Tracknum: 18297.000701c04b17.2c6ac660.4bc5290c
Pubdate: Fri, 10 Nov 2000
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2000 The New York Times Company
Contact:  229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036
Fax: (212) 556-3622
Author: Barbara Whitaker
Bookmark: L.A. Rampart Scandal


LOS ANGELES, Nov. 9 - On Wednesday, Gil Garcetti conceded defeat in 
his race for a third term as Los Angeles County district attorney. 
The same day, a jury here began deliberating the fate of the first 
four officers to be tried in Los Angeles's worst police corruption 
scandal in decades.

The scandal was the latest shadow cast on Mr. Garcetti's office in 
his eight-year tenure. Mr. Garcetti was known for his accessibility 
to the news media, but the attention he received was not always 

The failure of his office to gain convictions against four white 
officers who were videotaped beating Rodney G. King, a black 
motorist, led to riots in which more than 50 people were killed and 
property damage totaled nearly $1 billion.

The monthslong televised prosecution of O. J. Simpson in the murder 
of his former wife and a friend gripped the nation but raised 
questions about the competence of Mr. Garcetti's deputies and their 
oversight of the Los Angeles police. Mr. Simpson's acquittal in 1995 
was a major embarrassment. Mr. Garcetti was almost defeated four 
years ago after the Simpson trial.

But the current corruption scandal involving Los Angeles police 
officers in the department's Rampart Division may have been the final 
blow to Mr. Garcetti's standing. He was defeated on Tuesday by a 
longtime assistant district attorney, Steve Cooley, who won 64 
percent of the vote.

"I think it's a referendum on the criminal justice system in Los 
Angeles," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a University of Southern California 
law professor. "I think Garcetti got blamed for many things that 
weren't his fault and some things that were his fault."

Specifically, Mr. Chemerinsky said he thought Mr. Garcetti's office 
could have done more to detect what was happening in the Rampart 
Division. But, he added, the blame seemed to go well beyond that.

"I think the single most important factor was people thought Garcetti 
had eight high-profile years and he hadn't improved the criminal 
justice system in Los Angeles," Mr. Chemerinsky said.

Efforts to reach Mr. Garcetti by telephone were unsuccessful.

Mr. Cooley said he challenged Mr. Garcetti after becoming 
disenchanted with what he saw as the disintegration of the district 
attorney's office.

"Rampart has been the issue in the campaign and is clearly going to 
be a focus of what I do when I'm empowered to do it," Mr. Cooley said 
in a telephone interview today as he began a three-day vacation.

Officers from Rampart have been accused of framing witnesses, working 
with drug dealers, beating suspects and even murder.

Mr. Cooley, 53, has been critical of the prosecutors' agreement to 
give immunity to Officer Rafael Perez in exchange for his testimony 
against fellow officers. Since the deal, Mr. Perez has come under 
increased scrutiny after accusations by a former lover that he 
participated in the killing of a drug dealer.

Mr. Cooley called the agreement "the worst of the century" and said 
he would examine it to see whether it could be voided if Mr. Perez 
violated its terms.

Mr. Perez, who worked in an elite gang-prevention unit in Rampart, 
one of the city's roughest neighborhoods, began cooperating with the 
police after he was caught stealing about $1 million worth of cocaine 
confiscated as evidence.

"I and others within the office will be reviewing it, its components, 
to see whether he's actually fulfilled his end of the bargain," Mr. 
Cooley said. "I want to take a real hard look at that."

Mr. Cooley, who had been head of the district attorney's San Fernando 
Valley and Antelope Valley offices, said that his support for Mr. 
Garcetti's opponent four years ago resulted in his being sent to the 
much smaller welfare fraud division. But during his tenure there he 
elevated the position by going after major welfare fraud.

In addition, to his criticism of Mr. Garcetti for the handling of the 
Rampart case, Mr. Cooley was critical of Mr. Garcetti's strict 
interpretation of the three-strikes law and has promised a more 
flexible approach to sentencing people convicted of nonviolent, 
nonserious third felonies.

"We are not going to be putting someone in prison for 25 to life for 
stealing food," he said, an apparent reference to a case where a man 
received the maximum sentence under three strikes for stealing a 
piece of pizza.

Mr. Cooley said he would move immediately after taking office Dec. 4 
to open cases to defense lawyers where police misconduct may have 
resulted in people being wrongfully convicted. He has also promised 
changes to prevent a recurrence.

More than 100 cases have been thrown out and 20 officers have left 
active duty as a result of the continuing investigation. It is 
estimated that legal settlements in those cases may exceed $100 

"We're going to put the tainted cases behind us in 60 days," he said.