Pubdate: Wed, 04 Oct 2000
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2000 San Jose Mercury News
Contact:  750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190
Fax: (408) 271-3792


Defense Says Accuser's Credibility Is On Trial In Tainted Cases

LOS ANGELES -- The police department scandal that has tormented Los Angeles 
for a year bursts into the open this week with the trial of four police 
officers whose freedom hinges on the credibility of their accuser, 
disgraced officer Rafael Perez.

Perez, who bought leniency for himself by informing on others, has opened a 
floodgate on cases that had to be dismissed because he said officers had 
lied, planted evidence, shot suspects, committed perjury and filed false 

So far, approximately 100 cases have been thrown out. But few charges have 
been filed against any officers.

Whether there will be more cases and whether they can be won depends on the 
case, which begins today with jury questionnaires being distributed.

Four officers -- Edward Ortiz, Brian Liddy, Paul Harper and Michael 
Buchanan -- were accused by Perez of planting evidence, filing false 
reports and committing perjury. All say they are not guilty, and their 
lawyers portray Perez as a liar whose credibility will be destroyed upon 

``This case has always been about Perez. It's Perez on trial,'' said 
defense attorney Harland Braun, who represents Buchanan.

The Rampart scandal takes its name from the inner-city police station where 
an elite squad of officers known as the CRASH unit operated in a 
gang-infested neighborhood.

``We were out there fighting a war,'' Perez has said. ``We felt that in our 
own way we saved lives.''

But they also allegedly broke laws and violated the rights of many they 
arrested. Perez said 75 percent of their cases were tainted by misconduct. 
One man, Javier Ovando, was left a paraplegic in a police shooting that 
Perez suggested was ``a mistake.'' Another officer has been charged with 
attempted murder in that case.

Perez said the officers of the CRASH unit had their own tattoos and their 
own slogan: ``We intimidate those who intimidate others.''

Perez, who was caught stealing cocaine from an evidence locker, agreed to 
inform on others after his first trial ended in a deadlock. Since then, 
stories have flooded the city about the misconduct of police, and the 
district attorney has dismissed case after case largely on the basis of 
Perez's information about tainted police work.

The city expects up to 275 lawsuits as a result of the burgeoning scandal, 
and the verdict in this week's trial could determine the course other cases 

``This is a key test for the prosecution and for Perez,'' said Laurie 
Levenson, a Loyola University Law School professor. ``If the prosecutors 
can't win this one . . . you probably won't see many other cases against 
police officers in Rampart.''

District Attorney Gil Garcetti, while declining to discuss specifics of the 
case or Perez's credibility, said the prosecution sees the case as a tough 
challenge because of its subject matter.

He said his office would not be going forward if it did not have 
substantial evidence to corroborate Perez.
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