LAPD Corruption Probe Grows to 7 Shootings, New Allegations

MATT LAIT, SCOTT GLOVER, Times Staff Writers
October 22, 1999  Los Angeles Times

In a briefing for officers, lieutenant also says a sergeant gave instructions to plant guns on suspects. Stealing drugs and using prostitutes to sell them are suspected.

The corruption probe into the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart station is significantly larger than police officials have publicly acknowledged, with investigators examining at least seven “questionable shootings.” Moreover, investigators believe that a sergeant with the station’s anti-gang unit instructed officers under his command to plant guns on unarmed suspects.
The sergeant, who has since been relieved of duty, was “quarterbacking the whole thing,” according to Lt. Dan Hoffman, a robbery-homicide supervisor in charge of investigations of officer-involved shootings.
Not only did the sergeant allegedly condone the cover-ups, Hoffman said, he also actively participated, helping to stage fictitious crime scenes such as the one at which a 19-year-old unarmed man was shot by police in October 1996. In that case, Javier Francisco Ovando was disabled, framed and falsely imprisoned.
In a briefing Thursday addressed to a group of specialized-unit LAPD officers, which The Times also attended, Hoffman–who did not know a reporter was present–said the department now believes Rampart officers stole drugs from dealers and then used street prostitutes to sell the narcotics for their own profit. He said the officers, who belonged to a so-called CRASH unit, operated like the gangs they were supposed to police.
The officers also kept an apartment near the station where they had sexual liaisons with the prostitutes, Hoffman said. Sources told The Times that some Rampart officers went to the apartment while they were on duty to have sex with their girlfriends. The girlfriend of one married officer said in an interview that she had sexual relations with the officer on several occasions at the apartment while he was on duty.
Some police sources have described the one-bedroom apartment as a “crash pad” where officers would party like college fraternity boys. The apartment, in a three-story pink stucco building, was rented by two Rampart officers who are under scrutiny in connection with the probe, sources close to the investigation said.
Many allegations involved in the scandal come from former LAPD Officer Rafael A. Perez, who is cooperating with investigators as part of a deal to cut time off his cocaine theft sentence. Perez has characterized at least two shootings as unjustified, police said.
Perez implicated himself and his former partner, Nino Durden, in the Ovando shooting. The wheelchair-bound victim has since been released from prison after serving nearly three years of a 23-year sentence. Last week, he filed a lawsuit against the city.
As Hoffman spoke to dozens of officers at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys–an unusual venue adopted because it had space available–he did not indicate whether Perez has labeled the additional shootings illegal. Rather, the lieutenant said investigators began their own review after Perez started talking. He said investigators immediately identified “five or six questionable shootings” and have since added “several more” to the list. Hoffman did not provide details about why investigators are looking at the additional shootings. Perez has alleged there were two “bad” shootings.
In part because of information provided by Perez, 13 officers have been relieved of duty. Two others at Rampart have been fired because of an alleged beating of a suspect.
According to Hoffman, more officers are expected to be caught up in the LAPD’s worst corruption scandal in decades. Perez’s former partner Durden and possibly others are expected to be charged with crimes relatively soon, Hoffman told the assembled officers.
One problem with the Ovando case, Hoffman said, is that a detective from Rampart arranged the destruction of the gun that allegedly was planted on the victim. Investigators, however, have found information logged in department computers that may help corroborate Perez’s allegation that his partner seized the gun during a gang sweep days before Ovando was shot.

Part Pep Talk, Part Warning
The meeting at which Hoffman spoke was intended to provide officers with an update on the investigation. It also was part pep talk, part warning about the pitfalls of a career in law enforcement. Dressed in a Hawaiian-style shirt, Hoffman, 48, seemed to offer fatherly advice to the officers, almost all of whom were much younger. He cautioned them about the dangers of becoming envious of the lifestyles of some of the people they police. Perez, for example, was driven by greed, living well beyond the means of an honest police officer, he said.
Hoffman said Perez and other officers blew through $21,000 in a single weekend in Las Vegas, staying in a $1,500-a-night suite and smoking $100 cigars.
Hoffman also emphasized the department’s insistence that officers “do not lie.” Especially in the administration of Chief Bernard C. Parks, Hoffman said, lying “is career suicide.” He added that, according to department regulations, lying includes failing to come forward with information about misconduct by fellow officers.
Hoffman said he had been briefed by the department’s highest levels on the criminal investigation, as well as on the department’s internal administrative probe. Based on those briefings, he sought to reassure officers that the elite anti-gang units, known as CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums), will not be abolished.
However, sources involved in the internal review said department officials are considering a number of changes in the wake of the scandal, ranging from disbanding the CRASH units to reorganizing and renaming them.
Also under consideration are plans to test officers for drug use, probe their financial records and stage “integrity stings,” sources said.
Already, one CRASH detective said, unit supervisors have to send detailed biographies of squad members for scrutiny by department officials looking for weak links.

Moving Quickly to Wrap Up Review
Top LAPD brass are moving quickly to wrap up the department-wide internal review launched in response to the scandal. It has delved into issues of management, supervision and integrity, as well as the quality of officer-involved-shooting investigations. The internal probe has involved all of the LAPD’s command staff. Most of the work by seven subcommittees has been done, but several committees have had their reports returned by Parks aides to address additional issues.
Parks said he wants the review completed by the end of the month, but some officials say it might take longer. LAPD and Police Commission officials have wanted to bring in an independent civilian member to the board of inquiry but have so far been unsuccessful. Some prominent community members have declined to participate, sources said, fearing that their input would be limited because the job is nearly done. The Police Commission’s inspector general, however, remains involved.
Perez is continuing to help detectives on the criminal aspect of the investigation. Although he was to have been sentenced today, sentencing has been put off until December while he continues detailing alleged crimes and misconduct.
The misconduct described Thursday by Hoffman meshes with statements made by Perez in a jailhouse interview with The Times last month in which he said corruption at Rampart was “a cancer . . . that has gone on a long time without being treated.”
Perez said ambitious officers join the LAPD’s anti-gang and other specialized units “trying to do the right thing, thinking they’re doing the right thing, trying to impress supervisors . . . and stopping at nothing to do that.”
A grand jury has been convened to investigate criminal wrongdoing, including the Ovando shooting and a July 1996 shooting in which one man was killed and two others were injured.
At least two officers who have been relieved of duty have been subpoenaed to testify before the panel.
Lawyers for several of the officers involved in one or both of the shootings said they view their clients as targets of the criminal inquiry.

Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times

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