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
"I think the LAPD is full of integrity," Vincent declared. "I have no problem representing the department. As a matter of fact, I like representing the department. I was in the LAPD for 25 years, and in my last six I was commanding officer of Internal Affairs . . . and I've never found any problem with any of it. If evidence [of an officer lying] presents itself -- and that has not been my experience thus far -- we'd certainly take a different approach to that case."
ONE RESULT OF THE CITY ATTORNEY'S deference to the LAPD is the enormous amount of money the city of Los Angeles has paid out to settle police-abuse cases. From 1990 to 1999, the city paid out over $100 million to settle such cases. Another measure: From '92 through March 2000 the city spent $144 million to settle all suits against the LAPD. That number includes internal matters such as sexual-harassment suits, but not traffic accidents involving police vehicles, which have cost taxpayers another $5 million over the past three years alone.
Hahn sees these figures as a success. "Our office has been working on this [problem], and it's shown by the reduction in numbers," says Hahn. "I think we're doing a good job. It's measured by that last column, which is a lot less than 10 years ago."
In fact, Hahn's own statistics fail to bear that out. While it's true that the amounts the city paid to settle police-abuse suits were down in 1997 and '98, they shot back up in 1999, when Hahn's office authorized $1.5 million more in settlements than it did at the start of the decade.
Meanwhile, current estimates of the costs of settling Rampart-related lawsuits range from a low of $125 million to $1 billion. The higher estimate gained credence when two federal judges recently ruled that the LAPD could be sued under federal racketeering or RICO laws, thus expanding the time a police-abuse victim has to file a lawsuit from one to four years. Whatever the figure, it's going to be high, Hahn concedes. "It's not just going to be the Rampart cases," he says, "but every police case where there is a jury is going to be [influenced] by Rampart. Close cases are not going to go our way."
"We had a wrong-address search-warrant case after the Perez case broke," Hahn continued. "We were thinking the award would be $50,000 to $100,000. But the jury came back with a verdict of $800,000. That told me that Rampart is going to be very expensive."
Saddled with such a costly record of inaction, Hahn's effort to assume the mantle of police reform seems patently artificial. Last year, for example, Hahn issued a policy statement instructing his deputy city attorneys to report to their supervisors if they suspected a police officer of lying or fabricating evidence. The policy itself is innocuous enough, but the date it was announced -- March 21, 2000 -- was remarkable, for two reasons. It was the first time Hahn ever issued an official policy on the subject of officer credibility. And it came only days after an embarrassing federal indictment of two LAPD officers for attempting to frame an innocent man named Victor Tyson, and in the face of damning, whistle-blowing accusations made by both a probationary deputy city attorney named Evan Freed and Judge Chotiner of the Superior Court.
Freed and Chotiner charged that they had reported the two officers for lying and attempting to frame Tyson back in 1995, but that Freed's supervisors failed to launch their own investigation, or to even bother reporting the charges to LAPD Internal Affairs.
Following jury selection, Freed informed the judge that he believed that the officers were lying. Upon review, Judge Chotiner found the frame-up to be so transparent that he issued a rare finding that Tyson was "factually innocent" of the fabricated crime. He then told Freed that his office "should do something about the fact that the officers were lying and that Internal Affairs needed to be notified."
The case drew headlines when the federal indictment was handed down, but Chotiner discussed it publicly for the first time for this story. The judge vouched to me that Freed wrote his supervisors a memo on the alleged misconduct but they took no action. When the judge asked later what had happened with the case, Freed replied that he didn't know.
"This continued on for weeks," said Chotiner, "and finally I made several calls to Freed's supervisors. Finally, during my third call, one of them said, 'Look, if you feel something should be done, you do it.' I told him that I wasn't asking him to conduct an investigation, or to file criminal charges, but to simply notify Internal Affairs. But nothing ever happened." Not, that is, until the U.S. Justice Department launched a lengthy investigation that finally led to the officers' indictments, and to Hahn's belated policy statement.
During that investigation, as Freed tells it, Hahn personally called him on the carpet. During a stormy meeting in Hahn's office, Freed said, the city attorney called him a traitor for revealing that the officers had been lying, and blamed him for mishandling the case. "If you had asked the right questions," Freed claims Hahn told him, "you wouldn't have found out about this." After Freed's probationary period expired he was not rehired, and when he took his case to court, charging retaliation, he lost.