pagett. "He looked like Tupac, rhyme like Tupac when he rappin'. Everything he write sounds like Tupac. I found out he used to come through our 'hood on some Juice shit." In late December 1998, Bishop rolled into the Vandeveer housing development, a Crips-controlled zone, wearing red, his gang color. Pagett wasn't, as he put it, "feelin' " this intrusion and confronted Bishop. "What up? What's going on?" he asked the stranger. "You Blood. I'm Crip. What up? You can't be Blood. This ma 'hood. You can't be all that."
"Nah, I ain't," Bishop said, hurriedly, adding that he had left the Bloods and was now "a God-body." According to Pagett, "I let him slide 'cause he denied his colors." As they talked, Bishop told Pagett he had just gotten out of jail and knew Pagett's cousin Loco, a Killa Gangsta Crip. "Him and ma cousin was into robbin'," Pagett claims. Pagett broke his Crips oath about associating with Bloods and hooked up with Bishop. Since Pagett "had the block" he would "hit Bishop off with a little product so he could get some money." But Bishop, Pagett claims, began to blow his own cocaine, and one day the two gangstas argued: It was "this nigga talkin' Crip', and this nigga talkin' Blood'."
In July 1999, Bishop brought the serial-killer character into reality. "He just stepped out on some Tupac shit, just like in the movie, and just killed ma cousin and went down the next block and killed the next dude. Two people in one night. Twenty minutes apart. He imitated Tupac. The Tupac thing, tryin' to make a statement." After the shooting and his arrest, Bishop in an alleged confession, told police, "Yo, man, Biz wanna kill me. That's why I did it."
During one of his courtroom appearances for a hearing on the robbery outside of the Trinity nightclub, Pagett saw Bishop as he was led in handcuffs before the same judge. "I was about to lose it in there," Pagett recalls. "Now, he sending messages to me saying ma cuz was his boy. He didn't mean to do it."
Larry Pagett sat up and declared that if only Loco had his attitude about assuming responsibility for one's criminal behavior, perhaps he would be alive today. He had told his cousin that if an old-school rapper like Slick Rick could do time in prison, then come out and turn his life around, so could he. According to Pagett, Loco, who "owed the system three years" on a gun conviction, planned to jump bail and return to his native Belize. "He said he was going to leave 'cause he didn't have nothin' to look forward to," Pagett says. "He wasn't gonna turn himself in like me."