Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Author: Henry Weinstein, Times Legal Affairs Writer
Bookmark: additional articles on the LAPD Rampart corruption scandal are 
available at


Scandal: LAPD Can Be Sued As A Criminal Enterprise, He Rules. The Decision 
Could Triple The City's Financial Liability For Mistreatment Of Citizens, 
Experts Say.

A federal judge ruled Monday that the Los Angeles Police Department can be 
sued as a racketeering enterprise by people who claim their civil rights 
were violated by Rampart Division officers.

The ruling, which legal experts called unprecedented, also opened the door 
to an injunction that would forbid officers from engaging in evidence 
planting and perjury.

The ruling creates the possibility that the Los Angeles Police Department 
could be the first in the nation to face trial under federal racketeering 
laws. It also could dramatically increase the city's liability, previously 
estimated in the range of about $100 million, in the worst police 
corruption scandal in Los Angeles history.

"This means a quantum change in the damage potential," said Santa Monica 
attorney Brian C. Lysaght, who is co-counsel for 15 people who have filed 
Rampart-related lawsuits. He referred to the fact that under the federal 
RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, triple damages 
can be awarded.

His jubilant co-counsel, Stephen Yagman of Venice, proclaimed: "This makes 
it possible that we can demonstrate what I have always claimed: The LAPD is 
a criminal enterprise. I think we can prove that beyond a reasonable doubt."

In another blow to the Police Department, U.S. District Judge William J. 
Rea on Monday rebuffed the city's attempt to throw out a major part of the 
case--the plaintiff's request for an injunction that would forbid officers 
from engaging in evidence planting and perjury. If such an injunction were 
issued, it would place the department under ongoing scrutiny by the judge.

Chief Assistant City Atty. Thomas C. Hokinson said the office was 
disappointed and surprised at the ruling by Rea, a veteran judge appointed 
by President Reagan. Hokinson also said he thought the city ultimately 
would prevail in the case.

David Kalish, chief spokesman for the LAPD, said he had no immediate 
comment because he had not been briefed on the ruling.

Under the RICO statute, racketeering is defined as a criminal enterprise 
that affects interstate commerce and uses illegal means to further its 
ends. Originally enacted as a tool in the government's war against 
organized crime, the law has been used against a variety of other 
wrongdoers over the past two decades.

Lysaght, Yagman and USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky said they were 
unaware of any situation where a police department had been brought to 
trial as a defendant under the RICO law.

Rea's decision came in a case filed on behalf of Louie Guerrero, 36. His 
suit alleges that while walking on a Los Angeles street in November 1997, 
he was grabbed by Rampart officers.

Guerrero asserts that the officers choked, kicked and punched him and then 
arrested him on phony charges. After being released from prison, Guerrero 
sued the city for alleged civil rights and racketeering violations.

Lawyers for the city attorney's office, defending the department, had 
sought to get Guerrero's case dismissed on several grounds. They asked the 
judge to dismiss the RICO claim on the grounds that Guerrero had no 
standing to bring such a claim.

Guerrero sued on behalf of himself and other individuals similarly 
situated. There has been no ruling yet on whether the case will be granted 
class action status, but Yagman predicted that it would be.

The city attorneys also tried to get the case thrown out on the ground that 
a one-year statute of limitations had passed.

And they contended that to bring a civil rights case, Guerrero had to have 
a ruling from a state court throwing out his criminal conviction. So far, 
about 100 convictions have been overturned as a result of the Rampart 
scandal. But Guerrero's is not among them.

Yagman said that Guerrero served his time before the scandal broke and that 
the district attorney's office had not acted to have the conviction voided. 
Yagman said the fact that Rea ruled against the city on this point was 
particularly significant because it expanded the number of people who could 
become plaintiffs in a class action case against the city.

Under the RICO law, the statute of limitations extends back 10 years, 
considerably longer than the one governing civil rights violations.

In addition to money damages, the lawsuit asks that a sweeping injunction 
be granted against Rampart officers barring them from committing a variety 
of illegal acts. Rea on Monday rejected the city's motion to throw out that 

Consequently, Lysaght said that later this week he and Yagman would go into 
court and ask Rea to grant a preliminary injunction barring the police from 
"continuing the pattern of violations alleged in our lawsuit."

The lawsuit alleges that CRASH officers at Rampart planted false evidence, 
gave perjured testimony, improperly used officials of the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service in making arrests and physically assaulted people 

To date, five officers have been arrested and criminally charged in 
connection with the Rampart scandal. More than a dozen face internal 
charges of misconduct. About 70 officers remain under investigation for a 
variety of alleged crimes and misconduct. Additionally, several officers 
have resigned as a result of allegations leveled by former LAPD Officer 
Rafael Perez, the informant at the center of the scandal.

Rea's ruling comes as city officials negotiate with U.S. Justice Department 
officials, who are contemplating a massive suit against the LAPD alleging 
that the department has engaged in a "pattern or practice" of civil rights 
violations. The Times reported earlier this month that the city's 
negotiating team is deeply divided on its strategy.

On Monday night, Lysaght said the City Attorney's office had rebuffed all 
his entreaties to resolve the Rampart cases in a mass settlement--a move he 
said would save time and money and bring some closure to the matter.

"Up to now, at least the litigating arm of the city attorney's office has 
had their heads in the sand. I think this will be a wake-up call."
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