Pubdate: Thu, 16 Nov 2000
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000 The Toronto Star
Contact:  One Yonge St., Toronto ON, M5E 1E6
Fax: (416) 869-4322

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- Three Los Angeles police officers were found 
guilty yesterday of obstructing justice in the first trial arising from the 
worst police corruption scandal in the city's history.

The jury deliberated for three and a half days after the four-week trial.

The trial revealed the inner workings of a special anti-gang police unit at 
the "Rampart Division" near downtown Los Angeles. The unit's members have 
been accused of shooting, beating or framing hundreds of innocent people, 
mostly immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Three officers, who vehemently denied the charges, were found guilty of 
obstructing justice and filing false reports in the 1996 arrests of two 
Latino gang members. A fourth officer on trial with them was acquitted of 
all charges. A date for sentencing was not immediately set.

The trial was the first of many stemming from a scandal that has seen some 
100 criminal convictions overturned and dozens of officers placed under 

But it went ahead without the testimony of rogue police officer Rafael 
Perez, the man who sparked the scandal when he turned informant after being 
caught stealing cocaine with a street value of about $1.6 million from a 
police evidence locker.

The scandal has forced the City of Los Angeles to agree to have an outsider 
appointed by the federal Department of Justice oversee broad reforms in the 
America's second-largest police force.

The three convicted officers -- Sergeants Brian Liddy and Edward Ortiz and 
Officer Michael Buchanan -- sat impassively as the verdicts were read.

But Ortiz told reporters afterwards he was disappointed at the outcome. ``I 
still believe to this day that we're innocent and that we did our job to 
keep the citizens of L.A., keep the streets, safe from all the gangs and 
the crime that's going out there,'' said Ortiz.

Ortiz's lawyer, Barry Levin, vowed to appeal, saying the jury ''went into 
this trial believing that Rampart officers were corrupt.''

Perez did not give evidence because of a bizarre sub-plot involving his 
former lover Sonia Flores.

Just before the trial started, she alleged that Perez had murdered three 
people and buried their bodies on the Mexican border.

Last week, with the jury already out, she admitted having made up the 
allegations because she was bitter about being jilted by Perez.

Ortiz, Liddy and Buchanan were accused of fabricating or supporting a claim 
that Liddy was hurt when a pick-up truck carrying two Latino gang members 
struck him in an alley during a July, 1996, police raid.

The two gang members were charged with assault using a deadly weapon.

But the three were cleared of further charges that they planted a gun on 
another gang member during an April, 1996, arrest.

The prosecution at the trial was put in the unusual position of asking the 
jury to believe the evidence of gang members over the denials of the 
accused police officers.
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