Pubdate: Thu, 16 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: James Sterngold
Bookmark: L.A. Rampart Scandal


LOS ANGELES, Nov. 15  In the first case to go to trial in a major police 
corruption scandal here, three of four officers charged with framing gang 
members and planting evidence were convicted today in State Superior Court.

The guilty verdicts, on charges that included conspiracy to obstruct 
justice and filing false police reports, were regarded as a resounding 
success for the embattled district attorney's office.

In fact, the district attorney, Gil Garcetti, was defeated last week in a 
bid for re-election in large part because of a perception that he had 
mishandled the cases.

The verdict was also a surprise since prosecutors had lost a string of 
crucial rulings that had gutted part of their case and prohibited them from 
introducing important evidence. Defense lawyers had excoriated the 
prosecutors openly  at one point, one lawyer, Harland W. Braun, called 
them "pond scum."

"If they had come back with a not guilty verdict, I would have been 
disappointed, but I would not have been shocked," Mr. Garcetti said. "We 
faced enormous obstacles both in and out of the courtroom: the police 
union, the culture of the L.A.P.D., the code of silence that is prevalent 
in the police department."

In addition, the government's informant, Rafael Perez, an admittedly 
corrupt officer whose accusations that officers routinely lied and framed 
suspects set off the scandal a year ago, was never put on the witness stand 
after a former lover first said he had killed some drug dealers, then 
recanted her stories. Mr. Perez told prosecutors that before he would 
testify, he wanted immunity for all crimes that he had committed as a 
police officer, which the government refused to do.

Several people said the verdicts appeared to demonstrate how badly the 
scandal has undermined the credibility of the Police Department. If there 
was a hint as to why the jurors brought in guilty verdicts, it was evident 
from some of their questions about the code of silence among the police 
and, specifically, about why the memories of the defendants were so much 
sharper than the recollections of the officers who testified.

"I was absolutely shocked," said Barry Levin, the lawyer for Sgt. Edward 
Ortiz, who was convicted of conspiracy and of filing a false police report. 
"The jury had to imagine a conspiracy."

Mr. Braun, who represented Officer Michael Buchanan, said he interviewed 
some jurors after the verdict and believed they had been swayed more by a 
fear that they would be criticized if they did not convict the officers 
than by the evidence.

"I think there is a new kind of juror concerned about public opinion," Mr. 
Braun said, "and that is a dangerous thing."

Both lawyers said they would ask for a new trial and, failing that, would 

"That jury believed a lifelong gang member over an officer who spent three 
years in the Marines and had a solid record on the police department," Mr. 
Levin said. "When all of a sudden your whole life accounts for nothing, 
there's no way to defend against that."

The convictions also underscored the depth of the corruption and 
mismanagement of one of the country's largest police departments. The city 
recently agreed to a humiliating federal consent decree, under which a 
Federal District Court judge will have the power to oversee changes.

In addition, a commission is scheduled to deliver on Thursday a report that 
is expected to call for stronger civilian oversight and for numerous 
changes in the way the department is managed.

The police chief, Bernard C. Parks, and his principal ally, Mayor Richard 
J. Riordan, have resisted some of the efforts, and only reluctantly agreed 
to the consent decree. Mayor Riordan offered a partisan shot in response to 
today's verdicts, repeating Chief Park's assertions that the police deserve 
credit for exposing the corruption rather than criticism for permitting 
what appears to have been a culture of corruption to flourish.

"The judgment today validates what Chief Parks and the police department 
disclosed and revealed in their own internal investigation," Mr. Riordan 
said. "They were the ones who brought these allegations to light."

Other officials said the verdicts indicated that the government had still 
not gotten to the bottom of the corruption. Mr. Garcetti said it was 
unclear how many, if any, other officers might be indicted.

Gerald Chaleff, the president of the police commission, said: "It's too 
early to tell what the real impact will be. We still have much to learn."

In today's verdicts, Sergeant Ortiz, Sgt. Brian Liddy and Officer Buchanan 
were found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice. In addition, Sergeants 
Liddy and Ortiz were convicted of filing a false report. A fourth officer, 
Paul Harper, was found not guilty on all charges.

The officers were members of the Community Resources Against Street 
Hoodlums, or Crash, unit of an inner-city police station, the Rampart 
Division. The unit was created to use aggressive tactics against street 
gangs, but Mr. Perez has told investigators that it degenerated into a law 
unto itself, which ruled the streets just west of downtown.

Mr. Perez agreed to cooperate after he was arrested on charges that he had 
stolen about $1 million in cocaine from a police locker, and he 
incriminated dozens of officers for being, as he put it, "in the loop." He 
told of how he had shot an innocent suspect, then planted a gun on him, of 
how officers stole drugs from dealers and of how they fabricated evidence 
and lied in court.

The district attorney's office has dismissed charges in about 100 criminal 
cases because of the corruption cases. The city attorney has estimated that 
the civil suits stemming from these wrongful convictions are likely to cost 
the city more than $100 million.

The recent trial focused on three instances where the police were accused 
of framing gang members.

In one instance, prosecutors said, the police planted a gun on a gang 
member and rubbed the weapon against his hands to create fingerprints and 
justify an arrest. In another instance, officers were found to have lied 
when they filed reports claiming that several gang members tried to run 
them down with a truck.

The third instance involved an officer testifying about an arrest that he 
claimed to have witnessed, but which took place when he was actually on 
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