Saturday, January 31, 2015

When Cops Go Bad, It Can Get Really Bad

Lately, there has been a lot of press pertaining to bad cops. And yes, thanks to everyone having cellphones which can also act as video cameras, the unprofessional behavior of bad cops is being caught on film.

I content that the vast majority of the almost 900,000 law enforcement officers in the United States are great upstanding men and women dedicated to doing a great job. 

The vast majority out there are great officers, but like any group, occupation, calling, profession, there are going to be a few bad apples. 

I content that these bad apples should be replaced as fast as possible simply because they make everyone in uniform look like crap. 

Yes, all it takes is one incident and a whole department, a great department, a wonderful department dedicated to their community, can look so bad that it takes years to repair their reputation. And yes, a department's reputation is a big deal.

A department's reputation can give a community a sense of safety, or a sense of dread. It can make citizens volunteer information, or have people weary to help. It can separate a community from its police and sheriff department, or it can enable both to work together to achieve a common goal of security for the community. 

Yes, a reputation is important. Without a good reputation, everyone suffers.

And yes, a bad apple, a corrupt cop, an unprofessional officer, a rogue officer who has let his badge go to his head, will truly tarnish the reputation of a department. And frankly, from my experience with law enforcement, a bad cop is usually just one complaint away from being canned.

That is of course, if the officer's Union actually does the right thing and helps clean out bad apples.

But what happens when the majority of officers on a department are bad? 

Imagine that for a moment, almost an entire department of bad cops?

Well, one community torn apart by bad cops was in Los Angeles  in the 1990s. Today, that department is still the best example of how power can completely corrupt and ruin a department.

It was called the "Rampart Scandal." And as I said, it shows what can take place when a Police Department becomes just about as bad as it can get.

The Rampart scandal refers to widespread corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department's Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) anti-gang unit at the Rampart Division station.

In all, believe it or not, more than 70 police officers were either assigned to or associated with the Rampart CRASH unit. And yes, all 70 were implicated in some form of misconduct.

Yes, 70 bad cops in one department.

The Rampart Scandal has the distinction of having the most widespread cases of documented police misconduct in United States history. 

When it was over, the convicted offenses include:
1) Unprovoked shootings,
2) Unprovoked beatings,
3) Planting of false evidence,
4) Framing of suspects,
5) Stealing and dealing narcotics.

But that's not all, as it also included:

6) Bank robbery,
7) Perjury by officers, and
8) A cover up of evidence of all of these activities.

How did it come to anyone's attention?

The scandal surfaced because of a road rage incident involving two LAPD offciers. Yes, two LA police officers.  

On March 18th, 1997, officer Frank Lyga was working undercover in a Fu Manchu mustache, ponytail, and cap sporting a marijuana logo. After waiting for three hours in a Buick for a drug deal to take place, the deal was called off.

He drove toward a police station. At a red light, he glanced at the car next to him and saw a black man with shaved head and goatee. 

Lyga rolled his window down and asked, “Can I help you?”

The man replied, “Ain’t nobody looking at you, punk.”

Lyga assumed the man was gang-affiliated, especially when the man challenged him to a fight. Lyga verbally accepted, suggesting they both pull over. 

The man pulled over and Lyga drove off. The man gave chase.

Around 4:00 p.m. on March 18th, 1997, undercover LAPD police officer Frank Lyga shot and killed Rampart CRASH unit police officer Kevin Gaines in what was termed self-defense following a case of apparent "road rage" by Gaines.

According to Lyga, and other witnesses on scene, Gaines pulled his green Mitsubishi Montero up to Lyga's Buick. 

A confrontation ensued, with Gaines flashing gang signs at Officer Lyga. Gaines followed Lyga, brandishing a .45 caliber pistol. 

Seeing this, Lyga took out his pistol and also called for backup using a hidden radio activated by a foot pedal. Lyga's voice can be heard on police recordings, "Hey, I got a problem. I've got a black guy in a green Jeep coming up here! He's got a gun!"

Pulling up at a stop light, Lyga later testified that he heard Gaines shout, "I'll cap you".

Remember, these two are both Los Angeles police officers.

At that point, officer Lyga fired his 9mm Beretta into the SUV, lodging one bullet in Gaines' heart. Lyga radioed one final transmission: "I just shot this guy! I need help! Get up here!"

Lyga reported that Gaines was the first to pull a gun and Lyga responded in self-defense. Lyga told Frontline, "In my training experience this guy had 'I'm a gang member' written all over him."

In the ensuing LAPD investigation, the department discovered that Officer Gaines had apparently been involved in similar road rage incidents, threatening drivers by brandishing his gun. 

The department's investigation also showed that Gaines was associated with both the Death Row Records rap recording label and its controversial owner and CEO, Suge Knight. 

Investigators learned that Death Row Records, which was alleged to be associated with the Bloods street gang, was hiring off-duty LAPD Police Officers as Security Guards.

Lyga served desk duty for one year while the LAPD reviewed the details of the shooting. Following three separate internal investigations, Lyga was exonerated of any wrongdoing. 

The LAPD concluded that Lyga's shooting was "in policy" and not racially or improperly motivated.

Within three days of the incident, the Gaines family had retained attorney Johnnie Cochran from O.J. Simpson fame and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for $25 million. 

The city eventually settled with Cochran for $250,000. 

Officer Lyga was angry the city settled, denying him the chance to fully clear his name. To make matters worse, Judge Schoettler wrote a letter to Chief Bernard Parks stating, "Had the matter been submitted to me for a determination, I would have found in favor of the City of Los Angeles."

Schoettler's letter alleged political reasons for settling the case, namely, City Attorney James Hahn was preparing to run for mayor and black voters were his primary demographic.

How about Police Officers robbing banks?

After the shootout between Lyga and Gaines, then came the bank robbery on November 6th, that same year 1997, by Police Officer David Mack.

It's true! Believe it or not, on November 6th, 1997, police officer David Mack committed armed robbery of $722,000 from a Los Angeles branch of Bank of America. That is absolutely true. 

After one month of investigation, assistant bank manager Errolyn Romero confessed to her role in the crime and implicated her boyfriend officer David Mack.

Stating that he planed the armed robbery, LAPD officer David Mack was sentenced to 14 years and three months in Federal prison. 

It is interesting to note that David Mack had never told anyone, including his girlfriend, the location of the over $700,000 while in prison. In fact, it is said that he bragged to fellow inmates that he would become a millionaire when he is released.

While in prison, Mack reportedly joined the gang known as the Bloods which has ties to Death Row Records company.

While investigating the robbery in the days following, police learned that officer Mack enjoyed weekends gambling in Las Vegas with two other officers. One of them, Rafael Perez, became a key figure in the Rampart Scandal.

How about an LA officer who enjoyed beating suspects?

LAPD Rampart CRASH unit officer Brian Hewitt brought Ismael Jimenez, a member of the 18th Street Gang, into the Rampart station for questioning on February 26th, 1998. 

Yes, this took place just a few months after officer Mack's armed robbery of the Band of America. 

According to Officer Perez's recorded testimony, Hewitt "got off" on beating suspects. And yes, Hewitt beat the already handcuffed Jimenez in the chest and stomach until he started vomiting blood. 

After his release from custody, Jimenez went to a local emergency room and told doctors he had been beaten by LAPD officer Hewitt and his partner Daniel Lujan while in custody. 

Following an investigation, officer Hewitt was eventually fired from the LAPD. 

As for that gang-member, Jimenez was awarded $231,000 in a civil settlement with the city of Los Angeles. Later, Jimenez would serve time in Federal prison for the distribution of drugs and conspiracy to commit murder -- but has since been released.

Missing Cocaine from the Evidence Room?

OK, let's make something real clear: This was not some phony baloney Hollywood movie script, this was actually happening in the real world.

The following month after Hewitt gets fired, on March 27th, 1998, LAPD officials discovered that 8 pounds of cocaine were missing from an evidence room. That is a lot of cocaine. And yes, that was worth a lot of money -- even back in the late 1990s.

Within a week, LAPD detectives focused their investigation on LAPD Rampart CRASH unit officer Rafael Perez. 

It was about that time when LAPD Chief Bernard Parks suspected that a rogue group of CRASH unit officers was committing felonies.

Concerned with a CRASH unit that had officers working off-duty for the Death Row Records company , robbing banks, and stealing cocaine, Parks stated at the time, "Perez is a good friend of David Mack’s. Both were good friends of Gaines’s. I think the picture reflected that we had some people on this department that were, in a coordinated effort, involved in some very serious criminal misconduct.” 

It was then that Chief Parks established the Rampart Corruption Task Force as an internal investigative task force in May 1998.

The task force focused on the prosecution of Officer Rafael Perez.. 

Completing an audit of the LAPD property room revealed another pound of missing cocaine. The cocaine had been booked following a prior arrest by Detective Frank Lyga, the officer who shot and killed Rampart officer Kevin Gaines. 

Investigators then speculated Rafael Perez may have stolen the cocaine booked by Lyga in retaliation for Gaines' shooting.

So Ok, imagine the situation, this is right out of a bad novel with cops killing other cops. cops stealing drugs, cops framing other cops, and on and on. But it's far from over! 

Officer Rafael Perez, age 31 and a nine-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. He was arrested on August 25th, 1998, for stealing 6 pounds of cocaine from a department property room.

The cocaine was estimated to have a street value of $95,000 at that time. 

As he was arrested, he should have shut up, instead Perez reportedly asked, "Is this about the bank robbery?" 

Perez would later deny that he had any knowledge of David Mack's bank robbery and never testified against Mack. Investigators would later discover eleven additional instances of suspicious cocaine transfers. 

Officer Perez eventually admitted to ordering cocaine evidence out of property and replacing it with pancake mix. Yes, Bisquick.

Let's Make a Deal!

On September 8th, 1999, following a mistrial, LAPD officer Perez agreed to cut a deal with LAPD investigators. 

He pled guilty to cocaine theft in exchange for providing prosecutors information about two "bad" shootings and three other Rampart CRASH officers who were also dirty cops.

For this deal, Perez received a five-year prison sentence as well as immunity from further prosecution of misconduct short of murder.

Perez said he and partner officer Nino Durden shot and framed gang member Javier Ovando in 1996 when Ovando surprised them during a stakeout. 

Perez said Durden shot Ovando. As he lay bleeding, they discovered he carried no weapon. 

Plant Evidence and Frame the Innocent? Who says it's not done?

Perez recalled that Durden took a gun wrapped in a “very dirty shirt” and planted it near Ovando. They concocted the story that Ovando burst in on them brandishing the gun.

Ovando was paralyzed because of the shooting. At trial he claimed he had no gun but Perez testified to the concocted story. The jury believed officer Perez. The judge sentenced Ovando to 23 years in prison.

The District Attorney’s Office filed a writ of habeas corpus to overturn Ovando’s conviction. He was released in September 1999 after serving over two years.

Over the next nine months after he cut a deal, Perez met with investigators more than 50 times and provided more than 4,000 pages in sworn testimony. Believe it or not, Perez's testimony implicated about 70 officers of misconduct.

And  yes, former officer Perez actually framed four others, members of the Temple Street gang, as being associated with killing notorious Mexican Mafia member Miguel "Lizard" Malfavon. 

That incident took place at a McDonalds on Alvarado Street, where four supposed members all planned to kill Malfavon while he tried to collect "taxes" from the gang. 

At the time, as a CRASH unit member, officer Perez found a material witness who had blood on her dress, and she named four gang members from Temple Street. 

Instead of reporting what he knew, Perez repeatedly changed the name of the main killer and ended up framing Anthony "Stymie" Adams as the one who fatally shot Malfavon in the head with a rifle in the neighboring apartment.

In extensive testimony to investigators, Perez provided a detailed portrait of the culture of LAPD's "Elite" CRASH anti-gang unit. 

Perez insisted that 90% of CRASH officers were "in the loop", knowingly framing innocent suspects and perjuring themselves on the witness stand. 

Perez claims his superiors were aware of and encouraged CRASH officers to engage in misconduct; the goal of the unit was to arrest gang members by any means necessary. 

Perez described to investigators just how CRASH officers were awarded plaques for shooting suspects, with extra honors if suspects were killed. 

Perez testified that CRASH officers carried spare guns in their "war bags" to plant on suspects. 

In recorded testimony, Perez even revealed the CRASH motto: "We intimidate those who intimidate others."

Yes, Police Officers Celebrating Shootings!

CRASH officers would get together at a bar near Dodger Stadium in Echo Park to drink and celebrate shootings.

And yes, their Department Supervisors handed out plaques to those involved in the shootings, containing red or black playing cards.

A red card indicated a wounding and a black card indicated a killing, which was considered more prestigious. 

Perez testified that at least one Rampart lieutenant attended these celebrations. 

Dead Man's Hand Tattoos for LA Officers?

Rampart officers wore tattoos of the CRASH logo, a skull with a cowboy hat encircled with poker cards depicting the "dead man's hand", aces and eights. 

The Rampart Corruption Task Force investigators discovered that hip hop mogul Suge Knight, owner of Death Row Records, had hired several of the corrupt Rampart officers for security at various times including Nino Durden, Kevin Gaines, David Mack, and Rafael Perez. 

Knight hired off-duty LAPD Rampart policemen to work for Death Row as security guards for huge amounts of money. 

For the Gaines' shooting, investigators discovered that Gaines drove a Mercedes and wore designer suits, and they found a receipt in his apartment for a $952 restaurant tab at the Los Angeles hangout, Monty's Steakhouse.

It was a case of massive Police Corruption and ties to Organized Crime street gangs.

And yes, the LAPD gang unit actually had ties to the street gang known as the Bloods.

According to Frank Lyga, who shot him, Kevin Gaines was flashing gang signs and waving a gun, Knight who was from Compton had known ties to the Bloods..

Remember, as stated before, while in prison, David Mack openly joined the Bloods and renounced any affiliation or loyalty to the LAPD. Mack even started wearing as much red clothing as can be obtained the joint.

Following the arrest of Rafael Perez, investigators discovered photos in Perez's apartment depicting him dressed in red and flashing Bloods gang signs. But it didn't stop with ties to the Bloods.

On April 16th, 2007, the estate of Christopher George Latore Wallace, aka "The Notorious B.I.G"., filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, which also named as defendants Rampart officers Durden, Mack, and Perez.

The lawsuit named Durden, Mack, and Perez as having conspired to murder Christopher Wallace, and Perez and Mack were present on the night of the murder outside the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard, on March 9th, 1997.

In 2010, the Wallace family voluntarily dismissed this lawsuit and the claims against the City and the Rampart officers. Some believe it was due to threats by the LAPD.

LAPD investigators Brian Tyndall and Russell Poole also believe Mack and other Rampart police were involved in a conspiracy to kill Wallace.

LAPD investigator Russell Poole claimed at the time that LAPD Chief Bernard Parks refused to investigate their claims of Mack's involvement.

Detective Poole also claimed that Chief parks suppressed their 40-page report, and instructed investigators not to pursue their inquiry. 

Detective Poole, who was an 18-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police force, quit the LAPD in protest and filed a lawsuit against the LAPD for violating his First Amendment rights by preventing him from making his information public.

The city of Los Angeles faced more than 140 civil suits resulting from the Rampart scandal and paid total estimated settlement costs around $125 million.

Javier Ovando was awarded a $15 million settlement on November 21st, 2000, the largest police misconduct settlement in Los Angeles history. Twenty-nine other civil suits were settled for nearly $11 Million.

Was the Los Angeles Police Chief bad as well?

At the time, to make matter worse, as if it couldn't get any worse, there was multiple allegations that Chief Parks and members of the LAPD were actively involved in obstructing the Rampart Investigation.

Parks was in charge of Internal Affairs when Gaines and other Rampart officers were first discovered to have ties to the Bloods and Death Row Records. 

Parks is said to have protected these officers from investigation. Was that obstruction? 

According to Rampart Corruption Task Force Detective Poole, Chief Parks failed to pursue the Hewitt Investigation for a full six months. 

When detective Poole presented Chief Parks with a 40-page report detailing the connection between Mack and the murder of Notorious B.I.G., the report was in fact suppressed.

On September 26, 2000, Detective Poole, an 18-year veteran of the force, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and Chief Parks. 

Detective Poole, as lead investigator on the Lyga-Gaines shooting and member of the Rampart Corruption Task Force, resigned from the Department and claimed in his civil suit that Chief Parks shut down his efforts to fully investigate the extent of corruption within the Department. 

Detective Poole testified to conversations and "direct orders" in which Chief Parks prevented him from pursuing his investigation of the criminal activities of David Mack and Kevin Gaines, notably involving the investigation of the murder of Christopher Wallace.

Many city officials, including Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, expressed a lack of confidence with Chief Parks' handling of the investigation.

Yes, when cops go bad to the extent that they did at the LAPD Rampart station, they get shut down.

On September 19th, 2000, the Los Angeles City Council voted to accept a consent decree permitting a federal judge acting for the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee reforms within the LAPD for five years. The Justice Department agreed not to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Bernard Parks openly opposed the consent decree, but were forced to back down in the face of overwhelming support by the city council.

The "L.A.P.D. Board of Inquiry into the Rampart Area Corruption Incident" report was released in March 2000. And all in all, it made a whooping 108 recommendations for changes in LAPD policies and procedures. 

The Board of Inquiry report, sanctioned by Bernard Parks, was widely criticized for not addressing structural problems within the LAPD.

"An Independent Analysis of the Los Angeles Police Department's Board of Inquiry Report on the Rampart Scandal" was published in September 2000, by University of California, Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, at the request of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the police union. 

Basically the LAPD minimized the scope and nature of the corruption, and abetted the corruption through its own internal negligence or corrupt policies. 

Chemerinsky called for an independent commission to investigate corruption and a consent decree between the City of Los Angeles and the Justice Department to monitor effective reform.

The "Report of the Rampart Independent Review Panel", published in November 2000, created by a panel of over 190 community members, issued 72 findings and 86 recommendations. 

That report stated that the Police Commission had been "undermined by the Mayor's Office" and that the Inspector General's Office had been "hindered by ... lack of cooperation by the (LAPD) in responding to requests for information.".

Officers on Trial

The first criminal case tried because of Perez’s allegations was against CRASH unit members Sgt. Edward Ortiz, Brian Liddy, Paul Harper, and Michael Buchanan. 

All of whom were said to have been in on the criminal activities of the Rampart CRASH unit. And yes, they were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, perjury, fabricating arrests, and filing false police reports. 

All Plead Not Guilty? 

On November 15, 2000, Ortiz, Liddy, and Buchanan were convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing false police reports. Harper was acquitted on all charges.

On December 22, 2000, Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor overturned the convictions of Ortiz, Liddy, and Buchanan because in post-trial interviews jurors admitted to being swayed by reports not made at trial. 

District Attorney Steve Cooley announced in January 2001 that he would appeal Connor’s decision. However, in December 2004 the District Attorney’s Office announced that the trio would not be retried.

LAPD CRASH unit officers Ethan Cohan, Manuel Chavez, and Shawn Gomez were indicted on March 23rd, 2001, for assaulting two gang members and filing false police reports. Chavez and Gomez made plea agreements. Cohan pled not guilty.

Durden made a deal on March 30th, 2001. He pleaded guilty to ten charges and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Perez was paroled on July 24, 2001 after serving three years. On December 17, 2001 he pleaded guilty to federal civil rights and firearms offenses in the Ovando shooting. The plea agreement required him to serve two years in a federal prison.

In February 2003, Cohan made a plea deal. He pled guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing a false police report. He agreed to a sentence of one year in county jail. The District Attorney dropped the assault charges.

Defense attorney Gerald Chaleff was instrumental in negotiating the Justice Department’s consent decree that provided federal monitoring for Rampart Scandal motivated reforms. 

Asked about the LAPD’s reconstituted and freshly named "Special Enforcement Unit-Gangs," 

Chaleff said, "It has greater oversight by its sergeants, lieutenants, captains and commanders, and the rules are set out more clearly. I think they’ll be able to accomplish their mission but within the rules."

The largest police misconduct settlement in L.A. history, $15 million, was awarded to Ovando on November 21, 2000. Ovando was arrested four months later in Nevada for possession and trafficking of illegal drugs.

Gang member Ruben Rojas, who Perez had framed on drug charges, won a $1 million settlement.

As a result of the Rampart Scandal, newly elected Mayor James K. Hahn did not rehire LAPD Chief Bernard Parks in 2001. And yes, supposedly, this caused Hahn to lose the support of South Los Angeles' black community, leading to his defeat by Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2005 election.

Because of the crooked cops and the ensuing elimination of the Rampart CRASH anti-gang unit following the scandal, it is believed that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang grew even larger among the Rampart district's population.

The rival 18th Street Gang continued to thrive in Rampart as well, boasting as many as 20,000 members in Los Angeles county. Yes, a street gang of 20,000. Make no mistake, that is an army.

In 2003, the Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel, chaired by Constance L. Rice of the Advancement Project, was convened by the Los Angeles Police Commission and Chief William J. Bratton. The panel's report was made public in 2006.

The Rampart investigation was based mainly on statements of an admitted corrupt police officer who then implicated over 70 officers of wrongdoings. 

Officer Punishments?

Of those officers, enough evidence was found to bring 58 before an internal administrative board. 

But, it should be noted that only 24 were actually found to have committed any wrongdoing. And of those 24 officers, 12 were given suspensions of various lengths, 7 officers were forced to resign or retire, and 5 were fired outright.. 

As a result of the probe into falsified evidence and police perjury, 106 prior criminal convictions were overturned. 

The Rampart scandal resulted in more than 140 civil lawsuits against the city of Los Angeles. And yes, that cost the city of Los Angeles an estimated $125 million in court settlements.

As of 2015, still to this day, the full extent of Rampart Scandal, and its widespread corruption is not known. Believe it or not, several rapes, multiple murders, and robbery investigations involving LAPD Rampart officers remain unsolved.

Yes, that's why the Los Angeles Police Department Rampart Scandal is the biggest case of Police corruption and misconduct in the history of the United States.

It is a prime example of just how out of hand a department can get.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa