Pubdate: Wed, 30 Aug 2000
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2000, The Tribune Co.
Section: Front Page
Author: Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times
Bookmark: MAP's link to California articles is:


LOS ANGELES - A federal judge has ruled 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 creates the possibility that the Los Angeles Police Department
could be the first in the nation to face trial under federal racketeering
laws, created to deal with drug bosses and organized crime figures.

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

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 Attorney 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.

Under the RICO statute, racketeering is defined as a criminal enterprise
that affects interstate commerce and uses illegal means to further its

Originally enacted as a tool in the government's war against organized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. 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.
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MAP posted-by: Eric Ernst