Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jul 2000
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Copyright: 2000 Pulitzer Publishing Co.
Author: Linda Deutsch, The Associated Press


LOS ANGELES - In the most serious case to arise so far in a widening
police scandal, an officer was arrested yesterday and charged with
attempted murder in the shooting of a gang member left paralyzed.

Officer Nino Durden, whose former partner is at the center of the
corruption probe, was also charged with robbing a suspected drug
dealer at gunpoint, filing false police reports and committing perjury.

"I think this is probably the most serious case that we can prove at
this time," said District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who earlier charged
four other officers with crimes stemming from the investigation of a
gang unit at the Police Department's Rampart station.

Durden, who was arrested at his home, is a former partner of disgraced
ex-officer Rafael Perez, who ignited the scandal last year when he
told investigators he and other officers beat, framed and robbed
people in rough neighborhoods west of downtown.

Perez began talking to detectives in exchange for a lenient sentence
after he pleaded guilty to stealing more than 8 pounds of cocaine from
an evidence room.

Lawyers for accused officers have attacked Perez's testimony as

"We've always known that any case based on the testimony of Officer
Perez would be very difficult to sustain in front of a jury. You must
have corroboration," Garcetti said. He said prosecutors wouldn't have
charged Durden without corroboration.

Durden, 32, has hired a veteran police defense lawyer, Darryl Mounger,
who says his client is innocent and has denounced Perez as a liar.

Prosecutors charged Durden with attempting to murder Javier Francisco
Ovando, a 22-year-old gang member who was left paralyzed. In the
original police report, Durden and Perez accused Ovando of pulling a
gun on them. Perez later said that didn't happen.

Ovando was convicted of assault and sentenced to 23 years in state
prison. As a result of Perez's disclosures, he was released after
serving three years.

In an interview of Perez by prosecutors that was obtained by the Los
Angeles Times, Perez said he never saw Ovando with a gun and that
Durden quickly left the shooting scene and returned with a sawed-off
rifle that he dropped next to Ovando.

Perez said he recognized the weapon as one the officers seized
previously when an informant told them where it was, and that Durden
filed off its serial numbers after they ran them through a police computer.

Durden was also charged with assault with a semiautomatic firearm on
Ovando and filing a false report about the Oct. 12, 1996, shooting.

Ovando's attorney, Gregory Moreno, said it was one of the most
significant days in the probe of Rampart's Community Resources Against
Street Hoodlums unit - known as CRASH.

Moreno said he hoped Durden's arrest would trigger charges against

"There were CRASH supervisors at the scene who have to have had
knowledge," he said.

Asked how much his client remembers of the shooting, Moreno said, "Mr.
Ovando lost part of his brain. He has some ability to recall." But the
lawyer said Ovando does not remember everything.

The six-count complaint also charged Durden with second-degree robbery
of a person identified as Grace Cox. Durden allegedly stole jewelry
and money from Cox, who the officers suspected of being a drug dealer,
on Aug. 15, 1997.
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