Pubdate: Tue, 26 Dec 2000
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Related: L.A. Rampart Scandal


One Concedes, 'we Were A Bit Confused'

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Some members of the jury that convicted three Los 
Angeles police officers in the Rampart corruption trial said they believe 
the judge was right to overturn the convictions.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor reversed the Nov. 15 
convictions because she decided jurors discussed the wrong issue and failed 
to decide a key question -- whether two officers were struck by a vehicle 
driven by a gang member.

Instead of discussing whether the accident occurred, Connor said, the 
jurors focused on whether any of the injuries rose to the level of "great 
bodily injury." That issue was never mentioned at trial.

"We were a bit confused," juror Lucy M. Leon told the Los Angeles Times. "I 
know I was."

Although most jurors believed the officers were not struck by the truck, 
some of the panelists thought they had been hit, according to interviews 
and affidavits reviewed by the Times.

Some jurors said the majority persuaded them to convict the officers by 
arguing that even if the officers had been hit, they falsely claimed on a 
police report that they had suffered "great bodily injury." Instead, they 
sustained only minor injuries.

In a sworn declaration solicited by the defense, juror Jack Wilkins said he 
believed the officers were innocent after listening to the testimony. 
However, he said he was persuaded to find them guilty of conspiracy to 
obstruct justice, filing a false police report and perjury because he 
believed they had not suffered great bodily injury.

Referring to an abbreviation that appeared in the police report, he wrote: 
"The GBI was the reason I voted guilty."

In another sworn statement, juror Ingrid Utke said: "The issue we discussed 
was not whether the officers were actually hit by the vehicle, but rather 
whether or not the degree of injury sustained by the officers constituted 
great bodily injury."

In overturning the convictions of Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy and 
Officer Michael Buchanan, Connor wrote that she reviewed declarations that 
a defense investigator had gathered from five jurors and that she had 
telephone contact with a sixth. She said all six were "basically consistent."

A fourth officer was acquitted in the same case, the first trial stemming 
from the department's ongoing corruption scandal.

Over a period of several years in the mid-to late 1990s, anti-gang officers 
in the department's Rampart division are alleged to have planted evidence, 
falsified reports, lied under oath and in some cases shot innocent suspects.

More than 100 cases have been thrown out as a result.

Connor's ruling upset some jurors.

"Why call the jury in there in the first place?" said Albert M. Mesa. "Why 
even have us there?"

Jury foreman Victor Flores also was critical.

"We had decided as jurors that the accident never happened," he told the 
Times. "So, therefore, 'great bodily injury' was really irrelevant."

In a sworn statement, Flores conceded the panel discussed the degree of 
injuries the officers sustained. In an interview, however, he said they 
relied heavily on a videotape shot from a helicopter for a live-action 
television show when determining that the officers were not struck.

He said careful study of the video convinced him and other jurors that the 
accident could not have happened the way officers said it did.
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