Plea Bargain Reached in Rampart-Related Case


Former LAPD officer will be sentenced in April to a year in county jail under the deal.
By Steve Berry
Times Staff Writer

February 19, 2003

A former police officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing a false police report in connection with an assault on a gang member as part of a plea bargain marking the last Superior Court case stemming from the Los Angeles Police Department Rampart corruption scandal.

Ethan Cohan, 32, agreed to a sentence of one year in county jail in the plea deal with prosecutors.

The term is less than one-fifth of the maximum sentence of 5 1/3 years in state prison. In addition to conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing a false report, Cohan pleaded guilty to perjury for false testimony in a gang injunction. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office agreed to drop assault charges.

Cohan was accused of striking Gabriel Aguirre on March 26, 1998, when he and other officers were trying to arrest the suspect in a vacant apartment building on an assault charge. Cohan’s report stated that Aguirre began to “swing his arms and fists and kick at the officers in an attempt to escape.” It said that Aguirre was hurt when he fell down fire escape steps as he tried to flee from the officers.

Two officers testified in a preliminary hearing last year that Aguirre surrendered peacefully, and a third, Officer Camarino Mesina, said that Cohan hit Aguirre several times with either his fists or a metal flashlight.

Also admitting to participation in the beating was former LAPD Officer Rafael Perez, whose account of widespread corruption was at the heart of the Rampart scandal.

Perez, in exchange for a lighter sentence for stealing drugs from LAPD evidence lockers, in 1999 told of an out-of-control anti-gang unit in which officers beat suspects, planted drugs on them, lied in court, filed false police reports and covered up unjustified shootings. Cohan’s case is one of the incidents he exposed.

Cohan is the fifth officer to enter a plea of guilty or no contest to criminal charges in the scandal. Two of them, Perez and his former partner Nino Durden, are serving federal prison sentences for their roles in the shooting and framing of an unarmed gang member who later sued Los Angeles for $15 million.

The other two officers involved in the Aguirre incident, Shawn Gomez and Manuel Chavez, pleaded no contest in the beating.

Three other officers were convicted in 2000 in the Rampart scandal by a jury, but their convictions were later overturned by the judge in the case. An appeal of that decision is pending. A fourth officer in that trial was acquitted.

Cohan initially was charged with assault with a deadly weapon likely to cause serious injury, assault by a public official, conspiracy to obstruct justice, filing a false report and perjury by declaration. The two assault charges, each of which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, are expected to be dismissed when Cohan is sentenced. The plea arrangement also provides that he serve three years on probation. Sentencing is scheduled for April 21 before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Bob S. Bowers

Cohan’s lawyer, Bill Seki, said the former officer denies having physically assaulted Aguirre. Seki declined to comment on whether Cohan witnessed any other officers beating the suspect.

“What’s in the report isn’t the way the arrest went down. It’s not a factual or accurate account of what occurred,” said Seki, a former deputy district attorney who once worked in a unit that specialized in prosecuting police officers and other public officials. He declined to comment further.

Gomez and Chavez cooperated with prosecutors and have entered pleas of no contest: Gomez to filing a false report and Chavez to assault under color of authority. Their sentencings are pending.

During his secret debriefings with LAPD investigators, Perez admitted that he, Cohan and other officers beat Aguirre, whom they found asleep in an abandoned apartment.

“Cohan probably kicked him probably at least 20 times,” Perez said.

When a sergeant arrived on the scene, Perez said, he and the other officers told him two different stories.

“At first, we told him how it actually happened, how this guy was beat down,” Perez said. “And then, uh, we told him how we were gonna explain it.”

Cohan was fired from the LAPD in 1999 in connection with an alleged beating of another gang member. That gang member was allegedly beaten by another officer, but department officials believed that Cohan lied about his knowledge of the incident.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ronald Goudy said after court Tuesday that he had a strong case to present to a jury had there been a trial. He said he’s “always eager to go to trial,” and acknowledged that there was a possibility a jury conviction could have resulted in a longer sentence.

But, he added, “there was no guarantee.”


Times staff writers Scott Glover and Matt Lait contributed to this report.

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