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Another Lost Rampart Case 

Officers get benefit of doubt when Perez is the accuser

Wednesday, Jan 24 2001
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Rafael Perez took another hit to his credibility Tuesday as yet another officer was exonerated by an internal disciplinary board of charges leveled by the onetime CRASH officer.

The ruling raises to 20 the number of officers accused by Perez but found innocent of those charges by the department. In three other cases, officers named by Perez were terminated following disciplinary boards. The lopsided tally suggests that the Rampart scandal, first thought to augur sweeping change at the LAPD, may prove much more limited in its impact.

According to the chairman of the internal LAPD board, the board’s decision Tuesday turned on statements by two jailhouse informants who say Perez told them he made up stories to punish fellow CRASH officers. The three-member board found Officer Kulin Patel, accused of signing a police report he knew to be false, more credible than Perez.

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This is the second case in which Patel has successfully defended himself against charges lodged by Perez. Last year, an LAPD board considered Perez‘s allegation that Patel attended a ”mug party“ and drank beer while on duty. That case was thrown out when Patel produced ticket stubs showing he had been at Disneyland on the day in question.

One of the new informants, whose name was withheld by the board, said Perez made up a subsequent charge against Patel because he was enraged over the earlier decision. ”Perez was disturbed for a few days over that one,“ the informant said in a written statement obtained by the Weekly. The informant then quoted Perez saying, ”I can get investigated right now anyone on the LAPD.“

Captain Gary Williams, chairman of the disciplinary board, said Tuesday he found the informant statements persuasive because neither was seeking special treatment or leniency in return for his statements.

Perez has made extensive allegations of misconduct against his former colleagues at Rampart in return for a reduced sentence on cocaine charges. As part of the agreement, Perez agreed to provide testimony and otherwise cooperate with authorities, although few officers have been sanctioned based on his allegations.

Separately, four officers were tried in criminal court on charges leveled by Perez, but prosecutors decided not to call Perez as a witness. One prosecutor said she would not let the trial devolve into a ”game of cat and mouse“ between defense attorneys and Perez. That case ended with one officer acquitted and three others convicted of conspiracy and making false reports, but that verdict was overturned by the judge. The district attorney is appealing that ruling.

Perez’s former partner, Officer Nino Durden, is now awaiting trial on charges of attempted murder, based on Perez‘s allegation that both shot unarmed gang member Javier Ovando. There again, prosecutors say they expect to avoid calling Perez as a witness.

Asked to comment on his client’s eroding credibility, Perez attorney Winston McKesson said Tuesday that ”Jailhouse informants are just that -- individuals seeking to minimize their prison terms by cooperating with the authorities. There‘s no reason my client would talk about these cases in front of these people . . . One of these informants said Perez buried [stolen] money under his swimming pool. My client doesn’t have a swimming pool.“

The first jailhouse informant to challenge Perez surfaced in September, just prior to the criminal trial against the four Rampart officers. Hank Rodriguez, another former officer who was briefly housed on the same cellblock as Perez, said in March that he had overheard Perez boast that ”If someone pisses me off, I‘ll just throw their name into a hat and they will be investigated, innocent or not.“ The statement was taken by department investigators, but only relayed to the district attorney months later.

Now, two new informants have made detailed statements to investigators. One informant was contacted by LAPD investigators while in state prison, having been moved out of the county facility where Perez remains housed. That informant said Perez ”had celebrity status“ inside the county system, and that ”He said he was going to write a book and make a lot of money when he gets out.“ He said Perez wanted to make a movie called L.A. Confidential II.

The informant also said Perez was seeking ”revenge“ on his former colleagues by making false charges against them. He quoted Perez as saying, ”If I can’t be a police officer any more, people are going to go down.“

The second informant told an LAPD investigator he had become close to Perez while staying in the cell next to him, and that the two had played cards and watched TV together. This informant said he had information that ”would blow you away about Perez,“ particularly about Perez‘s contacts with his former partner, David Mack, who was later convicted of bank robbery, and Marion ”Suge“ Knight, the jailed impresario of the rap label Death Row Records. The informant told the investigator the material was ”too big“ to detail in full.

Neither informant quoted Perez directly on the events cited in the case against Officer Patel, but Williams said the statements went to the question of Perez’s credibility.

At issue in the Patel case was the August 1996 arrest of Temple Street Gang member Wilfredo Lamont. In writing the arrest report, Perez falsely stated that he and Patel had spotted Lamont brandishing a gun in front of his house, then trailed him to another location where they arrested him. In fact, Perez said, he and Patel, his partner that day, already suspected that Lamont had guns stashed at his house but never observed him with a gun there.

Patel said he signed the report without reading it, and never knew it gave a false account.

During the board hearing, Lamont, now a prisoner at the federal penitentiary at Levenworth, corroborated Perez‘s story. Lamont conceded he had guns in his house, but said he was not carrying one that day, and that Perez and Patel had found it during an illegal search.

The department advocate said he was not ready to contest the board’s evaluation of Perez‘s credibility. But von Korff said he believed the evidence in the case supported the underlying charge, that Officer Patel was aware -- or should have been, since he signed it -- that the facts in the police report were false. ”The board never addressed that question,“ von Korff said.

Patel is not through defending himself against Perez’s accusations. He is scheduled to face yet another board, this time on charges that he shot and killed an unarmed gang member during a nighttime raid in an apartment building at Shatto Place. Patel denies the charge.”

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