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A former Cal State Northridge official was gunned down at L.A. Live. Two have been arrested

LOS ANGELES, CA- MARCH 28: Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon announced charges against two suspects in the shooting death of Sidney Morris at an L.A. Live restaurant on November 28, 2023. Phillip Pasco Clark, 33, of Los Angeles and Santana Jermaine Kelly, 50, of Palmdale each face one count of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit a crime. Kelly also faces one felony count of arson of property of another. Photographed at the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles, CA on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. Dist. Atty. George Gascón announces charges against two suspects in the Nov. 28 shooting death of Sidney Morris at an L.A. Live restaurant. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Two people now face murder charges in a 2023 killing inside a restaurant in the heart of the downtown L.A. Live complex.

Investigators believe Phillip Pasco Clark, 33, was the man who stormed into Fixins Soul Kitchen at Figueroa Street and Olympic Boulevard last November and gunned down Sidney Barrett Morris, 43, while he ate dinner. Morris was an educator and nephew of a Motown singer.

Clark "walked straight up to Mr. Morris and shot him in the back of the head," Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said during a Thursday morning news conference.

Clark and 50-year-old Santana Kelly, who police say helped plot the killing, were arrested last week and charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder, authorities said. Both pleaded not guilty in a brief court appearance Tuesday, and it was not immediately clear who their attorneys were.

Authorities declined Thursday to discuss a motive in the shooting or describe what, if any, relationship Morris had to the defendants.

The brash November shooting was the first homicide recorded at L.A. Live, the sprawling downtown arts and entertainment complex that houses nightclubs, concert venues, restaurants and the Crypto.com Arena, where the Lakers, Clippers and Kings play home games. The hub opened to the public in 2007.

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Police said a masked man, whom they have since identified as Clark, stormed into Fixins at 6:15 p.m. on Nov. 28. The popular eatery — which specializes in Southern food and serves generous portions of fried chicken and gumbo — is owned by Kevin Johnson, an All-Star guard for the Phoenix Suns and former mayor of Sacramento.

Morris was shot three times and was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later, according to an autopsy report. A second victim was also struck, but police said she only suffered a graze wound.

Clark fled in a vehicle driven by an unknown third party, authorities said. Kelly burned that vehicle in Lancaster the next day, according to a criminal complaint.

Eight days earlier, prosecutors said, Kelly surveilled Morris at his "place of business" at the 1100 block of South Hope Street in downtown L.A., the complaint said. That is the address of a loft building, but the document doesn't say what Morris was employed doing there. Prosecutors said Kelly also aided in the murder by providing Clark with the getaway car, a white Ford Escape, and two hats to obscure the shooter and driver, the complaint said.

Kelly was arrested in Palmdale on Friday, and Clark was captured in South L.A., according to Capt. Scot Williams, head of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division. Williams would not say how the defendants knew one another other than they were "acquaintances." Both are documented gang members, according to Williams, but he would not say what gang sets they belonged to.

Clark previously pleaded guilty to illegal firearms possession in 2020 and was placed on probation for two years, according to court records. He also had prior convictions for robbery and burglary, according to the complaint.

Kelly had previously been convicted of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in Orange County in 1991, according to the complaint. Kelly was arrested in 2020 on suspicion of possession of narcotics with intent to sell, but the case was dismissed due to the lack of a speedy trial. He was also charged with robbery, assault and evading police in 2001 but the case was dismissed when a judge reversed a decision to hold him for trial after a preliminary hearing.

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It was not clear whether a weapon had been recovered in the November shooting. Both defendants are due back in court on April 25.

Morris had worked in higher education for the better part of two decades; his last post was coordinator of equity and diversity for Cal State Northridge. Gascón said Morris was studying to become a lawyer at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, at the time of the shooting.

He was hired at Cal State Northridge in 2019, after leaving the same position at UNLV. Originally from L.A. but born in Michigan, Morris was the nephew of Motown singer Barrett Strong, who penned a number of beloved soul tracks, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," according to an article published on Cal State Northridge's website.

Times staff writers Colleen Shalby and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.