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One case was particularly ugly: During the arrest of a woman for drug sales, both Perez and Coronado were alleged to have grabbed the woman's teenage daughter and dragged her across the floor by her hair. In his interviews with investigators, Perez denied taking part in the altercation and pointed the finger at Coronado, while in testimony before the board, the daughter said it was Perez who grabbed her by the hair.
For his part, Coronado testified to the board that no assault had taken place. He said the situation was calm until he handcuffed the mother; at that point the daughter had become hysterical, and he and Perez handcuffed her until she calmed down.
The final count against Coronado concerned another arrest, one in which he, Perez and Durden kicked in a door during a drug raid. During the department's investigation into the arrest, the landlord of the building told police he had given Coronado a key to the apartment. The investigators later interviewed Coronado, and at one point during more than 12 hours of interrogation, Coronado said he had not received the key.
That discrepancy formed the basis for count seven: that Coronado had made a false or misleading statement to investigators, an offense for which he could be fired.
On March 14, during his last day of testimony on the last count in his last Board of Rights, Coronado was asked by a member of the board to explain what had happened with the key. There was silence in the room. Strains of classical music drifted in from the airy atrium that is the centerpiece of the Bradbury Building. Coronado finally began his response, then stammered and, bowing his head to the table before him, began to sob. After a break, he returned to testify that he thought the question applied to before the arrest was made, not afterward, when he obtained a key to lock up the deserted drug pad.
Two days later, Coronado was again exonerated on all counts. He's back on the job, relieved, chagrined, and certainly less optimistic about his future with the LAPD than in the heady days as a top producer at the Rampart narcotics division.
After the verdict, his attorney, Russell Cole, took a moment to consider the question of why the department had been so eager to turn on such a straight-laced cop as Coronado. Like his client, Cole, who cut his teeth as an assisting attorney in the defense of Rodney King assailant Timothy Wind, was reluctant to condemn the LAPD. But like a lot of LAPD loyalists, he was ready to criticize Chief Bernard Parks.
"For him to be the guy that can claim that he was the one who cleaned up the LAPD, Perez has to be credible. The whole thing went forward on that basis. What we're seeing now is that Perez may well be playing games with them.
"There's a certain amount of bureaucratic inertia," Cole said. "And it's human nature, once you start on the premise that you've identified the bad guys, you're going to work toward a conclusion of guilt. The department hung their hat on the idea of Perez being credible."
Of course, Perez wasn't lying about everything, either. In the same week Coronado was exonerated, three more Rampart officers were indicted for misconduct based on Perez's allegations, and Perez's former partner, Nino Durden, pleaded guilty to four bogus arrests.
Yet even some of the core of officers who pursued the leads and cases built on Perez's confessions are now eyeing his testimony more closely. "I've changed the way I look at things," said Ray Garvin, the department advocate who brought the first Rampart case, against Brian Hewitt for beating a handcuffed suspect, and who argued the first case against Coronado. "At first I thought we had a bad officer who turned good. Now I weigh everything."