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How to Bury A Scandal 

Rafael Perez has come and gone but Chief Parks remains unmoved

Wednesday, Aug 1 2001
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Page 4 of 5

In fact, Rosenthal said, he was careful not to encourage Perez to give up more than he actually knew: “I tried to structure the deal in a manner that he would not have the motivation to frame other officers.

“That was what was remarkable to me later,” added Rosenthal. “When Perez started talking about all this, and he became kind of a pariah and the most hated police officer in the state . . . he only got one year off [his jail term] in order to do this. That actually inured to his credibility. Why in the world would he go through this if he didn’t have to? And he didn’t.”

Also INURING TO Perez’s credibility is the LAPD’S long record of tolerating misconduct. Even the cops at Rampart, speaking privately, will acknowledge that former Officer Brian Hewitt, fired in 1998 after a long career for his role in a station-house beating, was, as they put it, “an asshole.”

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And then there are the cases that continue to arise but which continue to be dismissed as anomalies. Officer Ruben Palomares, named by Perez in yet another fatal Rampart shooting which, he said, was covered up, was arrested this June in a federal Drug Enforcement Agency sting in San Diego County. A federal prosecutor in that case said at a bail hearing that Palomares had been using his authority as a police officer to commit crimes for more than two years.

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.”

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