By Van Smith
Published in City Paper, Dec. 24, 2008
Ronnie Thomas, also known as “Skinny Suge” and “Suga da Pimp,” is a tenacious media hound. He made a name for himself with the 2005 release of his video, Stop Fucking Snitching Vol. 1, a rambling, low-budget documentary that opened a frenzied national discussion on street-level abhorrence for police cooperators.
Now Suge’s in the Supermax prison, serving time for a 2007 assault conviction and awaiting trial on federal gang-related conspiracy charges. But according to federal court documents, that didn’t stop him from shouting out to friends and fans over a contraband cell phone taken from his prison cell on Nov. 24. The documents, which include the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls and text messages contained in the phone, indicate that authorities learned of the phone through an informant’s tip.
Many of the text messages transcribed in the court records are Thanksgiving greetings (“Happy Turkey Day!”) or about routine matters (“Do u still got tarsha number from the salon?” and “What’s up mike got locked up this morning.”), but others are just plain cryptic–apparently, even to Suge. “SO U PLAYING GAME WITH ME BITCH,” reads one, sent to Suge in the early morning hours of Nov. 24. “What u talking bout,” Suge texts back.
The same question could be asked when reading this message, sent by Suge (pictured, in a scene from the movie) to a WERQ radio deejay: “BIG L, Real words from da ckitys realest negro, Smash &ckrip r somegood lil negros an im definitely bhind dem boyz wishin dem nothing but da best! Let dem ckats know, on my word da whole Bgang is Bhind dem! GET MONEY PIMPIN-DA BIG HOMMIE, SUGA DA PIMP E.A.”
The deejay, Big L, explains the communiqué this way: “Suge texted me a message and asked me to play a song or give him a shout-out while I was on the air,” he says during a Dec. 10 interview with City Paper. “There was a local rap group on the air with us, Smash ‘n’ Crip, and he just was listening and wanted to let them know they sound good. To hear him say something like that is a plus for them,” Big L says of the rap group–which, he adds in reference to the word “Crip” in the group’s name, “has no gang affiliation.”
Suge, Big L says, “is an old friend of mine from growing up in the neighborhood. He was a good guy, despite the things he might have done wrong. He always showed me respect, like I shown him.”
Suge’s lawyer, Michael Montemarano, says he is aware that a phone was seized from his client’s prison cell, but explains that “I can neither confirm nor deny that he had the cell phone.” Montemarano also says that, “to the extent that it would be true” that Suge had a cell phone in prison, “it would be troubling,” because “how could he have gotten the phone without the help of someone in a blue suit?”–referring to uniformed correctional officers.
“Cell phones are not allowed in prison,” says Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli, “and they are a major problem that we have been trying to address.” Neither Vernarelli nor U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Marcia Murphy had anything further to add about the incident.