Pubdate: Tue, 01 Aug 2000
Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Fresno Bee
Author: Linda Deutsch, AP Special Correspondent


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A policeman pleaded innocent Monday to attempted murder 
and four other officers were arraigned on conspiracy charges stemming from 
a probe of alleged corruption in an anti-gang unit at the Police 
Department's Rampart station.

Officer Nino Durden, 32, stood with his head down and hands cuffed in a 
county jail jumpsuit before Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler as his 
lawyer entered the plea on his behalf in the 1996 shooting of Javier 
Ovando, 23, who is paralyzed.

The judge, citing the seriousness of the charges, rejected a defense bid to 
lower Durden's $680,000 bail.

In a separate action, a Los Angeles Police Department tribunal recommended 
the firing of another officer connected to the scandal, Humberto Tovar. 
Chief Bernard Parks, who has the final say, is expected to follow the 
recommendation, the Los Angeles Times reported in Tuesday's editions.

At Tovar's disciplinary hearing, his former partner, disgraced ex-officer 
Rafael Perez, accused him of helping to frame Toby Semick, a suspected gang 
member, on drug charges during a 1996 arrest.

Capt. Ron Seban, who chaired the board that recommended dismissal, said 
members found Tovar's testimony less credible than that of Perez, who began 
cooperating with investigators in exchange for leniency after he pleaded 
guilty to stealing cocaine from an evidence room.

For example, Tovar said he failed to call for backup during Semick's arrest 
because he was "confused and couldn't get to the radio." Seban said Perez's 
explanation -- that the Rampart station's anti-gang unit avoided backup 
calls for fear of having their criminal conduct discovered -- was "much 
more plausible."

"The reality is that I am not guilty of any of the things I was accused of 
doing in this case," Tovar told the panel before his proposed penalty was 
announced. "Rafael Perez feels like the Los Angeles Police Department 
ruined his life of crime, and now he is trying to ruin the Los Angeles 
Police Department."

Meanwhile, in Superior Court, four other officers charged as a result of 
Perez's allegations were arraigned on unrelated charges of conspiring to 
frame reputed gang members.

After their arraignment, which took place minutes before Durden entered his 
innocent plea, the judge scheduled their trial to begin Sept. 27. They had 
waived their right to a preliminary hearing in order to get a speedy trial 

Durden and the other four officers, Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy and 
Officers Paul Harper and Michael Buchanan, have been suspended without pay.

At Durden's hearing, defense attorney Bill Seki argued that the officer 
should be given lower bail because he is not a flight risk. He said Durden 
has been under investigation in the Rampart case for nearly a year and has 
not attempted to leave the jurisdiction.

"If he was a flight risk, he would have taken off long ago," said Seki. 
"But he's here to answer the charges against him."

Deputy District Attorney Anne Ingalls said the $680,000 bail was 
appropriate for the charges involved.

The judge ordered a bail review for Durden and said he would hold another 
hearing on the issue Thursday. A preliminary hearing for Durden was set for 
Aug. 16.

Outside court, Durden's defense team denounced Perez, saying he shifted his 
own blame to Durden and others.

"This is called survival for Perez. He has said things under oath we know 
are not true," said attorney Darryl Mounger. "He's a very evil man."

Perez has told investigators he and other officers beat, framed and robbed 
people in the Rampart area west of downtown.

Durden had negotiated a surrender agreement with police and was driving to 
his lawyer's office to turn himself in Friday when officers pulled him over 
and, guns drawn, ordered him to the pavement, his lawyers said.
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