Deputies arrested five associates of Tha Row Records on Thursday morning and seized several items from the label's Beverly Hills headquarters in a massive raid of 16 locations, including homes owned or previously owned by label founder Marion "Suge" Knight.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department charged three men, including one man detained at Tha Row's offices, with conspiracy to commit murder.
The charges stem from investigations into the gang-related slaying in April of Tha Row employee Alton McDonald and the alleged revenge slaying in June of Eric Daniels. McDonald, who was in Las Vegas with Knight when rapper Tupac Shakur was killed, was gunned down while pumping gas in Compton.
Officials said the arrests were not tied to the murders of Shakur and Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace. "This is strictly a gang-related murder investigation," Captain Pete Amico, commander of the sheriff's anti-gang unit, said Thursday evening.
Although deputies raided several of Knight's current and previous residences, the sheriff's department said he is not a suspect.
The raids, which began at 5 a.m., took place in Las Vegas and the California cities of Paramount, Compton, Linwood, Long Beach, Malibu, North Hollywood and Lakewood.
The men charged with conspiracy to commit murder are 25-year-old Michael Leroy Payne, 37-year-old Kordell Dupree Knox and 29-year-old Theodore Peter Kelly. Deputy Darren Harris said they have been booked without bail. Knox is a former sheriff's deputy who was fired November 1 because of his suspected involvement in an assault with a deadly weapon.
Daryl Small, 32, who was also arrested at Tha Row's offices, was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, while another man, 35-year-old Deshone Lacey, was charged with cultivation of marijuana. Bail for the marijuana charges was set at $10,000.
The sheriff's department was aided in the raids by special weapons teams, homicide investigators and police in each of the cities. About 60 officers took part in the raid of Tha Row, which temporarily shut down Wilshire Boulevard and attracted a media blitz.
Deputies loaded computers and dozens of boxes from the offices into pickup trucks. Harris would not say what items were seized but said they're on a warrant issued by Judge John J. Cheroske of Compton Superior Court. No weapons were seized, he added. Seventeen warrants were issued, but one was not served for reasons Harris could not confirm.
Knight's lawyer, Arthur Barens, called the raids "totally inappropriate."
"We are disappointed that law enforcement has proceeded in such a heavy-handed nature, for instance by breaking in the doors of our office building, which was totally unnecessary," Barens said. "They simply could have waited until the office opened at 8 o'clock instead of breaking in at 6 o'clock and causing thousands of dollars of property damage to the building. They went to Suge's house, his wife is full-term pregnant and delivering a child in 10 days. They handcuffed his wife, made her wait outdoors at 6:30 in the morning in the cold. They found nothing, either in the office building or at the house."
Knight was released from prison in August 2001 after serving five years for violating probation by fighting at a Las Vegas hotel (see "Suge Knight Speaks Upon Leaving Prison For Death Row"). The September 1996 scuffle in the MGM Grand casino occurred just hours before Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting as he rode in Knight's car.
[This story was updated on 11.14.02 at 10:33 p.m. ET.]