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 Website: http://www.nytimes.com/ Forum: http://forums.nytimes.com/comment/ Author: Barbara Whitaker Bookmark: L.A. Rampart Scandal http://www.mapinc.org/rampart.htm ROCKY TENURE ENDS FOR LOS ANGELES PROSECUTOR 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 favorable. 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 million. "We're going to put the tainted cases behind us in 60 days," he said.