When police officers raided the home of rogue cop Rafael Perez in August 1998, they found in a hallway closet a cardboard box sealed with strapping tape and marked CRASH, secret and confidential. Inside were clothing, a gas grenade and a stash of a half-dozen guns, all of them disabled, which detectives believed were used as throw-downs -- weapons kept on hand to plant on suspects at crime scenes.
Perez talked freely during extensive interviews with detectives and the district attorney about the willingness of CRASH officers to plant guns on unarmed suspects, but said little about the cache of guns at his home. Now, attorneys representing a man shot by Rampart vice officers are digging back into that box, alleging that officers planted a replica gun to justify the shooting. At the same time, disclosures from a separate court proceeding provide new information on the CRASH gun culture.
The allegation of a planted replica gun arises from a Halloween-night shooting in 1996, when three plainclothes vice officers opened fire on a sedan that had pulled up next to theirs north of MacArthur Park, killing the driver and leaving Angel Cruz, then 22 years old, paralyzed from the waist down.
The officers said they fired because Cruz had pointed a weapon at them, and while Cruz denied it, investigators at the scene found a metal-body replica gun on the floor in front of the passenger seat. After fighting a murder charge for 20 months, Cruz finally pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Now Cruz is seeking to overturn his conviction, based in part on Perezs stash box. In a petition filed in Superior Court, Deputy Public Defender Roberto Longoria argued that the possession of several replica weapons in Perezs home would have been used by defense counsel to support [Cruzs] contention that the replica gun recovered from the taxicab was not his and, in fact, came from former Officer Perezs CRASH stash. Longoria further noted that, while the officers who shot Cruz said they saw him holding the gun with both hands, there were no fingerprints on the weapon found in the car.
In addition, Longoria alleges that a red rag was found on the ground near the gun -- similar to the red rag that was wrapped around the weapon found next to Javier Ovando, an 18th Street Gang member who was shot and framed in the one case in which Perez admitted to planting a gun.
One cop who did seek to learn more about the CRASH gun stash was former LAPD Detective Russell Poole, who led the 1998 raid on Perezs home. Poole said in a recent interview that his curiosity was piqued by a phone call picked up on a wiretap in the days before Perez was arrested. Poole said he was informed by fellow investigators that Perez had been warned to get rid of the guns, but said he was rebuffed in his efforts to obtain a copy of the tape.
According to Poole, the refusal to release the tape was one early sign in a pattern of obstruction that convinced him that the department brass was seeking to cover up the extent of misconduct at Rampart. He has since quit the department and filed suit against the city.
Poole pursued the question of throw-down guns in his questioning of former Officer Ethan Cohan, who was charged with misconduct in connection with the 1998 beating of a handcuffed prisoner inside the Rampart police station. The tape of that interview was released during recent court proceedings, and is made public here for the first time.
The interview was conducted by Poole and his partner, Detective Beatrice Cid, in a small room at Parker Center, and recorded by a concealed video camera. As the tape rolls, Poole leans in to Cohan and says, For several months weve had wires on several phones . . . weve heard conversations between some police officers about Lets get rid of the guns. Does that ring a bell with you?
No, Cohan replies. Definitely.
Do you know of anybody in this unit that has a stash of guns, whether confiscated or bought or whatever?
When Cohan demurs again, Poole tries one more time.
Weve got recordings of police officers over the phone saying, Hey, lets get rid of the guns. Several names were mentioned, and your name was mentioned over the phone.
I dont know anything about it, Cohan answers.
During his interviews with investigators, Deputy District Attorney Richard Rosenthal asked Perez once about the wiretap: There was one call in particular that seems suspicious where a caller was asking about guns.
Perez explained that the call came from a confidential informant who was setting up a deal as though I was gonna buy some weapons and we were gonna, obviously, arrest these people. Rosenthal asked no follow-up questions, and made no mention of officer names.
Said former Detective Poole, These are the kind of things they just didnt want to know about.#