L.A. Police Scandal 4 Go on Trial for Faking Cases

L.A. Police Scandal 4 Go on Trial for Faking Cases
Posted by FoM on October 13, 2000 at 21:35:28 PT
By William Booth, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post
The first trial against police accused of operating as rogue enforcers began today as prosecutors described how four members of the Los Angeles Police Department's elite anti-gang squad allegedly planted evidence, faked confrontations and repeatedly lied to send innocent men to prison.The officers' defense attorneys countered that their clients were good cops and innocent of the charges, and that their main accuser, a disgraced former officer convicted as a thief, is "the very face of evil."
The high-profile trial is the first criminal case to be heard resulting from the ever-widening investigation of allegations that dozens of officers at the LAPD's Rampart Division, in an impoverished neighborhood near downtown filled with new immigrants, operated outside the law.The scandal has led to the overturning of more than 100 convictions and the investigation of more than 70 officers. It has tarnished the LAPD and the city's civilian leadership and forced the nation's second-largest police department to agree to federal oversight of day-to-day operations. But it has not produced anything like the public interest and outrage of the Rodney G. King beating and its aftermath.At the very core of the scandal and the trial that started downtown in the same courthouse where O.J. Simpson was tried for murder and acquitted are accusations by former LAPD officer Rafael Perez.After Perez was arrested and charged with stealing $1 million in cocaine from a police evidence locker, he made a deal with prosecutors. And so began the worst scandal in LAPD history.In exchange for a reduced sentence, Perez offered a trove of sensational charges about how he and other officers in the anti-gang squad routinely planted guns and drugs on suspects, lied in their reports and before judges and juries, and pursued with zeal their squad's commitment to "intimidate those who intimidate others"  the gang members who were terrorizing the Rampart neighborhood in the mid-1990s.Perez, who is serving a five-year sentence in the comfort of a special cell in the county jail, should be a central witness in the trial against officers Michael Buchanan, Brian Liddy, Paul Harper and Edward Ortiz. All four remain on the LAPD force, though they have been suspended without pay awaiting the result of this trial and other administrative proceedings.But now it appears uncertain whether Perez will testify. FBI agents are now investigating charges by Perez's former girlfriend that Perez killed a mother and her son  and possibly a third person  in a drug deal gone bad and buried their bodies in a dump south of the border in Tijuana. Federal officials traveled to Mexico last week to search for bodies.It seems hard to imagine how prosecutors will make their case against the four LAPD officers without Perez on the witness stand. The officers are charged with conspiracy to obstruct or pervert justice, specifically filing false police reports and committing perjury. If convicted, they could face four years in prison."These four men took the law into their own hands," deputy district attorney Laura Laesecke told jurors today in opening arguments. "This is not a trial about the LAPD," the prosecutor said. "This is also not a trial about Rafael Perez."But to the defense, the trial is only about Perez and a district attorney and his prosecutors who the defense described to jurors as overzealous, naive and taken in by a cunning, glib, handsome and smooth Perez.The four officers are charged with participating in what Perez and the prosecutors described as dirty arrests. Indeed, Perez himself has estimated that as many as three of every four arrests he made while in the anti-gang unit were dirty.The first in this case was the arrest of Alan Lobos, an alleged member of the 18th Street gang. According to the officers on trial, Lobos was at a gang gathering in April 1996 when police came upon the scene. Lobos was said by the defendants to be carrying a gun. But prosecutors maintain they are lying and that the gun was planted on Lobos. "Not a single witness saw this," prosecutor Laesecke said. Lobos pleaded guilty anyway, she said, reasoning that police would be more believable than a gang member. Rafael Perez was one of the officers who recovered the allegedly planted gun.But according to defense attorney Barry Levin, the reason no one witnessed Lobos first carrying and then appearing to hide the gun was that no other officers beside the defendants were at the scene."The only person making the accusation is former LAPD officer Rafael Perez," Levin told jurors. "Without his lies, there is no case. If you have a reasonable doubt about Rafael Perez, you must acquit."Levin and the other defense attorneys hammered away on Perez, pointing out that he had failed four polygraph tests.Other witnesses, however, may testify they did not see Lobos with a weapon. But at least some of those witnesses will be friends and members of the gang, witnesses that are often deemed highly suspect by Los Angeles juries.A second alleged dirty arrest was one in which two officers charged another two gang members, in this case members of the Temple Street posse, with attempted assault against a police officer with a deadly weapon for trying to run them down with a pickup truck.Again, the prosecutors said the charged officers are lying.However, defense attorneys showed the jurors a photograph of one of the officers with scraped knees and a sprained ankle on a hospital gurney after the incident.Defense attorney Harland W. Braun accused the district attorney's office of a "textbook case of prosecutorial incompetence." He said the prosecutors, in their zeal, had made a "deal with the devil" in their dealings with Perez.As for the final alleged dirty arrest, it is against Braun's client, Officer Buchanan, who prosecutors charge did not witness an arrest as he claimed because he was on vacation. Braun counters that Buchanan was at work and that it was a bureaucratic snafu. "This is all they have?" he asked. "This entire case is a crime by Rafael Perez."If prosecutors fail to make their cases against these four officers, which are believed to be their strongest, it may be doubtful that any other LAPD officers face criminal charges.The LAPD and the city, however, are almost certainly headed toward civil court, to defend themselves against a string of civil rights violation lawsuits that could expose Los Angeles taxpayers to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.LAPD Corruption Report Online:The LAPD's Board of Inquiry, which investigated charges of police corruption, has posted its full report on the web. Washington Post (DC) Author: William Booth, Washington Post Staff WriterPublished: Saturday , October 14, 2000 ; Page A03 Contact: letterstoed washpost.comAddress: 1150 15th Street NorthwestWashington, DC 20071 2000 The Washington Post Company Website: Related Articles:LAPD Sued By Whistle-Blowers Let's Go To Trial - L.A. Rampart Scandal - L.A. Rampart Scandal 
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