When New York prison inmate Dexter Isaac came forward last week as the person who shot Tupac Shakur non-fatally during a 1994 mugging, most news readers probably got a momentary shock, then a tinge of nostalgia when they realized the story wasn't about Shakur's murder two years later, then moved on to the next item. But not former Los Angeles Times reporter Chuck Philips. The story of Shakur's shooting has haunted Philips for years, ever since the Times retracted a 2008 whodonit piece he wrote on the incident when FBI documents he used as a source turned out to be fake. Isaac was a source for Philips in his 1994 story, and now that he has come clean about his role in the Tupac shooting, Philips, a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative reporter who hasn't been able to find work since he left the Times, wants the paper to apologize to him and run a retraction of the retraction on its front page. "Same size, same place," he told the L.A. Weekly.
Philips had done a series of stories on the killings of Shakur and Chris "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, mostly based on anonymous sources. He wanted to write the story on the 1994 shooting the same way. But according to L.A. Weekly, he says his editors had different ideas once they got ahold of the FBI documents, which were attached to a federal court case. The papers corroborated what his sources had said, "that the attack was masterminded by rap impresario James Rosemond, known as Jimmy Henchman, because Shakur wouldn’t take Rosemond on as manager." About a week after the story ran, The Smoking Gun revealed that the documents were faked by con-man James Sabatino, who it said, "has long sought to insinuate himself, after the fact, in a series of important hip-hop events, from Shakur's shooting to the murder of The Notorious B.I.G. In fact, however, Sabatino was little more than a rap devotee." The forgeries fooled both Philips and his editors, according to L.A. Weekly.
Philips says his editors at the Times, who also were fooled by the documents, had insisted that he include the FBI papers in his story as a powerful backup to his findings. Those findings were based on interviews with four unnamed sources he said were involved in, or knew about, the attack on Shakur.
Now, Philips sees the chance to clear his name, but the Times has been reticent to comment, or even report extensively on the latest development in the story. As L.A. Weekly points out, the Times only covered Isaac's recent admission "dismissively the next day with short wire stories." So far, neither Rosemond nor Isaac has been charged with orchestrating the attack on Shakur, which would greatly help Philips' case with the Times. And they might not be for a while yet. Rosemond was arrested yesterday on federal drug charges and it's unclear when, or if, authorities will get around to prosecuting him for the 17-year-old mugging.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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