SEATTLE — Two years after a hip-hop video was shot in southeast Seattle, sparking a gang feud that resulted in the killing of a 21-year-old up-and-coming hip-hop artist, King County prosecutors on Thursday charged three men with first-degree murder.
The motive, prosecutors say, appears to be over turf — and fury that the video was shot where it was. That fury is believed to have spurred a wave of violence beyond the December 2019 fatal shooting of James Richardson, the rising musician who went by the name Tanaa Money.
A few months before he was killed in a highway drive-by, Richardson shot a hip-hop video in territory associated with the Holly Park street gang, igniting an ongoing rivalry between Holly Park and Richardson’s gangs, say the charges.
The three men charged with murder are accused of stalking Richardson from a Georgetown fast-food restaurant to a nearby strip club, then driving alongside his car and opening fire from their vehicle, causing Richardson to crash on southbound Highway 509, just north of the South Cloverdale Street exit, charging papers say.
Richardson was shot once in the left cheek on Dec. 29, 2019, and died the next day at Harborview Medical Center.
Charged with murder are Ali Sharif, also spelled Shariff, 19, of Renton; Emilio Pay-Pay, 21; and Aden Mohamed, 26, both of Seattle. Bail was set at $2 million for each of them. Mohamed was also charged Thursday with first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Court records do not yet indicate which attorneys are representing them in the murder case.
“This was not a road rage or a shooting that occurred in the middle of a heated argument. The defendant and his accomplices methodically followed the victim until they created an opportunity to gun him down,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Berliner wrote in charging papers. “ … All three defendants engaged in extremely dangerous and lethal behavior that further enflamed a dispute that apparently erupted over the filming of a video.”
Pay-Pay, the alleged driver of the vehicle, has been in custody at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent since May 2020, charged with four counts of first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, jail and court records show.
Sharif, who was 17 at the time of Richardson’s killing and was automatically charged as an adult, was arrested Wednesday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as he returned from a trip to Dubai, charging papers say.
Mohamed does not appear to be in custody. He and Sharif are accused of firing a combined 13 rounds from two .40-caliber handguns, say the charges.
In addition to the round that struck Richardson in the face, investigators with the Washington State Patrol found at least two bullet strikes to his gray Dodge Durango, according to charging documents.
The three suspects are members or associates of the Holly Park street gang while Richardson was a member of Down With The Crew, a longtime Rainier Valley street gang, and a gang/rap group called Grimey Gangsta Gorillaz, say the charges.
Holly Park is the name of a former housing development in southeast Seattle that was bulldozed beginning in the late 1990s and replaced with a development known as New Holly.
“It is suspected that this conflict has resulted in numerous shootings and murders, both before and after the murder of Mr. Richardson,” a State Patrol detective noted in the charges, which don’t indicate which homicides are believed to be connected to the gang feud.
Video-surveillance footage, cellphone data and information from social media accounts led detectives to determine that several members of the Holly Park gang had rented a motel room in the 5400 block of First Avenue South on the day of Richardson’s shooting, say the charges. At 8:30 p.m., Richardson was seen in the drive-thru lane of a Jack in the Box restaurant about five blocks south of the motel when a silver sedan — later identified as Pay-Pay’s Chevrolet Impala — pulled into the parking lot.
The Impala followed Richardson’s Durango to Kittens Cabaret on Fourth Avenue South, where Richardson dropped off food for his girlfriend, and continued to follow him as he drove on South Michigan Street, say the charges.
About a minute later, video-surveillance cameras captured Richardson’s Durango headed south on Highway 509 and the suspect vehicle was seen driving at high speed with no headlights on and pulling alongside his vehicle, according to the charges. Several gunshots can be heard in the footage as the suspect vehicle passed Richardson.
During the investigation, detectives learned the suspect vehicle headed from the shooting scene to a car wash in Lakewood, where video footage showed Pay-Pay spent 20 minutes washing his car while two others stood by, say the charges.
The people in the car wash video were wearing clothing consistent with clothes Sharif and Mohamed were seen wearing earlier in the day, including footage of Mohamed pointing a handgun at a camera timestamped two hours before Richardson was shot, according to the charges.