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
Other cases crop up in other divisions. When officers Christopher Coppock and David Cochrane were indicted for criminal misconduct last October, it led to an ongoing review of more than 40 cases for similar potential misconduct. And the Weekly’s own review of court documents related to another of the LAPD’s CRASH units, in the 77th Street division, found repeated allegations of misconduct and wrongful shootings, as well as substantial civil judgments against the department.
To attorney Gonzalez, who’s brought actions against law-enforcement agencies across the state, the situation at Rampart recalls the Sheriff’s station at Lynwood, where a class-action lawsuit against hard-charging deputies resulted in a multi-million-dollar judgment and intervention by a federal judge. “They had a GET squad, the Gang Enforcement Team,” said Gonzazlez. “They had a trailer there, too [where the unit was housed separate from the other deputies], and they had gang signs. People began to take on the same practices as the CRASH officers, and nobody told them to stop.”
For Deputy District Attorney Rosenthal, such circumstantial arguments aren’t enough to conclude that Perez was telling the truth. Rosenthal declines to offer a categorical appraisal of Perez’s testimony: “Help the community decide what happened at Rampart? Sorry. I just can’t do it.”
The difficulty, Rosenthal said, is that “I cannot, without corroboration, believe what Perez said . . . The problem is that he’s very charismatic and convincing, whether he’s telling the truth or he’s lying.”
In his frustration, attorney Gonzalez proposes another tack. “Put Brian Hewitt on a lie detector and let him answer a few questions.”
Perez is gone, but it’s impossible simply to bookend a civic tsunami on the scale of the Rampart scandal. The District Attorney’s Office has all but closed its books, and Chief Parks has grown comfortable in claiming victory, but the story continues to play out on another level — the slow but sure grind of the federal government.
There are two main players still on the field, the U.S. Department of Justice and District Court Judge Gary Feess, empowered to enforce a consent decree holding the LAPD to new standards of review and accountability.
Officials at Justice insist that their investigation into criminal misconduct and civil rights violations at Rampart is continuing. That stance led many observers to predict that prosecutors would slap Perez with an indictment upon his release from state prison last week.
That didn’t happen. Nevertheless, Justice spokesman Thom Mrozek maintained, “We have an ongoing investigation into allegations of civil rights abuses by members of the LAPD Rampart CRASH unit. Beyond that we will not comment.” Mrozek added that, “The FBI is the primary investigative agency,” and said other police incidents, including the shooting of Margaret Mitchell, a homeless woman slain after she was stopped for unauthorized possession of a shopping cart, are also under review.
On the civil side, former Manhattan prosecutor Michael Cherkasky has been appointed by Judge Feess to serve as his monitor in overseeing the consent decree. In an interview last week, Cherkasky acknowledged that there is no consensus on the extent and nature of police misconduct at Rampart. “We’re getting 180 degrees,” Cherkasky said, “divergent opinions about the consent decree, about the LAPD, about the political will in this community being for reform or not being for reform — enormously disparate views about this.”
But Cherkasky said he doesn’t need to resolve the question of past practices to implement reforms that date back to the Christopher Commission. Besides, he sees an important role for an independent monitor. “Clearly there has been a failure in the balance of the different institutions in Los Angeles. That’s why the federal government has come in and sued, and that’s why this case has been settled.”
The decree, designed by the representatives of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division in Washington in collaboration with the LAPD, the City Council and the Mayor’s Office, sharply restricts the monitor’s purview. In reviewing the conduct of internal investigations, for example, the monitor may recommend changes in procedure, but “Such evaluation . . . shall not obligate the department to reopen or re-adjudicate any investigation.” Moreover, the decree states, “The monitor shall not make any public statements or issue findings with regard to any act or omission of the city.”
Yet Cherkasky said he’s confident he has the authority, vested in him by the judge, to effect meaningful reform at the LAPD. Central to those reforms is installation of a new computer tracking system that will compile reports of misconduct and citizen complaints on individual officers, as well as close tracking of traffic stops and other police activity by race and by district. The idea is to “institutionalize the process of looking at police officers’ full records, of how they behave themselves, and having that information available to make management decisions about promotions and discipline and assignments. That’s an institutional change I think is terribly important.”
Cherkasky added that he believes changes in process can be more effective than making individual cases: “In 1986, I was made the head of the rackets bureau in Manhattan, and I brought a prosecution that indicted 41 building inspectors. And I, showing all traces of hubris, said, ‘I have cleaned up the building inspectors.’ And in three years, I did 29 more. And what it really taught me was, you know, making arrests and prosecuting people doesn’t change the system, that you have to have organizational, systemic change.”