By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
According to one source, the case languished under former D.A. Garcetti, but when Cooley came into office, prosecutors focused on the approaching deadline. Letters went out Wednesday, March 21, warning Gomez and Chavez they would be prosecuted if they did not cooperate. They agreed to enter no-contest pleas the following Friday.
No charges have been filed against Mesina.
Cooley has declined to discuss the details of the case ”since this is a continuing investigation.“ However, at the news conference he repeated what has become a mantra for the early days of his new administration: ”We’re evaluating these cases with fresh eyes.“
Those ”fresh eyes“ led to a critical change in strategy in the prosecution of Nino Durden as well. Durden had already been charged, by Garcetti‘s office, with attempted murder as well as other elements of a cover-up. After reviewing the case, Cooley Head Deputy Bill Hodgman decided to accept Durden’s story that he had been startled when Javier Ovando entered a room in a deserted apartment building, and that he shot Ovando in self-defense.
With attempted murder off the table, Durden pleaded guilty, in both state and federal court, to crimes stemming from the cover-up, in which he and Perez planted a gun on Ovando, then testified in court that he, Ovando, had drawn his gun on them.
In his confessions, Perez had characterized the shooting as an attempted execution. But by giving Durden the benefit of the doubt, Cooley -- and U.S. Attorney Mayorkas -- won themselves a key new witness. According to the plea agreement, Durden met with staff from the District Attorney‘s Office on February 14, 22 and 23, and on March 1, 8, 9, 19 and 20.
There’s no telling how many new allegations will arise from Durden‘s interviews with investigators, or whether any new officers might be implicated. Clearly Durden is talking about more than the Ovando shooting, as his plea covered three other arrests. Officials said after the news conference that Perez himself would be a likely target. While Perez has an immunity agreement with the county, he could still be charged by federal prosecutors. Asked on Friday whether he is considering charges against Perez, Mayorkas would only say the investigation was ”ongoing.“
Durden’s disclosures could also extend beyond the Rampart Division. According to Perez, Durden learned the tricks of the trade while assigned to the department‘s 77th Street station. Rampart officers Brian Liddy, Mark Richardson and Sergeant Ed Ortiz -- all of whom were accused by Perez of misconduct at Rampart -- also did stints there. When pressed at the news conference on whether Durden would be asked about 77th CRASH unit, Cooley said, ”Absolutely.“
Along with the news about the Rampart investigation, last week’s developments said a lot about the new district attorney. During his campaign against Garcetti, Cooley made much of the slow pace of the Rampart inquiries, the failure to make cases and the D.A.‘s apparent failure to challenge police misconduct before the scandal broke.
Since taking office, however, Cooley had fallen largely silent on police issues. When a Superior Court judge threw out the convictions in the first Rampart case, Cooley elected to appeal the decision rather than re-file the charges, an appeal most observers said would be futile. And when Rafael Perez announced in January he would no longer cooperate with police investigators bringing internal cases against other Rampart officers, Cooley simply shrugged.
Weeks later, his office moved in Superior Court to remand Perez from county to state custody. That meant there would be no effort to force Perez to fulfill the terms of his plea agreement. ”We’re through with him,“ Cooley said at the time.
Absent any new developments in the case, it looked as if Cooley would join Chief Bernard Parks in allowing Rampart to simply slip into the past, with a handful of officers fired from the department, and Perez and his partner the only officers brought to justice for widespread misconduct at the gang unit and beyond.
Those new developments came last week.