Chief Wants New Probe of Rampart

Bratton asks for an outside panel to review how the LAPD handled the scandal, fearing it could ‘bleed this department to death.’

By Scott Glover, Matt Lait and Andrew Blankstein
Times Staff Writers

February 26, 2003

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton called Tuesday for an independent “blue ribbon committee” to account for the LAPD’s handling of the Rampart corruption scandal, saying that efforts to do so by department officials have been “totally inadequate.”

In calling for the formation of the panel, Bratton told members of the city’s civilian Police Commission that the Rampart scandal still hangs over the Los Angeles Police Department and that if it isn’t addressed, it has the potential to “bleed this department to death.”

“Let’s take ownership of this issue,” Bratton told commissioners during their regular weekly meeting on the first floor of police headquarters. “Let’s get it out of the way.”

Police Commission President Rick Caruso immediately embraced Bratton’s proposal.

“Let’s just do it on our own,” Caruso told fellow commissioners. “We’re the head of this department. Let’s act like the head of this department.”

The scandal broke in September 1999, after ex-officer Rafael Perez told authorities as part of a plea deal that he and other anti-gang and narcotics officers in the Rampart Division routinely planted evidence, framed suspects and covered up unjustified shootings.

Shortly after, then-Chief Bernard C. Parks promised a report that would document “the exact nature and disposition of each allegation” that surfaced in the corruption probe.

This so-called after-action report was to be a companion piece to the department’s Board of Inquiry report, which addressed the administrative and managerial failures that police officials believed contributed to misconduct in Rampart.

Parks initially said the after-action report would be presented to the public by early 2001. But as the investigation continued, the chief and other department officials stopped talking publicly about the report. In fact, members of the Los Angeles Police Commission and the LAPD’s inspector general had forgotten that such a report was promised until The Times disclosed last year that its release was long overdue.

Since then, nearly weekly, Caruso has been asking the department to produce the report.

“It’s criminal that in the past this board … has been asking for a report and we haven’t been able to get one,” Caruso said Tuesday.

Bratton said that, in its current form, the report is actually several separate draft documents, “none of which I would describe as complete or useful.”

The chief said he was proposing an outside review because the public “will not trust anything coming from the department as it relates to Rampart.”

“I’ve been to too many community meetings where Rampart keeps coming up again and again and again,” said Bratton, who inherited the scandal when he took over the department in October.

To date, Perez and eight other Rampart Division anti-gang unit officers have been criminally charged. Of those eight, four pleaded guilty or no contest to charges and three others were convicted by a jury. Those convictions were overturned by a Superior Court judge and county prosecutors have appealed that decision. One officer was acquitted of charges.

Perez and his former partner Nino Durden are serving federal prison sentences in connection with the shooting of an unarmed gang member. Three others await sentencing.

In November, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announced that more than 80 Rampart-related cases involving criminal allegations against police officers would not result in prosecutions. Cooley’s spokeswoman, Sandi Gibbons, declined comment Tuesday on whether Bratton’s lack of confidence in the LAPD’s accounting of the scandal would have any impact on prosecutors’ assessment of what occurred in Rampart .

“I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment on what is an internal matter for the LAPD,” Gibbons said.

At the LAPD, top officials have been scrambling to account for the department’s investigative efforts in Rampart, which critics have described as lacking. Some department observers have accused the LAPD of covering up and minimizing the true extent of officer misconduct.

Several months ago, then-Assistant Chief David Gascon, a top aide to Parks, acknowledged that at least three shootings that Perez alleged were covered up had not been thoroughly investigated by the LAPD’s corruption task force.

Cmdr. Daniel Koenig, who had been assigned to write the after-action report, has been warning commissioners for months that he faced a monumental task. He has acknowledged that the internal reports he has received were far from comprehensive accounts of the investigative efforts.

In addition, he said some of the internal reports he received from LAPD officials were more focused on assigning blame for problems during the investigation than on detailing what had been done.

On Tuesday, Koenig said he was not opposed to having a group of outsiders try to complete the report.

“If that’s what it’s going to take, then that’s fine,” Koenig said. “We need to move on and get some closure.”

Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles , praised Bratton’s proposal, saying it reflected “a strong commitment to reform.”

“This issue is too important to be swept under the rug,” Ripston said, adding that “the department’s credibility and prospects for regaining the community’s trust” are at stake.

Historically, the LAPD has written after-action reports following serious episodes. In recent years, for instance, such reports were produced after the 2000 Democratic National Convention and after the 1997 North Hollywood shootout with two heavily armed bank robbers.

One widely publicized after-action report followed an investigation into the taped allegations of former Det. Mark Fuhrman, who told an aspiring screenwriter tales of police brutality and discrimination. The tapes surfaced during the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Joe Gunn, executive director of the Police Commission, said the commission is expected to discuss the panel’s makeup at its meeting in two weeks.

“They will want to get someone from the outside — probably community leaders who are well respected,” Gunn said.

If the report was to come from within the Police Department, he added, “There’s always the accusation that we are white-washing it.”

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