By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
To the list of jurists, prosecutors, defense attorneys and cops who ignored early warning signals of corruption at the LAPD’s Rampart station, you can now add Judge Judy.
The sharp-tongued family-court judge with the hit television show aired, last May, an unusual twist on the question of police misconduct -- a claim for damages brought by Rampart CRASH officer Jesus Amezcua against a defendant, Felipe Rosas, who said he was abused in the course of an arrest. When Rosas filed a complaint with the LAPD, Amezcua sued him. And when the two argued the matter before Judge Judy, she dismissed Rosas‘ misconduct allegation and awarded Amezcua the $5,000.
Of course, that opinion was rendered months before former LAPD officer Rafael Perez went public with his allegations that cops from the Rampart division routinely engaged in misconduct, including beatings, shootings and robberies of the people they arrested. In light of that testimony, Rosas’ claim looks a lot more convincing.
Also in hindsight, Amezcua‘s appearance on the show looks a lot less convincing. Responding to questions from the bench, Amezcua said he’d never seen any incidents of officers brutalizing a criminal suspect. “Maybe back in the ‘40s or ’50s,” Amezcua said smiling, “but not in the new LAPD.”
Fortunately for Rosas, Amezcua‘s award was paid by the show. Both the plaintiff and the defendant were also paid $400 for appearing in Judge Judy’s court.
Rosas‘ troubles began in July 1998, when a woman he describes as an ex-girlfriend filed a complaint charging him with stealing her purse. Rosas claimed an airtight alibi -- he said he was at work at the time, and his colleagues backed him up -- and the case was dismissed, but not before his encounter with the officers from Rampart.
Rosas, now 26, lives with his parents in the same home in which he was born, in Echo Park. That was the address where, three weeks after the alleged theft, Amezcua arrived with his partner Manny Dickerson and half a dozen other officers to arrest Rosas on suspicion of robbery.
There were several squad cars at the scene, Rosas said, along with a police helicopter. According to Amezcua, the officers staked out Rosas’ home, then saw him get into his car and arrested him as he drove away.
As Amezcua told it on television, he had Rosas exit the car, then put him down on the ground, placed a knee in the small of his back and handcuffed him. He searched Rosas and found a fistful of quarters and several Nintendo game packs in his pockets; he asked Rosas where he might deposit those belongings, and Rosas said to leave them with his uncle, who was asleep in the house.
The officers entered the home to return Rosas‘ property, Amezcua said, then returned to the site of arrest. Rosas cooperated with the officers as he was taken to Rampart station, Amezcua said, “but after he realized he was being booked for robbery his attitude changed.”
In an interview at his home, Rosas strongly disputed that account. “They didn’t treat me like a person,” Rosas said. “I asked, ‘What’s going on?‘ and all they said was ’Shut the fuck up.‘” Rosas said he was questioned repeatedly about what gang he was involved with, and repeatedly ignored when he said he had nothing to do with gangs. “I finally told them I was with ’NBA,‘” Rosas said. “They were satisfied with that, and they wrote it down. When Internal Affairs asked me about it later, I told them what it meant -- National Basketball Association.”
Rosas said that when, at the time of his arrest, he was prone on the ground and being handcuffed, somebody had kneed or struck him sharply in the back, painfully aggravating an old injury from an auto accident. In addition, Rosas said, when the officers searched his car, a 1981 Cadillac he bought for $500, they tore out the electric-window controls, causing extensive damage. (The door panels remain in pieces today.)
Rosas also says he was robbed. Testifying before Judge Judy, Rosas said that when the officers went into his home, “They went into my room and tore everything apart, checked through my stuff. And I had $62 on top of my TV --[$62] which, when I came out of jail, I did not find . . . Basically, if they had not gone in my room, my money would still be there.”
Judge Judy -- her full name is Judith Sheindlin, and she spent 14 years on the bench in New York before retiring to launch her hit show -- quickly dismissed that part of Rosas’ story. “From the time you were put in the police car to the time you were released from jail, sir, you don‘t know what happened inside your house,” she said.
As in so many cases arising from the Rampart scandal, the lead characters in this story come with baggage. Rosas’ version of the facts leading to his arrest, for example, is disputed by his accuser, who denies any prior personal relationship and continues to maintain that Rosas stole her purse after she refused his romantic advances.