Pubdate: Sun, 31 Dec 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-7679
Author: Terry McDermott, Times Staff Writer


Nicknamed 'The Preacher' For His Seriousness As A Youth, He Became A Role
Model For LAPD Colleagues. Now, As He Sits In Jail, He And Others Try To
Explain What Happened.

Whatever else he was, is, or ever will be, for most of the 10 years
Rafael Perez was in the Los Angeles Police Department he exemplified
the hard-charging ideals the LAPD promotes. He was a good cop--a very
good cop, even--who at some point became one of a certain, distinctive
other kind of cop.

Not an outlaw cop. Not at first. It started, as it usually does, more
subtly than that.

One of Perez's old bosses, talking not long ago about the secret
pleasures of a policeman's life, recalled how he and friends would
think nothing of ending a night shift at 1 a.m. in, say, Foothill
Division, far northwestern Los Angeles, then driving 50 miles to
Anaheim for a beer. They knew a tavern there that stayed open late.

"If you have a badge," he said, "you can drive real

In addition to the thrill of speeding across a sleeping landscape of
12 million people, this recollection hints at a vital aspect of life
as some cops live it. They inhabit--or think they do--a world apart
from normal men and women.

This belief is not unusual in the Los Angeles Police Department, where
insularity has been raised to a sacramental rite; it is particularly
pronounced in the department's special units, distinct segments of the
force that operate with virtual autonomy.

Cops in these units are, by definition, set apart--even from other
police. For most of his career, Perez, the man at the center of the
LAPD Rampart scandal, worked in two of these units: gang suppression
and undercover narcotics.

It is common, particularly among the hardest charging cops in these
units, to come to believe they reign over secret domains, that they
are governed by codes of behavior of their own devising, liberated
from normal life and its bothersome rules. In this shadow world, they
can come to feel like royalty, true princes of the city and masters of
all they survey.

They drive real fast.

What we know now about Rafael Perez, of course, makes breaking the
speed limit look like a missed homework assignment.

What we know, in summary, is this:

Perez has admitted to hundreds of instances of perjury, fabrication of
evidence and false arrests. He has admitted stealing drugs from police
evidence lockers and reselling them on the street. He has admitted
stealing drugs, guns and cash from gang members.

He has alleged that the Rampart Division's anti-gang CRASH unit sought
to send neighborhood gang members to prison or to have them
extradited, whether or not they actually committed crimes. He has said
he helped put hundreds of innocent men in jail--innocent, in any
event, of the crimes with which they were charged.

Included among these men was one gangster, Javier Ovando, whom Perez
said he and his partner framed for allegedly attempting to murder
them. In fact, Perez said, when they shot and paralyzed Ovando, he was
unarmed. Perez has said he routinely observed police officers beating
innocent people. Rampart CRASH became, Perez has said, a
"brotherhood," a gang in its own right.

The scandal Perez unleashed caused the temporary disbanding of all the
LAPD's anti-gang details. The scandal has so far caused more than 30
officers to be disciplined and five to be fired. Nine others resigned.
In addition to Perez, three have been convicted of crimes, based in
large part on information he provided. Those convictions have since
been reversed and the officers await a retrial.

The scope of the scandal has caused millions of dollars to be spent
investigating it. It played a key role in the U.S. Justice
Department's decision to force the LAPD to surrender its vaunted
independence to the oversight of the federal courts.

Perez has called himself a monster and warned of the dangers of the
corruption of power. Others have been harsher. He has been variously
called the worst police officer in the history of Los Angeles, lying
scum, a traitor, a career drug dealer, a gangster.

He has also, to less notice, been regarded by a few as something of a
Los Angeles Serpico, a cop dedicated to rooting out wrongdoing in a
department he loves. In return for his confession to drug thefts and
cooperation with investigators, Perez was given a five-year sentence
and immunity from other charges.

He is currently in County Jail, where he spends most of his time
locked down, alone in a cell, reading, and, when able, watching police
dramas on television. He also spends a considerable amount of time
testifying against his former fellow officers, many of whom now revile

Assuming he is not charged with new crimes (not necessarily a safe
assumption, given the zeal with which federal investigators are
pursuing allegations against him) and with time off for good behavior,
Perez will probably walk out of jail a free man early next spring.
Given the low regard in which he is held by both outlaw gangsters and
his former law enforcement peers, he presumably will resettle with his
wife and family in another city.

Wherever he goes, he will spend much of the rest of his life looking
over his shoulder. Wherever he goes, he will leave behind a criminal
justice system staggering beneath the weight of his

Perez cooperated to a limited degree in the preparation of this story,
participating in slightly more than two hours of interviews by
telephone. The interviews are his first extended public comments since
his conviction. He speaks forcefully, often eloquently, and with
remorse about what he has wrought.

Upon the insistence of his attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, he
declined to answer any questions about his own criminal activities.
His willingness to speak was often much greater than McKesson's
willingness to let him. Perez has, however, as a condition of his
sentence, spoken extensively to investigators about those activities.
Transcripts of those interrogations were also used for this story.

* * *

Well, sir, make no bones about it, what we did was wrong--planting
evidence, evidence on people, fabricating evidence, perjuring
ourselves--but our mentality was us against them.

. . . We knew that Rampart's crime rate, murder rate, was the highest
in the city. And people come, lieutenants, captains and everybody else
would come to our roll calls and say this has to end and you guys are
in charge of gangs. Do something about it. That's your

And the mentality was, it was like a war, us against them, and they
didn't play fair, and we went right along with it and didn't play
fair. If they ran from us and discarded the narcotics in the gutter,
it was no big deal to us. We'll just put dope on you. We know you had
it. . . . You run and toss a gun in the gutter or throw it behind a
tree and we can't find it, no big deal. We'll get you on our own.
Didn't matter what the crime was. We knew that you were getting away
with it, either by intimidating witnesses or one way or another.

We'd arrest them for legitimate arrests, legitimate robbery or murder.
Two, three days later, couple weeks later, they were out in the street
laughing, and we took it upon ourselves, and I think it just, it was
the way of Rampart. They were not going to get away with it. We were
going to make sure.

- --Rafael Perez, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Sept. 21, 2000

A Promising Beginning, Then Disgrace The Preacher

There was a time when people would have expected the opposite of
Rafael Perez, who as a boy was so averse to misbehavior that he
refused to ride the bus to school because kids on it acted wild.

For most of his 33 years, Perez was the antithesis of a thrill seeker.
He was born in Puerto Rico in 1967, the second of three children of
Luis and Luz Perez. Perez didn't know his father, didn't see so much
as a photograph of him until he was 30. The permanence of their
separation was assured when Luz moved to Brooklyn, taking the kids
with her. Luis stayed on the island. Rafael was 5.

The young family stayed in New York briefly before settling across the
river in Paterson, N.J., an industrial town that Perez remembers with
affection. While there, his mother attended college, graduated, taught
English as a second language, remarried and had a fourth child.

The school the Perez children attended in Paterson was run by a
no-bones-about-it disciplinarian principal named Joe Clark, who
wielded a baseball bat to enforce points of order and became famous as
the subject of the film "Lean on Me." The strictness was fine with
Perez, whose brothers and sister called him The Preacher for his sternness.

"I was very strict," Perez recalls. "I was the one that would catch my
sister or my brother cutting class, and I'd have to sit there and
explain to them why they should go to school and if they cut again I'm
gonna tell mom so they better go.

"I was protective of my sister, especially protective of her. I was
protective of my older brother because I was always worried about him
doing something that would hurt my mom. It was strange, because I was
not the older one, not the oldest in the family, but I acted like I

"By the time I was 13 I was pretty much, I considered myself like the
man of the house. I sort of had those growing spurts. I all of a
sudden grew a goatee. I was taller than my older brother, more
responsible than my older brother, or even my older cousins.

"I sort of just grew up. My mind started telling me what I wanted to
do, what I wanted my future to be like. It just didn't seem I was at
the same level as kids my age. Maybe I was a nerd. I don't know what
you want to call it. I was just a lot more responsible than the other
kids in my neighborhood."

He was also shy. He remembers losing his first girlfriend at 13
because he refused to slow-dance with her.

When Perez was about to enter high school, the family moved to
Philadelphia, specifically to North Philadelphia, one of the toughest
neighborhoods in a tough town. Paterson had been gritty. North Philly
was mean. The family stayed initially with Perez's uncle, who Perez
says was a drug dealer.

"That was my first exposure to Philadelphia, waking up one morning and
people coming up to his house picking up stuff, hanging out at each
corner," Perez says. "Quickly, I realized what was going on and I had
a real passionate disapproval of what was going on and from time to
time I'd let him know about it."

The uncle's vocation strengthened Perez's resolve to become a

"As far back as I can remember I knew I wanted to be a police officer;
I just didn't know how I was going to get there," he says. He watched
all the TV shows: "Starsky and Hutch," "T.J. Hooker," "Baretta," even
"Adam Twelve," which eerily used the exterior of Rampart Division
headquarters for the show's weekly opening shot.

Perez worked as a stock boy at a publishing company and played
baseball in high school. Otherwise, he kept to himself and bided his
time until graduation.

He knew he couldn't join a police force fresh out of high school, so
he did the next best thing. Three days after graduation, he flew off
to Marine boot camp. In the Marines, he found an organization whose
seriousness of purpose matched his own. He also found, for the first
time, the camaraderie he would come to treasure, both there and later
in the LAPD.

"The togetherness in the Marine Corps--you're on the same page. You're
on the same agenda. School was more like just a bunch of scattered
kids doing every possible thing, from smoking marijuana, drinking,
cutting class, just everything you could think of, and I wanted no
part of it," Perez says.

"In a sense, I always told myself I just grew up too quickly. . . . I
didn't see myself as a kid, you know, 14, 15, 16, running around. I
just didn't see it. I saw my future and that's what I wanted. I didn't
want to risk a chance of messing it up by hanging out with the wrong
person or just doing the wrong thing."

After boot camp, Perez was sent to the Marine barracks at Portsmouth,
N.H. Not long after he arrived, he met a young California woman who
was stationed at the nearby Air Force base.

Lorri Charles was 21, an Air Force enlisted woman fresh off a failed
romance the day she went with a friend to visit the Marine base. They
hung out in the rec room, where Lorri dodged inquiring glances from a
young Marine wearing a fierce scowl and a red jacket with his name
written in script on the front.

Perez has a coffee and cream complexion and Lorri, an L.A. native,
assumed that he, like her, was African American. What's a black man
doing with a name like Rafael. she wondered. Before he had a chance to
do anything more than sit down next to her, Lorri warned him off.

"Don't even think about it," she remembers saying.

"He had that Marine look. He had that look 24 hours a day--in uniform
or out."

Perez, now as then, is a striking figure with near matinee idol
handsomeness. He is kept from that mainly by a heavy, dark brow that
runs almost uninterrupted across the bridge of his nose. The brow can
give Perez a hard look that is difficult to differentiate from anger.
You can see, even in photographs from back then, that the look would
suit a cop well.

"I wouldn't go out with you if you were the last man on Earth," Lorri
told him. "You look too mean."

They were married six months later.

When Perez married (in his dress uniform) he was 18, afraid at first
even to tell his mother. In other ways, though, Perez was his usual,
preternaturally responsible self. He handled all the couple's finances
and knew what every dollar coming in had to do on its way out. It was
weird, Lorri said, how he knew in November how much money they had to
have for taxes in April.

She was looser, more easygoing. She relaxed him. They did everything
together, even wore matching outfits.

When Pease Air Force Base, where Lorri was stationed, was slated to be
closed, Rafael and Lorri were offered options on where they wanted to
go. To Lorri, it was an easy choice. "I wanted to go home," she says.

She took a discharge and Rafael was transferred to the Marine Corps
Air Station at Tustin in Orange County. They took an apartment in
Santa Ana. Lorri's family loved Rafael. He became the man everybody
would go to if they needed help or advice.

At one point Lorri considered enlisting in the Marines, the two of
them making it a career. Rafael, a fitness nut, trained her in
preparation for Marine boot camp. But Lorri discovered that Rafael had
cheated on her; they separated, reconciled, and separated again.

In the meantime, Perez applied and was accepted into the LAPD academy
in the class of June 1989. He finished his enlistment and went off to
become a policeman.

Lorri filed for divorce, withdrew the petition, then eventually split
without formal proceedings. They stayed in touch, even dated some.
When her sister's car was stolen, she called Rafael. He found it,
repaired damage to the dash and had it returned within a week.

"He'd drive by my mom's to make sure she was OK," Lorri says. "He'd
say, 'If you ever need anything, anything in this world, call me.' We
were his family."

Eventually, they divorced and each remarried. Lorri is now in the
process of divorcing again, in part, she says, because she constantly
compared her new husband to Rafael. He didn't measure up.

To this day, she says, "Rafael was the nicest man I ever

* * *

I've always been responsible when it came to things. I've always had
this insatiable appetite of wanting to please the ones I love. If
there was something somebody wanted. My mother, my wife or whoever. I
knew how to save. I knew how to know I'm not going to get that or I'm
not going to do that because I want to save for this. I want to save
exactly this amount.

- --Rafael Perez, interview, Dec. 18, 2000

Coming To Grips With What He Became The LAPD

The single thing that most distinguishes members of the Los Angeles
Police Department from police elsewhere is their relentless sense of
mission, an aggressive, proactive style of policing that has more in
common with military patrolling than with the archetypal big city cop
stuffed in the back booth of the corner doughnut shop.

 >From the beginning, Perez, the gung-ho Marine, lifelong would-be cop,
embraced this aggressive model.

Russ Nasby met Perez on Perez's first week out of the academy. Both
were rookie probationers in Harbor Division. Nasby wasn't long out of
the academy himself when he responded to a call for assistance. Perez
was on foot, chasing a suspect in Wilmington, and asked for backup.
Nasby responded.

Together, they chased, caught and cuffed the guy. It would be the
first of many chases.

"Ray loved it. I loved it," Nasby says.

"Look, you drive down the street, you're spit at, you're [cursed], you
get rocks thrown at you. When you finally see that kid two weeks
later, the kid who [cursed] you, a 20-year-old dealing crack to some
14-year-old, or using the 14-year-olds to distribute it, that's what
you wait for. You move in and take him. As a rookie, you look at it
as, 'I saved the day.'

"That's why Ray joined. That's why I joined," Nasby says. "I wanted to
save the world. It is also an adrenaline rush. It's dangerous. We
liked that, too, the rush. We had guys pull guns on us. It's not like
you're scared; it's like, 'OK . . . me and you.' "

Nasby and Perez hit it off. They teased each other about who caught
the most bad guys, who ran the farthest, the hardest. Perez taught
Nasby to dance. Nasby offered Perez half his apartment. They shared
the two-bedroom townhouse in Hawthorne and continued their hard
charging around the clock.

"You're 24 years old. You're single. You're living in L.A. You're
making three times as much money as you need. What are you going to be
interested in." Nasby asks. The answer is obvious: women, of whom they
met more than their fair share.

"They were wild in those days," Lorri Perez says. "They ran

When his probation was up, Perez worked patrol in Wilshire Division.
It was everything he imagined, he says, and more.

"One of the first things I learned in the academy. I forgot which
instructor told me this, but police work is a lot about acting. . . .
Even in the academy I was shy, but when it came down to going to a
radio call where it was domestic violence, a business dispute or a
family dispute, I found myself being able to stand in front of these
people explaining why they shouldn't be arguing, why they shouldn't be
fighting, how they're going to settle this dispute.

"I found myself sort of acting. I was telling people, trying to
counsel people on their relationships where I didn't really have the
experience to be able to talk about it. But I pretended like I did. I
talked to kids, tried to explain to them certain things, even though I
had no kids. . . . That acting, that command presence, is what gets
you out of your shell. You become two separate persons."

In some ways, this is true of most people. They adopt different
personas, depending on where they are, who they're with and what
they're doing. It's exaggerated with cops, because their work life is
so unlike usual life. With Perez, it seems to have been exaggerated
still more. As a cop, he even took a different name. He'd been known
to everyone his whole life as Rafael. In the LAPD, everybody called
him Ray.

Until the scandal broke and Perez became a well-known figure, few
people in the LAPD even knew Rafael Perez existed.

* * *

The simplest of things: Things that you go, "Really, that sounds too
idealistic." But it isn't. Right down from helping that lady whose
child is missing, and finding that child and bringing it back to her
and watching her expression. Watching her hug you. Right down from
saving someone, right down to all of it. It's the gratitude that you
feel. Sometimes it's a thankless job. It's not often someone's going
to come up to you and say, "Thank you so much." But it's what you feel
inside. At the end of the day, when you did something, you helped
somebody and that person walks away and that person is real happy and
you sit back and go, "Boy, that felt good. That felt really good."
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