Jury Hears About Staged Arrest in Rampart Suit

Jury Hears About Staged Arrest in Rampart Suit
By Andrew Blankstein
Times Staff Writer

2:37 PM PDT, May 9, 2005

A convicted former cop told jurors this afternoon how he and his partner planted an assault rifle on a gang member and shot the man, leaving him paralyzed.

The testimony came from Rafael Perez, the central figure in the Rampart corruption scandal that forced the Los Angeles Police Department under the supervision of a federal judge.

The gang member, Javier Francisco Ovando, is suing Los Angeles County for providing him with allegedly incompetent legal representation.

Ovando already has received a $15 million settlement from the city of Los Angeles. His sentence of 23 years in prison for assaulting police officers, based on false testimony from Perez and his partner, Nino Durden, was overturned in 1999.

Today, Ovando’s current lawyer, Gregory W. Moreno, sought to show that his earlier attorney, Deputy Public Defender Tamar Toister, failed to recognize inconsistencies in the testimony by Perez that he claimed should have led to the disclosure of the staged arrest.

The false testimony is reflected in a series of inconsistencies between the false testimony Perez gave at Ovando’s 1997 trial and information later uncovered as part of the Rampart corruption investigation, according to Moreno.

Virtually all other civil lawsuits stemming from the Rampart scandal were settled for a total of $70 million five years after Perez, an anti-gang officer, blew the whistle on widespread corruption and brutality.

In exchange for a five-year sentence, Perez promised to tell authorities about the Ovando case. Perez also pledged to identify other corrupt police.

In the end, he and seven other officers from the Rampart Division’s CRASH — Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums — anti-gang unit were convicted of corruption-related offenses as a result of information he brought to light. A judge overturned three of the convictions on procedural grounds.

More than 100 criminal convictions were overturned as a result of the scandal, and about 200 people sued the LAPD. More than a dozen officers left the LAPD — some were fired, others resigned amid investigations.

The Rampart debacle also set the stage for the federal government to impose a consent decree on the LAPD, requiring extensive reforms. A blue-ribbon commission headed by civil rights attorney Constance L. Rice is still studying the scandal.

The lawsuits were mostly by drug dealers, gang members and other criminals who said they had been framed, shot, beaten or otherwise mistreated by the police.

Despite the criminal backgrounds of many of the plaintiffs, city lawyers concluded when reviewing the records of the officers involved that more than three-fourths of the cases were too risky to let them proceed to trial.

In the cases that resulted in payouts, the average settlement was $400,000. For many of the plaintiffs, the newfound riches have translated into luxury automobiles, large homes and investments in the stock market.

In all, 30 people have received settlements of $500,000 or more. In many of those cases, the LAPD had exonerated some or all of the officers involved before the city attorney decided to settle.

Outside Los Angeles County Superior Court, Moreno said Toister’s biggest failure was not listening to Ovando, who told her that the gun was “a plant or a prop.”

Moreno said Toister failed to check his claim by accessing LAPD computers that would have raised suspicions by showing Perez ran a database check of that weapon.

“It’s the old smoking gun,” Moreno said. “The information was in their hands.”

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