Election Section

LAPD convictions could be the first of many to come

The Associated Press
Friday November 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Guilty verdicts against three officers in the city’s largest police corruption scandal could set the stage for further prosecutions. 

“Although these cases are difficult to prosecute, this demonstrates that we should not ignore them,” Police Chief Bernard Parks told reporters Wednesday after the officers were convicted of conspiracy and other crimes. “Our investigations have not concluded.” 

It was the first trial resulting from the scandal in which officers from an elite gang-fighting unit of the Police Department’s Rampart station are accused of framing innocent people and in some cases beating, robbing and shooting them. 

Sgts. Brian Liddy, 39, and Edward Ortiz, 44, and Officer Michael Buchanan, 30, were found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing false police reports. Officer Paul Harper, 33, was acquitted of all charges. 

All four still face internal police hearings on those and other charges, Parks said. Eighty cases have been brought within the department as a result of the corruption probe centered in the city’s Rampart neighborhood. Many remain to be heard. 

“There are cases we’re very interested in,” Parks said of prospects for criminal action, singling out an attempted murder charge against  

Officer Nino Durden. Durden, who is awaiting trial, is accused of shooting and paralyzing a handcuffed suspect.  

He was a former partner of Rafael Perez, the disgraced ex-officer whose allegations started the scandal last fall. 

Perez turned informant in exchange for leniency after he was caught stealing $1 million worth of cocaine from a police evidence room. 

He was expected to be the top prosecution witness until he demanded immunity from murder allegations – now recanted – made by an ex-lover. The jury was already deliberating when Sonya Flores said she made up the story about bodies buried in Tijuana, Mexico, because Perez had spurned her. 

Without Perez, prosecutors were forced to rely on gang members with credibility problems and police officers who said they knew little if anything about the charges. 

City officials have estimated it may cost as much as $125 million to settle lawsuits resulting from the scandal, which has already resulted in the dismissal of about 100 criminal cases tainted by police testimony. 

THE REPORT 

The 210-page report on the Los Angeles Police Department by the Rampart Independent Review Panel contained 72 findings and 86 recommendations. Among the findings: 

l Morale in the department is “alarmingly low because management has failed to make officers feel they are partners in fulfilling the department’s mission.” 

l The department has failed to implement an effective risk-management system to reduce the risk of officer misconduct. 

l The department compromises criminal investigations of officer-involved shootings and major use-of-force incidents. 

l The disciplinary system has generated widespread resentment among officers and adversely impacted supervision without achieving credibility with the public. 

l The department does not effectively communicate with communities it serves and is viewed by the communities as excessively hostile and confrontational. 

l Officers need more and better supervision. 

l The Police Commission’s office of inspector general – held by a civilian – is severely understaffed and impeded by the department’s lack of cooperation. 

The panel included more than 190 community leaders, attorneys, investigators, accountants, educators, retired judges, retired law enforcement officers and business executives.