Pubdate: Sun, 01 Oct 2000
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Author: Matt Krasnowski, Copley News Service


LOS ANGELES -- Former Los Angeles police Officer Rafael Perez has likened 
himself to a monster, admitted he was seduced by the power of the badge and 
owned up to committing atrocities while on the job.

The lawyers representing police officers whom Perez has accused of 
corruption say Perez is indeed a monster, possibly a killer and a 
pathological liar playing God with the lives of cops.

Now even prosecutors are uncertain about the man they struck a deal with 
and relied on in building criminal cases in arguably the city's worst 
police corruption scandal.

Perez's tales of unjustified shootings, drug dealing by officers and 
framing of innocent people in the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart 
area have rocked this city for a year.

But just days before the first criminal trial against police officers from 
that scandal, District Attorney Gil Garcetti said his office isn't sure if 
Perez will testify as a witness.

"We haven't made any decision yet," Garcetti said in an interview.

LAPD Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy and Officers Michael Buchanan and 
Paul Harper are set to go on trial Wednesday, based on Perez's allegations 
that they committed perjury and obstructed justice in the framing of four 

In recent days, however, it's Perez who has been under fire with revelation 
after revelation intended to bruise his already tenuous integrity.

The allegations include:

Charges by an ex-girlfriend that Perez and former LAPD partner David Mack 
- -- now in prison on a bank-robbery conviction -- killed two people at an 
apartment that officers used near the Rampart station house.

That Perez and Mack were dealing cocaine in 1992. Perez has reportedly told 
investigators that he didn't engage in illegal activity until he was at an 
anti-gang unit in Rampart. He has denied knowing of any wrongdoing by Mack.

A jailhouse informant's charge that Perez has been boasting behind bars 
that he's seeking retribution against people who have crossed him in the 
past and that he's adopting the language and bravado of a gang member while 
locked up.

That Perez failed five polygraph examinations, even though a review of the 
tests determined they were flawed.

Perez's lawyer, Winston Kevin McKesson, belittled the allegations of the 
informant and the ex-girlfriend as "fantasy" and "much to do about nothing."

Garcetti said the criminal allegations against Perez are being investigated.

"We're always reviewing Mr. Perez and we haven't made any final 
determination yet," said the district attorney, who faces a tough 
re-election fight next month.

Perez not needed

Garcetti said the case could be tried without Perez. He added he has 
publicly stated that no cases would be brought to trial if the charges 
didn't stand up without the informant's testimony.

Asked his impressions of Perez, Garcetti said: "He's a liar and a thief and 
he may be much more than that. We'll have to wait until we conclude our 
investigation and gone to trial on a few of these cases."

Some trial watchers fear that if Perez is used as a witness, it doesn't 
bode well for the rest of the investigation. The next trial could be an 
attempted murder case against a former partner of Perez.

"If the case turns on Perez and if the jury doesn't believe him, it could 
put all the Rampart prosecutions in jeopardy," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a 
law professor at the University of Southern California who is closely 
tracking the scandal. A victory, of course, would strengthen "the resolve 
to go forward."

Garcetti said that regardless of the trial's outcome, the Rampart 
investigation will continue.

"We still have 45 people reviewing these cases for potential additional 
crime charges," he said. "Whatever happens in this case is not going to 
stop us in that pursuit."

Allegations of wrongdoing at the Rampart station began after Perez was 
caught stealing eight pounds of cocaine from a police evidence locker.

In September 1999, he struck a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to the 
cocaine theft charges and promised he would tell them of corruption 
involving gang officers in the Rampart division.

Part of deal

He received a five-year prison sentence as part of the deal and could be 
out of prison in less than a year.

During his sentencing, he apologized to the city for his wrongdoing, 
acknowledged he committed "atrocities" and warned rookie officers: "Whoever 
chases monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a 
monster himself."

More than 100 criminal convictions have been tossed out in light of his 
allegations, 70 police officers have been under investigation, 20 officers 
have been either fired or forced out, and the city faces a pile of civil 
lawsuits that could cost taxpayers $125 million.

Ortiz, Liddy, Harper and Buchanan are the first police officers arrested 
and charged in the case. Their lawyers have pushed for a speedy trial.

The charges against the four men are hardly the most startling allegations 
coming from the scandal.

One allegation stems from the 1996 arrest of Raul Munoz and Cesar 
Natividad, who were charged with assaulting officers and accused of 
striking two of them with their pickup truck.

Perez has told investigators that the officers concocted a plan to make it 
appear as if they were assaulted by Munoz and Natividad.

Another case involves the alleged framing in 1996 of gang member Allan 
Lobos on a weapons charge. Perez has said the case was a frame-up and Lobos 
has reportedly told investigators that Liddy rubbed the gun against Lobos' 

In state prison

Lobos is in state prison on a murder conviction not connected to the gun case.

Lawyers for the officers have railed against the corruption charges, 
contending that Garcetti pushed forward with a weak case -- just two days 
before the statute of limitations expired on them -- to appease LAPD Chief 
Bernard Parks, who was complaining the prosecutor was dragging his feet.

Garcetti "got trapped into this," said Harland Braun, a noted defense 
lawyer who represents Buchanan. "He should have never filed these cases at 

Braun doubted that the case could be tried without Perez.

"Without Perez, nothing would make any sense," Braun said. "You have just a 
bunch of disgruntled gang members."

Lawyer Barry Levin, who represents Ortiz, said prosecutors have made a deal 
with Perez, have doggedly defended him and attacked anyone who has made 
allegations against him.

"If they found a half-eaten head in Rafael Perez's freezer, they wouldn't 
dismiss this case," Levin said.

Levin even questioned whether what has been heralded around the city as the 
"Rampart scandal" can truly be deemed a scandal.

"I say reserve judgment to see what this so-called scandal is really 
about," Levin said.

Garcetti acknowledged that the case -- like many cases against police 
officers -- won't be easy. "But it won't stop us in the future."
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