First Arrests of Officers Expected in Rampart Probe
Corruption: Two sergeants are among those to be taken into custody and charged in the alleged planting of a gun to frame a suspect, sources say.
By SCOTT GLOVER and MATT LAIT, Times Staff Writers
April 24, 2000
In the first prosecutions arising from the ongoing Los Angeles Police Department corruption scandal, the district attorney today will file criminal charges against two sergeants and an officer, according to high-ranking law enforcement sources.
Arrest warrants will be sought for Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy and Officer Paul Harper for their roles in the arrest of an 18th Street gang member, who allegedly was framed on a weapons charge in April 1996, sources said.
According to one source, district attorney’s officials do not plan to give the three an opportunity to surrender themselves to authorities today.
“They’re going to be arrested,” the source said. “They’re not part of the brotherhood, they’re not part of any fraternity. They’re going to be arrested like anybody else.”
Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti is expected to hold a press conference today to discuss the developments, which mark a significant milestone in the city’s worst-ever police corruption scandal.
The charges against the trio, who already had been relieved of duty, are being filed just two days before the statute of limitations on their alleged crimes expires. In a race to beat that legal deadline, prosecutors over the past couple of weeks have summoned at least 10 officers before the county grand jury to testify about their knowledge of the arrest.
Ortiz, 43, Liddy, 38, and Harper, 33, are expected to face charges that include perjury, falsifying an arrest report and conspiracy, sources said. In addition to the pending charges, which involve the alleged planting of a gun, prosecutors are continuing to investigate other allegations against the three and many of their colleagues as part of a probe into what they believe was a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy within the LAPD.
None of the officers facing charges could be reached for comment.
According to investigative documents obtained by The Times, the officers are implicated in a number of cases involving alleged police criminality and misconduct. Over the past several months, prosecutors have successfully moved to overturn criminal convictions against three defendants who were arrested by either Liddy, Harper or both. Ortiz also has been implicated in a number of alleged crimes, including the cover-up of reportedly unjustified shootings. An LAPD official once characterized him as “quarterbacking” the cleanup of an improper shooting by officers in his charge.
Liddy, who was a Rampart Division officer at the time of the 1996 arrest, is also under scrutiny for his role as a detective in a pending murder case in the San Fernando Valley. He has been accused of fabricating evidence in that case.
Today’s expected criminal charges stem from the April 26, 1996, arrest of Allan Lobos. Lobos was at an outdoor party being thrown by members of the 18th Street gang, according to police documents.
As police arrived at the scene, according to Liddy’s report, several of the party-goers fled, including a man wearing a black shirt with the number 13 on it.
Liddy wrote in his report that he shined his flashlight on the man in the jersey as the man ran through a parking lot, and that he watched the man draw a black semiautomatic pistol from his waistband. Liddy said the man crouched between two cars and placed the gun in the left front wheel well of a blue 1981 Honda Civic.
After police detained the man, Lobos, Liddy said, he directed anti-gang CRASH Officer Rafael Perez to recover the weapon, documents show.
But Perez, who is now cooperating with authorities to reduce his prison sentence for stealing eight pounds of cocaine from LAPD evidence facilities, has since told investigators on the department’s corruption task force that Lobos was framed.
Perez denied that Liddy directed him to the hidden weapon. Rather, he said, it was pointed out by a patrol officer who discovered it during a search of the area.
During an Oct. 15, 1999, interview, LAPD Sgt. John Cook asked Perez whether Liddy might have seen Lobos hide the weapon and then told the patrol officer where to recover it.
“If this was true . . . the first thing Officer Liddy would have done, is to go check that tire. Or, like he says in this report, tell me to go check that tire,” Perez responded.
But, Perez said, several suspects, including Lobos, were held in custody for “some time” as officers searched the area, even tearing apart audio speakers at the party site in search of weapons or drugs.
Suspect Pleaded Guilty
Perez said that once he gave the gun to Liddy he did not learn what was written in the report until he saw it years later, after he became a witness in the corruption probe.
“I gave him the gun, and whatever he wrote later was fine. . . . It was his call. It was his caper. And he just did whatever–what he wanted,” Perez told investigators.
Lobos pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a gun and was sentenced to a year in county jail and three years’ probation. But his conviction is among the 67 that have been overturned as part of the expanding corruption scandal. Currently, Lobos is serving time in prison on a murder conviction.
In court documents asking a judge to throw the case out, Deputy Dist. Atty. Laura Laesecke wrote, “After a thorough investigation, the district attorney’s office no longer has confidence in the evidence supporting this conviction.”
According to the court papers, Lobos was interviewed by LAPD task force investigators Lance Smith and Joel Justice on Dec. 15, 1999. Lobos confirmed that he was at the gang party on the night of his arrest, but disputed the remainder of the police account.
He said he was held at gunpoint by Liddy and Harper in the parking lot as he watched another officer recover a weapon from underneath a parked car. Lobos said he was taken to the Rampart station and vigorously questioned about who owned the gun, according to court documents.
When Lobos could not provide an answer, the documents state, “Liddy told him that he was going to jail for the gun and rubbed it up against Lobos’ fingers.”
Laesecke, sources said, is also in charge of prosecuting Liddy and Harper. The sources said she is armed with more than just the statements of Perez and Lobos.
The sources noted that there were a number of civilian and police officer witnesses at the scene, and that there were detailed communications between officers on the ground and an LAPD helicopter hovering overhead, which have been preserved on audiotape.
Prosecutors have painstakingly analyzed that tape and others, breaking them down minute by minute to create a timeline for the night of Lobos’ arrest.
That timeline, one source said, “contradicts much of what was written” in Liddy’s report.
Sources familiar with the prosecution’s strategy in the Rampart probe said the filing against Liddy and Harper may be followed by a much bigger case.
The source said prosecutors are “working on a large-scale case that tells the entire story of Rampart . . . but that’s something that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Although witnesses have been called before the grand jury to testify about the Lobos case, prosecutors have chosen to file a criminal complaint, rather than seek a grand jury indictment.
That decision was made to avoid any complications stemming from an ongoing legal challenge to the grand jury over its lack of Latino members. A successful challenge could undermine any indictment handed up from the grand jury, exposing prosecutors to the possibility that the statutory deadline on the alleged crimes would have elapsed.
By filing a criminal complaint, prosecutors would have to present their evidence against the officers in a preliminary hearing.
To date, at least 67 felony cases have been thrown out of court as a result of alleged police misconduct.
At least 30 LAPD officers, including three sergeants, have been either relieved of duty, suspended, quit or been fired in the wake of the probe. At least 70 officers are under investigation for committing crimes, misconduct or helping to cover up such activities.
Tags: 18th Street gang, Allan Lobos, brian liddy, Edward Ortiz, Paul Harper