Perez Errors Raise Questions on Credibility

By SCOTT GLOVER MATT LAIT , Times Staff Writers


The credibility of ex-officer Rafael Perez, the main informant in the Los Angeles Police Department’s corruption scandal, has been further undermined by his testimony in several internal affairs investigations in which three officers accused of crimes or misconduct were found not guilty or the charges were dropped.
“Perez has not shown himself to be a credible witness,” said Capt. Roger K. Coombs, who presided over a disciplinary hearing this week in which Perez alleged that two former partners helped him frame a suspect on drug and gun charges.
“No corroboration was given by any of the witnesses to support Perez’s version of the events,” added Coombs in a ruling exonerating Officers Doyle Stepp and Omar Veloz, two men who remain under scrutiny in connection with other alleged crimes and misconduct.
In another LAPD discipline case, Perez accused former anti-gang Officer Kulin Patel of attending an on-duty party at which officers drank alcohol. That case fell apart, Patel’s lawyer said, when he produced documents and photographs directly refuting Perez’s claim.
The recent cases raise questions about whether Perez–who is being asked to recall the details of literally hundreds of arrests, many of them years old–is making innocent mistakes or intentionally lying. The issue of his credibility is particularly critical in those cases of alleged police criminality in which investigators have not found other witnesses to corroborate Perez’s allegations.
Lawyers for officers caught up in the ongoing corruption scandal are seizing on Perez’s recent testimony as evidence that he is not a reliable witness.
But prosecutors say they believe Perez is truthful about widespread corruption in the LAPD. They say his mistakes on details are inevitable, a position echoed by his own attorney.
“All this proves is that he is human,” said Perez’s lawyer, Winston Kevin McKesson.
Within the LAPD, opinion about the onetime anti-gang officer is divided. Some investigators referred to Perez as a liar, even as they served search warrants on officers last week in an effort to build criminal cases based on Perez claims, sources said. Chief Bernard C. Parks has accused Perez of not being completely truthful about his association with another corrupt LAPD officer, David A. Mack, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for robbing a bank.
Perez, a convicted drug thief who is cooperating with authorities, has implicated dozens of LAPD officers in a host of alleged crimes and cases of misconduct. As a result of his information, more than 70 criminal convictions already have been overturned.
Whether intentional or not, Perez’s unreliable testimony in LAPD disciplinary matters could undermine his usefulness as a witness in far more serious criminal proceedings against officers.
“Certainly, any time Perez’s testimony is impeached, that’s a problem,” said one source close to the investigation.
Perez’s statements about himself further tarnish his credibility. At a recent LAPD disciplinary board, Perez testified that he has perjured himself at least 100 times in court, has written more than 100 false reports and stolen up to $80,000 from people he arrested.
Attorneys for suspended LAPD officers note that Perez has failed a polygraph test on allegations he made about corrupt officers.
Prosecutors and corruption task force detectives, however, have not given much weight to those test results, saying that they have independent corroboration supporting many of Perez’s allegations. A nationally known polygraph examiner hired by Perez’s attorney also dismissed the test, saying it was so poorly administered that the results were irrelevant.
In one of the recent cases, Veloz and Stepp were sent to appear before a so-called Board of Rights because Perez said they helped him frame a man on gun and drug charges on April 5, 1997. During the hearing, however, three civilian witnesses disputed Perez’s testimony, and said Veloz and Stepp were not involved. The board unanimously found the officers not guilty of the offense.
“I feel relieved,” Veloz said Friday about the ruling. “This guy [Perez] is a liar and a crook and he tried to put stuff on us for his plea bargain.”
Lawrence J. Hanna, Veloz’s attorney, said he plans to write a letter to the district attorney and grand jury, requesting that Perez be prosecuted for perjury.
McKesson, Perez’s attorney, said he was not surprised that LAPD captains sitting in judgment on a Board of Rights would find Perez’s testimony unbelievable:
“The fact that police officers who may not like the fact that corruption is being exposed chose to find their brother officers not guilty is irrelevant to me.”
Like Stepp and Veloz, Officer Patel says he is a victim of Perez’s erroneous recollections.
According to Perez, Patel was among at least seven on-duty uniformed officers who attended a so-called “cup party” in 1998 at the Los Angeles Police Academy.
In a Nov. 22, 1999, interview with investigators, Perez said numerous officers drank from a mug containing a mixture of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and beer as they toasted an officer who was transferring out of the anti-gang squad–a Rampart CRASH unit tradition.
Perez told investigators he remembered Patel’s being at the party, but that he was not drinking.
Based on Perez’s account, the department filed internal charges against Patel on March 8, alleging that he had failed to report misconduct that occurred at the party.
Mark MacCarley, Patel’s attorney, said the officer was ordered before a Board of Rights, the equivalent of a trial within the LAPD. But when he produced ticket stubs and photographs showing that he and his family were at Disneyland on March 11, 1998–the day in question–the proceeding was promptly canceled.
MacCarley said LAPD investigators should have been skeptical of Perez’s claim long before they saw the Disneyland tickets. He said the department’s own documents clearly show that Patel was on vacation.
“How likely is it that this officer, on his day off, would have put on his uniform to go attend a party,” MacCarley said. “It infuriates me that they filed this thing in the first place.”
MacCarley said he is confident that a far more serious allegation by Perez–that Patel shot an unarmed man and that he and other officers helped cover it up–will be similarly disproved.
“Perez has already made misrepresentations that could have cost Officer Patel his job,” he said. “These other allegations, which have resulted in intense scrutiny by the district attorney, are also false.”
McKesson said that even if Perez was mistaken about Patel’s attending the party, his testimony about the event was substantially correct.
“There was a party. There was drinking by officers who were on duty. He wasn’t making this up,” McKesson said.
In fact, sources said, numerous officers were found guilty of attending the party and drinking on duty, with some receiving 22-day unpaid suspensions as a result.
Some district attorney sources attribute the botched disciplinary proceedings more to shoddy detective work than to Perez’s testimony.
Most LAPD officers, however, were more focused on what was wrong with Perez’s testimony concerning misconduct than what was right with it.
“This just proves what we’ve maintained from the very beginning,” said Ted Hunt, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “It’s ridiculous to grant this guy the credibility he’s been granted when we know what he is: a liar-thief-dope dealer.”
* * *

Officer’s Evidence
Los Angeles Police Officer Kulin Patel was accused by ex-Officer Rafael Perez of being at a party March 11, 1998, at the Los Angeles Police Academy at which on-duty officers were drinking alcohol. The LAPD filed a departmental charge against Patel based on the allegation. The charge was dropped when Patel produced a Disneyland ticket stub and photo of himself at the theme park, shown here, from the same day as the party, according to his lawyer.

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