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
"Quite frankly, we have a lot of employees that are extremely reluctant to come forward to their lieutenants, their commanding officers . . . I think employees are reluctant at times because they feel that there is a price you pay if you do that."
Another LAPD narcotics supervisor, Detective Frank Goldberg, was also asked whether Coronado should have gone over Lusby's head with his concerns about Perez. Goldberg's answer was blunt. "It would set the stage for a lot of animosity. Once you complain about a detective supervisor who is not doing his job to another supervisor, you better have your ducks lined up.
"It's very difficult to take on LAPD management, LAPD supervision," Goldberg said. "It is. It just is. Okay."
As to the story that Detective Lusby sided with Perez, Coronado's version was corroborated by none other than Perez himself. During an appearance to testify against Coronado at a Board of Rights, Perez said he recalled one of Coronado's complaints against him, but said, "It didn't matter to me either way because, from the response that I got from the supervisor, he assured me that I was welcome in the unit."
After Coronado's vacation, Perez explained, "He came back to the unit for a week and then was gone, to Hollenbeck. That's why I was told, 'Stay in the unit, he's leaving. We'd rather have you here anyway.'" Or as Perez put it another time, "Lusby said, 'I'll get rid of him before I get rid of you.'"
"So far as I was concerned, Coronado was not an issue," Perez testified last year, sounding as if he still took satisfaction for vanquishing his straight-laced counterpart. "I had gotten my reassurance from the supervisors," Perez said. "That's all I needed."
CORONADO HOPED HIS MOVE TO HOLLENBECK would end his entanglements with Rafael Perez, but it was just the beginning.
He got his first taste of the trouble to come on February 11, 1998, when he received a notice from the Property Division that evidence was missing. Coronado promptly contacted a clerk there and learned that a pound and a half of cocaine had been checked out under his name, with no signature on the receipt. Coronado was told to do nothing.
Three months passed. On June 9, after an evening roll call, Coronado was summoned to meet with Detectives Brian Tyndall and Michael Hohan, and Sergeant Luis Segura, all of the elite Robbery-Homicide Division. Unbeknownst to Coronado, they were members of a secret new task force investigating Rafael Perez and corruption at Rampart.
The first questions concerned the missing cocaine, but Coronado could shed little light on the apparent theft. He was then asked if he had trouble getting along with anyone in the department. Coronado first replied, "No, not really." Then he mentioned his problems at Rampart narcotics, "how there was one particular officer that had created an atmosphere for me that made me leave the unit . . . I told them his name was Ray Perez and that he had a partner named Nino Durden."
"You could see their eyes lighting up," Coronado recalled.
That initial interview ran more than four hours. At the close of a second interview, Coronado was asked if he wanted a security detail of officers from the Metro Division. He declined. Over the next two months he was interviewed over a half-dozen more times -- the same questions, the same answers -- each time in secret. On three occasions, it turned out, Rafael Perez had signed out batches of cocaine under the name Armando Coronado. First interviewed as a suspect, Coronado was now a witness.
In August, members of the task force searched Perez's home, relying on a warrant based in part on Coronado's testimony. A week later, Perez was arrested. And days after that, Coronado's role was exposed. The L.A. Timesobtained the search warrant and published that Coronado had shared with investigators his concerns about Perez's conduct.
Once again, Coronado was ostracized by his fellow cops. "When I returned back to work, I had it really hard," Coronado wrote in his memoir. "The general consensus was still that the department was trying to set up Perez to take the fall for the stolen cocaine. After the article in the paper, I was tagged a 'snitch' by some officers . . . I walked into the locker room and I heard someone yell out, 'Here comes the I.A. plant'" -- a reference to Internal Affairs.
"I continued to work, but I could not go anywhere without someone calling me a 'rat' or a 'snitch' or an 'I.A. plant.' There would be times I would go eat with the rest of the officers on the watch and someone in the group would say, 'OK, did someone check Mando for a wire?'"
Perez went on trial in February 1999. The case was largely circumstantial, and ended in a hung jury. The charges were immediately re-filed, and the police investigators turned again to Coronado. "We need something to get us over the hump," Segura told Coronado. "We need you to remember things." The interviews resumed, "so many," Coronado recalled, "that I lost count of them."