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
The rivalry was exacerbated by wildly contrasting styles and played out in the close confines of the narcotics unit, housed in a double-wide mobile trailer in the parking lot behind the Rampart station. Where Coronado was diminutive and soft-spoken, Perez was rangy, cocky and garrulous. Where Coronado was described by his colleagues as "passive" and "a good listener," Perez was "the entertainer, the performer, the bullshitter," as one officer put it, who smoked expensive cigars and liked to brag about his several girlfriends.
The contrasts continued when it came to police work. Dean Gizzi, the officer whose desk faced Coronado's, described him as "career-minded," a man who "liked the recognition of being a good narcotics officer." He was also regarded as selfish, another cop said, and tended to hoard his investigative leads. "Other members in the unit didn't believe Coronado was a team player with them," still another recalled. "Ray Perez, on the other hand, he liked to be the center of attention," Gizzi said at a Board of Rights.
The differences between the two officers were most pronounced in the field. Coronado "was very straight-arrow, a by-the-book kind of guy," as one of his former partners said. "He was almost like a training officer," Dean Gizzi said. "I mean, it was almost sickening." Especially for a fast-and-loose cop like Perez.
Early on in Perez and Durden's tenure at narcotics, according to Coronado, the two would pair up with him, "because they saw I could make cases." And almost immediately, sparks flew. As Coronado recalled in his memoir, "After a while, I noticed that Perez and Durden did not care much for the rules and regulations."
"I felt it was my obligation to correct any members of the squad," Coronado wrote. "After I tried to correct him a few times, he began to curse at me. He would state, 'Man, fuck that.'"
It's easy to see how Perez's swaggering, sneering disdain for police regulations, and for Coronado's invoking them, was intoxicating to the other cops. After all, in the war on drugs and gangs, the niceties of legal due process only got in the way. And when it came to making cases, nobody produced bigger hauls -- of suspects, of contraband -- than Perez.
According to Coronado, the supervisors in the squad "bragged" about Perez. In turn, Perez made no effort to hide his contempt for Coronado.
"When there were other members of the squad in the operation, he would still curse at me and ignore me." Coronado added ruefully, "Most of the squad members just followed him, for the most part."
Coronado first put his objections on the record in July, after he and a team of officers, Perez among them, raided the home of a reputed drug dealer named Cesar Luis de la Mora. The officers found plenty of marijuana and, stashed in the bag of a vacuum cleaner, $10,350 in cash. The dope was confiscated, the money was turned over to George Lusby, the detective in charge of Rampart narcotics, and de la Mora was taken to the station for booking.
According to Coronado, while the haul was still being counted, he spoke on the phone with de la Mora's mother. "The black officer that spoke Spanish took my money," she complained -- funds that weren't included in Lusby's count. Coronado says he relayed the complaint to his supervisor. But he says that when Lusby called de la Mora's mother an hour later, she recanted her complaint.
In his later interviews with police investigators, Perez denied stealing the cash, but recalled de la Mora being upset, and that Coronado took it up with his boss. Lusby, for his part, denies any report of missing funds, but agrees that Coronado took the occasion to raise concerns with the way Perez and his partner ignored department procedure in conducting searches and seizures of drugs and money.
In fact, Lusby says now, he convened a training session for the entire squad, going over the department rules on searches, "all the procedures and policies that were in effect."
The dispute over search procedures was critical. Narcotics busts often involve large quantities of drugs and money, and if searches proceed without supervisors or at least a second officer present, the likelihood of theft increases exponentially. As it turned out, Perez was grabbing drugs and money on just these occasions.
Coronado's July complaint marked the beginning of a running battle between him and Perez, open antagonism that grew steadily in intensity and ended only when Coronado left the unit that October. He told friends at the time that the other officers at narcotics took Perez's side and followed his lead, making drug buys and conducting searches without supervision.
In return for his complaints to supervisors, Coronado said, he was ostracized by his peers and ignored by his bosses. "I was being sold off as a troublemaker," he said in his memoir. "The whole unit began to get sloppy . . . Perez was pretty much running the unit."
IN HIS INTERVIEWS WITH INVESTIGATORS, Perez offered conflicting versions of his relationship with Coronado. On one occasion, Perez said flatly, "I didn't get along with Coronado. He then modified his comment, saying, "I don't know why this turned so big that I supposedly didn't like Coronado. Coronado was not liked by the entire unit."