Closing arguments in police corruption case

The Associated Press
Tuesday November 07, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Jurors should believe gang members’ testimony and fear dishonest police more than gangs, a prosecutor said Monday during closing arguments in the trial of four officers accused of planting evidence and framing people. 

“You have seen how dishonest cops can manipulate the system and twist the truth so it is unrecognizable,” Deputy District Attorney Laura Laesecke told the Superior Court jury of seven women and five men. 

The prosecution began its closing arguments without ever calling disgraced ex-officer Rafael Perez to the stand to testify against Sgt. Edward Ortiz, Sgt. Brian Liddy, Officer Michael Buchanan and Officer Paul Harper. 

Perez, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart station anti-gang “CRASH” unit until he was caught stealing seized cocaine, was expected to be the prosecution’s star witness until an ex-girlfriend accused him of committing murders. 

Perez spawned the corruption case against the four other Rampart anti-gang officers when he began talking to investigators in exchange for lenient punishment. 

The probe of his allegations led to dismissal of 100 tainted criminal cases and the reorganization of all the department’s anti-gang units, including the name Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums and its more popular acronym. 

The prosecutor asked jurors to look skeptically at the police officers and realize that “putting on a uniform doesn’t automatically make someone trustworthy and honest.” 

“Somewhere along the line these defendants lost their moral compass. They began to think of themselves as above the law,” Laesecke said. 

She asked jurors to trust gang members who testified against the police and urged them not to simply say, “Who are we going to believe, cops or gang members?” 

“Yes, gangs are bad,” she said. But she claimed that the defense put too much emphasis on that fact. “They need!to dehumanize these witnesses and victims because maybe if you think of them as less than human you won’t care,” Laesecke said. 

The prosecutor drew objections from the defense when she compared gangs with other groups who could be framed by police simply because they don’t like them. 

“Where does it stop?” she asked. “What about homeless people? ... What about drug abusers? Should we frame them? What if officers don’t like blacks or Jews or lesbians?” 

A defense objection was sustained by the judge and the comment was stricken. 

“Gang members may scare you,” the prosecutor said. “What should scare you even more is dishonest cops.” 

The first day of arguments began after the judge instructed the jury to consider the case of each officer individually, as if there were four separate trials. The last evidence presented by prosecutors was an identification card obtained by Buchanan when he was 19 but indicating he was 21. 

Buchanan’s lawyer said fake identification is commonly used by youths to get into nightclubs when they are under age. 

The prosecution suggested that it showed Buchanan was willing to lie under oath. 

The officer briefly returned to the witness stand to acknowledge his youthful act and said he had never been asked about it during some 100 witness stand appearances on behalf of prosecutors in other cases. 


The defense called only the four defendants and one accident reconstruction expert during its one-week present‘tion. 

The final defense witness, Ortiz, said that during his tenure with Rampart CRASH officers handled all cases the same way and did not single out gang members for tougher treatment.