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
Okay, fair enough. But not far enough. We wanted to get beyond generalizations and get down to cases. If what Perez was saying were true, it seemed reasonable to expect that a serious inquiry should be able to turn up ample evidence of official misconduct. But the LAPD is a vast organization, with close to 10,000 officers and countless contacts with the civilian population. We wanted something a little more manageable; we set out to select a single division we could inspect more closely.
We got a little more guidance from Anthony Willoughby, a civil rights attorney in Beverly Hills whose practice lands him cases from all over the county. Willoughby narrowed the field to a few favorites -- 77th, "shootin'" Newton and Rampart as the city's worst, with Southwest and Hollywood "right below them."
That analysis is sharpened by Michael Zinzun, a police critic who lost an eye in an altercation with officers in 1986. "Seventy-seventh has been shown to be one of the most corrupt stations in the city of L.A. It's the stronghold for some of the city's worst police officers," Zinzun says. "They basically have a green light to stomp through those communities."
Gary Casselman, a lawyer who has won several sizable awards for plaintiffs suing the LAPD, is more succinct: "The 77th is the armpit of the LAPD."
Such assessments are hard to corroborate statistically, as most cases of officer misconduct are not reported and are not provable. Robert Mann observes, "Most of the people subjected to cases like this never find attorneys." Just as the Rodney King case would never have come to light save for a chance videotape, "None of the Rampart cases would have come out either," Mann says.
One useful barometer of LAPD misconduct is the archive maintained by Police Watch, which takes close to 2,000 complaints per year from all over the county -- everything from rude behavior by officers in Bell Gardens to unwarranted shootings by Sheriff's deputies. Their files from the past five years show Hollywood generating the most complaints of any LAPD division, trailed closely by Rampart and 77th. Vina Camper, the office manager at Police Watch, points out that those numbers are skewed because people from Hollywood are more likely to report misconduct. In minority neighborhoods, she says, "Nobody's ready to stand up and say anything. Young men out on the streets are more vulnerable, they have no power."
Other indicators from Police Watch: the Newton, Central, Van Nuys, South West, South East and Wilshire divisions are each duly represented, consistently generating more than 20 complaints per year. But Rampart, 77th and Hollywood were clearly in their own league, with the number of complaints registering in the high 30s and low 40s.
The LAPD's own Board of Inquiry report offered another statistical database, comparing Rampart to five other fast-paced divisions. And there again, the 77th stood out. The department brass highlighted the fact that Rampart proved the most violent division in the city, as measured by the percent of use-of-force incidents that resulted in someone getting hurt. But measured by sheer volume, use-of-force incidents at the 77th Street Division easily outnumbered those at Rampart -- 1,258 over the five years surveyed, as compared to 582 at Rampart. Likewise, more suspects were injured in the 77th -- 511 total -- than at Rampart, which recorded 344 people injured in their encounters with officers.
The numbers seemed to point strongly to 77th as a fruitful place to look for trouble with the cops. And during interviews with LAPD investigators, Rafael Perez suggested as much himself.
In his extensive, audiotaped confessions, Perez made sweeping allegations about the anti-gang units at the LAPD, contending that "90 percent of the officers who work CRASH, and not just Rampart CRASH, falsify a lot of information. They put cases on people. And I know that's not a good thing to hear."
More specifically, Perez said that 77th and Rampart CRASH shared the same cowboy culture, the same attitude toward shootings and beatings, the same disdain for the citizenry. "You go into the Short Stop [a favorite cop hangout on Sunset Boulevard] and you hear, you know, 77th CRASH and Rampart CRASH get into a shooting. We used to be up at the -- at the benches up in the Academy, and we talk about how things went down. How they really went down and how they were fixed up."
In fact, Perez implied that he learned the tricks of his dirty trade from 77th -- or, more particularly, from Nino Durden, Perez's partner at Rampart and his alleged partner in crime. "You got to remember Durden came from 77th CRASH," Perez told investigators, referring to a six-month stint Durden served there before joining Rampart.
None of this was reflected in the LAPD's Board of Inquiry report. Without making specific reference to 77th, the report found, "There were no patterns or trends within the units audited that would suggest department-wide corruption problems within CRASH or any other specialized units."
PERHAPS CHIEF PARKS AND HIS INVESTIGATORS WERE looking for the wrong things. Or perhaps they weren't looking hard enough. But a Weeklyinvestigation of the CRASH unit at 77th reveals a record of aggressive tactics and flimsy cases that rivals anything to come out of Rampart. We found criminals who had their rights violated, and innocent people treated like criminals. We found officers closing ranks to tell stories contradicted by evidence and witnesses, and ranking officers covering up for their subordinates. We found brazen beatings, hair-trigger shootings and, in the case of Terry Taylor, the mistaken, fatal shooting of an innocent man.