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Looking the Other Way 

Gil Garcetti’s record of shame on Rampart

Wednesday, Mar 1 2000
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Another potential case the D.A. declined to prosecute involved an alleged 1998 rape by two officers. According to the D.A.’s review of the case, the woman involved, a drug user identified as Tina R., charged that the officers propositioned her during a traffic stop. Tina R. said she declined, but said one officer threatened to ”get her“ if she didn‘t comply. Later that evening, she met with both officers and drove to a hotel, where she alleged one officer raped her while the second stood by.

During an internal review, both officers admitted taking the woman to the hotel, but said she had flirted with them and that the sex was consensual. As in the Hewitt case, the department took the incident seriously -- one officer was suspended for 66 days, the other for 44. The D.A. reviewed the same paperwork, did no independent interviews, and declined to prosecute.

Criminal acts by officers are not the district attorney’s only means of detecting and rooting out police corruption. There is also the courtroom. Public records and interviews show that Garcetti and his managers received clear signs of officer misconduct during court proceedings, and neglected taking any action.

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Garcetti‘s challengers have focused on one particular case, first reported in the Weekly, as Garcetti’s ”smoking gun.“ That case was the criminal trial of Ubaldo Gutierrez, arrested by Perez in November 1996 on drug charges.

In June of 1997, on the day scheduled for closing arguments, deputy D.A. Michael Kraut moved to have the case dismissed. According to public defender Mearl Lottman, Kraut had discovered inconsistencies between the police logs and the officer‘s testimony. In layman’s terms, the cops had been caught lying on the stand.

”I was really surprised,“ Lottman recalled. ”I‘ve never had a case dismissed at closing argument, and in the 11 years I’ve been a defense attorney, I‘ve never even heard of this happening. At the time, I had a feeling that Perez had been lying and hoped that someone would investigate him.“

As in all cases that result in an acquittal or a dismissal, a disposition memo was written up and passed on to the head deputy of the division, who in turn was charged with signing off on the case. Kraut has not commented publicly about the case and would not return repeated calls from the Weekly. And Garcetti has refused to release the memo, contending that, as part of the ongoing Rampart investigation, it is no longer a public record.

Responding to suggestions that he buried the matter, in a January interview on the radio show Which Way, L.A.?, Garcetti was direct. ”My office looked at that case and concluded that Mr. Kraut was simply wrong in this case,“ Garcetti told the show’s host, Warren Olney. In fact, ”Officer Perez was not lying in the case.“

He amended that version in his interview with the Weekly. ”It turns out, [Kraut] was right that [Perez] was lying, but it was for the wrong reason. That, I can tell you.“ But Garcetti declined to discuss the case in detail, and again refused to make public Kraut‘s memo to his supervisor.

A review of the scores of cases Perez brought to court shows that defendants often challenged the veracity of a cop who now says he lied routinely, but prosecutors rarely listened.

One case that did draw glancing interest from the D.A.’s Office involved Victor Perez, an off-the-books taxi driver known to peddle rock cocaine around MacArthur Park. Perez was busted for a small quantity of crack by Officer Perez, but at his preliminary hearing, on June 21, 1997, the case was dismissed when the cocaine, allegedly booked into evidence, could not be produced. Again, a memo was produced and sent upstairs.

In an office that handles tens of thousands of felony cases every year, should those missing rocks have drawn the attention of prosecutors? Deputy D.A. Robert Schirn, then head of a trials division and now in charge of major narcotics, said he could not recall the particular case, but said disappearing evidence would raise genuine concern. ”That is something that is going to be reviewed,“ Schirn said.

The case was reviewed, but with little vigor. Victor Perez was arrested on drug charges again a year later, and while that case was pending, a member of the D.A.‘s Office asked to speak with him about the earlier, botched case. But when Perez’s attorney pressed to get his client a deal in return for cooperation, the D.A. lost interest. Only after Officer Perez was arrested did Richard Rosenthal, the prosecutor handling the Rampart investigation, request the files on the cab driver‘s case.

Interviewed by telephone at Mule Creek State Prison, Victor Perez said that in the months that followed his conviction on the second offense, he was contacted by police investigators and gave detailed testimony about his encounter with Perez. This time, he got a reduced sentence in return for his cooperation. The deputy D.A. who prosecuted the initial case against the cab driver declined to be interviewed, but said she, too, had been interviewed by LAPD investigators.

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