Alternate in police trial denies hearing juror misconduct

The Associated Press
Wednesday November 29, 2000

LOS ANGELES — An alternate juror in the corruption trial of four police officers told a judge Tuesday she did not hear an alleged statement by the jury foreman that he believed the defendants were guilty before testimony began. 

Claiming the foreman’s alleged remark constituted juror misconduct, defense attorneys are seeking a mistrial in the first case against members of an anti-gang unit at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart station. 

Three officers were convicted Nov. 15 of charges involving framing gang members. The fourth officer was acquitted. 

The alternate, Paola Rojas, testified at a Superior Court hearing about a remark Victor Flores allegedly made after the jury was selected but before he was chosen as foreman. 

Another alternate, Wendy Christiansen, claimed during a previous hearing that Flores made the comment during a lunch with herself and Rojas. Flores denied at a hearing last week that he made such a remark. 

Asked by Judge Jacqueline A. Connor if there was lunchtime talk concerning the officers’ guilt, Rojas said: “No. There was not. If there would have been I would have mentioned it.” 

Defense attorney Harland Braun said after the hearing that the judge has to decide which account to believe. 

Christiansen also has claimed jurors talked about the case during the trial, violating instructions to not discuss the case until deliberations. 

After Rojas’ testimony, the judge schedule a Dec. 15 hearing to deal with the question of juror misconduct. 

The officers were the first members of the now-defunct Rampart anti-gang unit to be tried on charges based on allegations by ex-Officer Rafael Perez, a cocaine thief who accused colleagues of crimes after agreeing to cooperate with investigators in exchange for leniency. Perez did not testify at the trial. 

Prosecutors have had more than 100 criminal cases or convictions dismissed because they were tainted by allegations against Rampart officers. 

In a separate case, two former LAPD Central Division officers pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges they kidnapped a homeless man, drove him to the Los Angeles River and beat him. David Cochrane, 34, and Christopher, 28, were indicted last month for the alleged attack on Delton Bowen in 1997. 

In another case that had been tainted by an allegation of Rampart officer misconduct, a Superior Court official on Monday dismissed a murder charge against a man because his constitutional rights were violated during a preliminary hearing. 

Commissioner Michael G. Price said the judge in Jose Luis Oliverria’s case failed to allow testimony about the weapon being found in another man’s possession. He also noted prosecutors didn’t turn over a taped interview with a key witness. 

The case was already in trouble because the witness kept changing his story.