82 Rampart Cases Rejected for Lack of Evidence, Other Problems

D.A. says many would depend on the testimony of Perez and Durden, who aren’t credible.
By Scott Glover
Times Staff Writer

November 26 2002

Los Angles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announced Monday that dozens of cases against officers implicated in the LAPD’s Rampart Division scandal would not result in criminal prosecution.

Cooley said he made the decision based on his review of 82 Rampart-related cases that detectives submitted to prosecutors.

The district attorney’s office decided to not prosecute the cases because of insufficient evidence and because the statute of limitations had expired. Further, many of the cases involved the two main players in the scandal — Rafael Perez and Nino Durden — who had entered into plea bargains that protect them from further prosecution.

The documents released by the district attorney’s office Monday, known to prosecutors as “rejects” or declination memos, offer a detailed analysis of the 82 cases that prosecutors reviewed.

Most of them dealt with incidents in which Perez and/or Durden were either the alleged perpetrators of the crimes or witnesses to crimes allegedly committed by other officers. The alleged crimes included planting evidence, assault and providing false information in police reports.

Prosecutor Curt Hazell, who supervised the review, said that Perez, as a convicted drug thief and liar, was essentially useless as a witness, regardless of whether one believes him.

“The problem you have is not whether he made [Rampart] up; it’s whether you can use him as a witness,” Hazell said. “Why should anybody believe him beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The review did not include some of the most serious allegations to come out of the scandal: three allegedly unjustified shootings that police officials failed to thoroughly investigate, and that prosecutors said were not submitted to their office.

Cooley said he was informed by high-ranking Police Department officials that those cases remain under investigation.

“We have their assurances that they will be presented in due course,” Cooley said.

Meanwhile, federal investigators are continuing their probe of the Rampart scandal, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Mitzi Grasso, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, called the district attorney’s decision “a refreshing turn of events.”

“I think that’s an indicator that there was not widespread corruption, as many people had feared,” Grasso said.

Attorney Gigi Gordon, who represents indigent clients potentially caught up in the scandal, said she found the report “amateurish and not surprising.”

She said she believes the Police Department stopped investigating the scandal prematurely and did not inform the district attorney’s office. “If they can’t even figure out that the LAPD had turned off the tap on them, why would it be surprising that they’re not filing any cases,” Gordon said.

The scandal was launched in September 1999 when Perez, charged with stealing cocaine from department evidence lockers, made a deal with authorities in which he agreed to reveal police misconduct in exchange for a lighter sentence on the drug charge. He went on to describe an out-of-control anti-gang unit in which officers allegedly beat suspects, stole drugs, planted evidence and covered up unjustified shootings.

In addition to Perez and Durden, both of whom are serving time in federal prison, seven current and former officers were charged with crimes as a result of Perez’s allegations.

Three were convicted 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 has returned to work.

In another case, one officer is awaiting trial on charges that he beat a suspect. Two other officers in that case have pleaded no contest, one to a charge of assault, the other to filing a false police report.

The scandal has taken a toll in other ways: More than two dozen officers resigned or were fired; more than 100 criminal prosecutions were overturned because prosecutors lacked confidence in their police witnesses; and the city anticipates spending $100 million to settle Rampart-related civil lawsuits.

The documents released by the district attorney’s office failed to reach any broad conclusions. In a telephone interview Monday, Cooley suggested that there had been an effort to answer some fundamental questions.

He referred to his request that the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury conduct an investigation to determine whether there “was a failure of leadership, oversight, management and supervision necessary at the highest levels within the LAPD to control Rampart Crash officers.”

A draft of the grand jury’s finding was prepared, but never released.

“I’m very, very disappointed that that report was never released by the grand jury … that that part of the reform effort never played out,” Cooley said.

In making his announcement, Cooley cited some changes he has instituted in his office to guard against corruption.

They include revamping the unit responsible for prosecuting crooked police officers and establishing new guidelines for giving defense attorneys information that may reflect on the credibility of officers testifying in criminal prosecutions.

“Rampart showed us that there are some bad law enforcement officers who themselves became the gangsters they were supposed to be policing,” the district attorney’s report stated. “Rampart also showed us that these bad law enforcement officers must be detected early on, investigated thoroughly and prosecuted vigorously when there is sufficient evidence that they have committed crimes.”

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