Computer mistake may have mislead L.A. jurors

The Associated Press
Saturday November 25, 2000

LOS ANGELES — A computer mistake on key evidence used to convict three Rampart officers of framing gang members may have misled jurors, defense attorneys claimed, and a judge said it was an important issue. 

The controversy centers on a police report that mistakenly exaggerated the injuries of officers and may have led to the Nov. 15 convictions. 

The report should have said the officers were victims of assault with a deadly weapon by means “likely” to produce great bodily injury.  

Instead, a software program incorrectly printed, “ADW w/GBI,” giving the impression the officers were claiming serious injury. 

The officers never claimed they were seriously injured but some jurors said they relied on the computer-generated report to convict Sgt. Edward Ortiz, 44, Sgt. Brian Liddy, 39, and Officer Michael Buchanan, 30, of conspiracy and perjury for fabricating charges against the gang members. 

“I am troubled,” Superior Court Judge Jacqueline A. Connor said Wednesday when the issue was raised during a hearing about possible juror misconduct. “This is not a small issue.” 

The convictions were the first in the city’s police corruption probe at the Rampart station. A fourth officer was acquitted by the panel. 

Buchanan and Liddy alleged in the police report that gang members hit them with a pickup truck in an alley during a July 1996 gang sweep.  

Defense attorneys told the court Wednesday that three jurors have said they couldn’t agree on whether the officers were actually hit by gang members. 

It was a literal interpretation of a line in the report, which said the officers were victims of assault with a deadly weapon with great bodily harm, that led jurors to conclude the officers were lying, the lawyers claimed. 

“They were deciding a false issue. These officers were convicted on what a computer spit out,” defense attorney Harland Braun said. 

No one caught the mistake during the monthlong trial. 

Connor, who ordered a Dec. 15 hearing, asked defense attorneys to get an affidavit from at least one juror confirming that the computer mistake led them off track during deliberations. 

Deputy District Attorney Laura Laesecke argued unsuccessfully that the defense claim was based on hearsay and a hearing wasn’t needed. 

“We should not be putting the jury on trial,” the prosecutor said. 

Police testimony during the trial indicated the claimed injuries were minor. 

Ortiz, the sergeant in charge, said he saw that Buchanan’s knees were bloody and his pants torn, but the officer asked to continue working.  

Ortiz also said he talked to Liddy, who also wanted to continue working. Both officers were later examined at a hospital.