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
It‘s a great story, of course, nailing Knight, Mack and Perez for L.A.’s most famous unsolved crime. Except that it‘s impossible. Knight was in jail at the appointed hour, and had been for months.
Sullivan’s mistake was apparently in reading news reports that Knight was sentenced to prison at the end of February 1997. It‘s true that’s when he was sentenced, but Knight was jailed four months previously, in October 1996, after failing a drug test, and held there until his sentencing.
It was not a good mistake for Sullivan to make when accusing someone of murder. Nor when writing a story that purported to set the record straight.
The New Yorker piece, penned by another former L.A. journalist, Times alum Peter J. Boyer, is strikingly similar, especially considering that the two articles were produced from opposite poles of the publishing spectrum, one sober, the other psychedelic.
Like Sullivan, Boyer opens with a detailed account of the Gaines shooting. Like Sullivan, Boyer gives nary a nod to the journalist who broke that story, Jan Golab, in New Times Los Angeles. And like Sullivan and Golab, Boyer strives mightily to tie the Gaines murder to the Rampart scandal.
But where Sullivan and Golab sought to make links through Death Row, Boyer went right to the top -- to none other than Chief Bernard Parks. The chief has chosen his spots with the Rampart media corps, declining requests for interviews from the likes of Sullivan and Geraldo Rivera, but he talked at length with Boyer, and to good effect.
Parks delivered what Boyer called a ”crew of gangsta cops“ in a nice, neat package. ”Perez is a good friend of David Mack, both were good friends of Gaines,“ the chief told Boyer. ”We had some people on this department that were, in a coordinated effort, involved in some very serious criminal misconduct.“
Parks didn‘t bother to support his claim that Gaines knew Mack and Perez -- a link his own investigators were unable to document. Nor did he specify what ”coordinated effort“ he was referring to -- was it Death Row? Biggie Smalls? The bank robbery? -- but the allegation allowed Boyer to cut to the point he wanted to make: That Perez floated the Rampart scandal as a ruse to deflect official inquiries into a ”criminal cadre of black cops.“
That Perez was playing games with the LAPD is a charge the accused officers at Rampart have made from the outset of the scandal, and both Sullivan and Boyer gave it new substance. Boyer in particular gained access to prosecutors and detectives who have not previously spoken on the record, when he demonstrated that the authorities felt bushwhacked when Perez, instead of turning on David Mack or others in the ”cadre,“ described widespread misconduct at Rampart.
It’s an important point, and the strongest new material in either story, but what are we to make of it -- that the Rampart scandal was fabricated? That Perez simply cooked up the scenario of gang-unit cops out of control?
That, certainly, is how LAPD Chief Bernard Parks would have it. For more than a year, Parks claimed credit for unearthing Rampart, suspended a score of officers on suspicion of misconduct and denounced prosecutors for failing to file criminal charges in several Rampart cases. But to Boyer, Parks asserts that the Rampart case was ”exploited“ by the news media and police critics, and limited to ”one-tenth of one percent of our officers,“ presumably Perez‘s ”cadre.“
Boyer buys into that line wholesale, making snide reference to Johnnie Cochran and ”a flourishing ’police-brutality bar‘ that portrayed the department as a congenitally brutal force.“ By contrast, Boyer draws a close portrait of Brian Liddy, a man ”born to be a police officer,“ as one former colleague is quoted as saying, and one of the four officers charged in the first criminal case to arise from Rampart. Three were convicted of filing false reports, but the verdict was overturned by the trial judge.
In Boyer’s account, Liddy and the others were all but railroaded, because Liddy was ”charmless“ and because the jury bought the testimony of ”gangsters.“ Nowhere did Boyer mention that parts of the gang members‘ testimony were corroborated, albeit reluctantly, by cops on the scene; nor did he consider that Liddy might have been guilty after all.
In the end, Boyer pulls his punches, concluding only that ”Few now believe that the wrongdoing was as widespread as Perez once suggested,“ while ”Investigators find themselves no closer to answers about possible police involvement in the bank robbery, Death Row activities or the death of Biggie Smalls.“
In other words, no story. Which was probably a better decision than Sullivan’s bid to create links where they didn‘t exist. But Boyer’s more tentative close only underscores the point that, for all the references in both pieces to the media ”missing“ or ”exploiting“ the story, neither Rolling Stone nor The New Yorker managed to build on what we already knew.
if these stories don‘t teach L.A. readers much about Rampart, they do say a lot about the national media. Clearly, what mattered here was the possible connection to Death Row Records, and even to a high-profile slaying. Never mind that the allegations had been published previously, and in the case of Biggie Smalls, retracted.