D.A. Says No New Charges Expected in Rampart Probe

November 8, 2001, LA Times

Police: Cooley says the final 50 cases will be closed by the end of the year. Defense attorneys criticize the decision.

BYLINE: STEVE BERRY SCOTT GLOVER, MATT LAIT, TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BODY:
Los Angeles County prosecutors plan to close their investigation of the LAPD’s Rampart scandal without bringing charges against any more officers, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Wednesday.

The final 50 Rampart-related cases will be concluded without prosecution before the end of the year, Cooley said at a news conference held to announce new procedures for dealing with police misconduct allegations.

Cooley later amplified on his remarks during an interview. “Is it closing the book? Yeah. With every book, when it’s read, you close it,” he said. The two-year Rampart scandal, in which more than a dozen officers have resigned or been fired, has involved allegations including planting drugs and weapons on suspects, beating or threatening them, and lying in court.

Even if no more LAPD officers are prosecuted by the district attorney’s office, there is still a chance that some could face federal charges. A federal law enforcement source confirmed Wednesday that the U.S. attorney’s office is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation of Rampart officers through the FBI. The source declined further comment.

Cooley’s comments sparked a negative reaction from defense attorneys who have represented clients arrested by Rampart gang detail officers who were later freed because of police misconduct.

“There is ample evidence against many, many officers,” said Gary Wigodsky, a lawyer in the alternate public defender’s office. “To not charge these officers is a moral and legal outrage.”

Assistant Public Defender Robert Kalunian said, “I’m somewhat surprised they feel they fully investigated.”

LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks described Cooley’s comments Wednesday as “very significant” because they appear to mark an end to the local investigation.

Parks said he does not foresee his office forwarding any further criminal allegations against Rampart officers to Cooley’s office. “We’ve given all of the information we can to the district attorney’s office,” he said.

The Rampart scandal erupted in September 1999 after former Los Angeles Police Officer Rafael Perez pleaded guilty to stealing cocaine from police facilities. In exchange for a five-year prison sentence, he agreed to reveal activities of corrupt officers, including himself and former partner Nino Durden. Durden pleaded guilty in April to a host of state and federal charges including the shooting and subsequent framing of an unarmed man, Javier Francisco Ovando.

Perez implicated about 70 officers in the anti-gang unit of the Rampart Division as having been involved in or knowing of crimes or misconduct.

About 100 Cases Investigated

More than a dozen LAPD officers have resigned or been fired from the department amid corruption-related charges.

Besides Durden and Perez, seven officers have been charged with crimes as a result of Perez’s allegations. Three were convicted by a jury of conspiring to obstruct justice, but their convictions were overturned by the judge in the case. That outcome has been appealed by the district attorney’s office. One officer was acquitted in that case and another officer is awaiting trial in an unrelated beating.

Two other officers have pleaded no contest in the beating case, one to a charge of assault and the other to filing a false police report.

Because of the scandal, between 100 and 150 convictions have been dismissed.

Since the scandal erupted, the district attorney’s office has evaluated about 100 Rampart-related criminal cases involving possible officer misconduct.

Cooley said Wednesday that about 50 officer-misconduct cases are still being reviewed by his office. Of those 50, he said, his office has decided that there is not enough evidence to file charges in 15 and that the remaining cases will be closed by the end of the year with no charges expected to be filed.

“We fully expect to have the Rampart matters concluded by the end of the year,” he said. “We do not expect any more criminal filings of any officer relevant to the Rampart investigation.”

Cooley’s office denied a request by The Times for the written “rejects” of potential criminal cases involving Rampart Division officers. Those documents, which are public records, would provide the names of the officers involved, summaries of the case, and the prosecutors’ rationales for not filing charges.

Some Cases Still Awaiting Review

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the request was being denied because final rejections had not been issued in the cases.

Gibbons said the cases still need to be reviewed by Assistant Dist. Atty. Peter Bozanich, who will make the final call on whether prosecutions are warranted.

“They haven’t been signed off on yet,” Gibbons said.

As Bozanich reviews the cases, Gibbons said, “he may see something that he feels we need to go back and investigate further.”

She added, “The plan is for this to be completed by the end of the year. That’s the plan. But that may not happen.”

Some defense attorneys said Wednesday’s outcome was in some ways a foregone conclusion.

“No one could expect any less from a career prosecutor,” said attorney Stephen Yagman, who has represented alleged victims of police misconduct. “The D.A.’s office is half the reason there was a Rampart. The D.A.’s office and the LAPD are blood brothers in corruption.”

Defense lawyer Gigi Gordon, who has represented alleged victims of police misconduct, said Cooley and his predecessor, Gil Garcetti, mistakenly relied on the LAPD to spearhead the investigations of its officers. She said the probe was hampered by poor communication between the district attorney’s office and the LAPD, and by Parks’ reluctance to fully cooperate.

“He’s not likely to help you prove . . . his own incompetence,” she said.

Attorney Winston Kevin McKesson, who represents Rafael Perez, said he was not surprised by Cooley’s announcement.

“It’s my impression that the United States attorney’s office is taking the lead role in the Rampart investigation,” McKesson said. “So, Mr. Cooley’s decision doesn’t surprise me at all.”

‘One Huge Look the Other Way’

Assistant Public Defender Kalunian said his office still has many pending cases involving clients who are in prison because of police misconduct.

“We’re not through looking at the Rampart cases,” he said. “We’re looking at a number of officers that have never been publicly identified in connection with individuals we represent.”

Wigodsky, of the alternate public defender’s office, said, “I cannot believe this. This is one huge look the other way. The district attorney’s office is just not interested in pursuing these officers.”

Cooley strongly rejected such charges, saying critics such as Wigodsky are “uninformed and ill-informed.”

Cooley said his attorneys have thoroughly reviewed the evidence and found it insufficient to prosecute more officers.

Another reason prosecutors may have been unable to file charges in some cases is that the statute of limitations has expired. Many of Perez’s allegations stemmed from incidents in the mid-1990s and the statute for some crimes is three years.

Cooley said he would make a full report in December when the final reviews by senior management of all cases have been completed.

Police Misconduct Policies Unveiled

One former member of the district attorney’s Rampart investigation task force said Cooley failed to solicit or accept help from any prosecutors who were on the task force before Cooley took over.

The former member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said, “The result has been an embarrassing lack of work for otherwise dedicated prosecutors wanting to do justice.”

Cooley’s comments Wednesday came at a news conference to announce his new policy for handling police misconduct cases.

He said the procedures possibly could have prevented the Rampart scandal from spreading as far as it did.

The procedures call for more cooperation between the district attorney’s office and all local police agencies in investigating and referring cases to Cooley’s office. All local law enforcement agencies in the county except the Culver City Police Department have agreed to follow the procedures, Cooley said.

The new policy also establishes internal guidelines for prosecutors to use when they suspect wrongdoing by officers.

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