By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
The District Attorney‘s Office has decided not to file charges against an LAPD detective who was admonished by a judge for submitting phony fingerprint tests in an attempted-murder case. The detective’s action prompted the judge to throw out the case against a 22-year-old San Pedro man.
The faulty evidence involves William Douglass, a 30-year veteran detective who was investigating the attempted armed robbery of a taxi driver in Wilmington two years ago. Two shots were fired by one of the two suspects, both striking the protective glass barrier in the taxi. It never became clear why he did, but Douglass focused his attention on Jose Corona, the San Pedro man arrested in May 2000.
Douglass provided the prosecutor what looked like definitive evidence against Corona. It was a series of fingerprint-analysis reports showing that Corona‘s prints matched one of the 24 lifted from the taxi.
Defense attorney Dale Rubin, as part of his preparation for trial, demanded copies of the fingerprint reports. The reports, however, showed that only four fingerprints had been lifted from the taxicab, and that none of them matched Corona’s.
Faced with this contradiction, Douglass claimed in a written report he made the fake fingerprint analysis as a ”prop“ in an attempt to get Corona to confess. The detective said he forgot to replace the fake report with the real one when he filed his case with the District Attorney‘s Office.
After looking into the discrepancy, Long Beach Superior Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani dismissed the case against Corona, and issued a damning eight-page opinion against the detective.
”It is hard to believe that within the span of four months Det. Douglass’ memory was so bad that he forgot he had doctored the evidence,“ wrote the judge. Comparet-Cassani emphasized that Douglass admitted changing evidence and that she found it ”impossible“ to accept his explanation that the trouble was caused by ”negligence, inattention or an honest mistake.“
Douglass, she continued, had violated Corona‘s constitutional rights. ”The function of law enforcement is the prevention of crime and apprehension of criminals, but that function does not include and cannot include the manufacture of evidence. Were the court to tolerate the officer’s conduct in this case, this court as well would participate in that abuse.“
Last June 11, the judge threw out the case against Corona. Seven months later, on February 14, Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Munisoglu decided not to file charges against the detective. ”I looked at it and I didn‘t see a criminal action,“ she said in an interview. ”I saw an error in judgment and a mistake, one that shouldn’t have happened, of course. But it was just a mistake on the detective‘s part.“
Asked if she read the judge’s ruling and statement of facts issued when the attempted-murder charge was dismissed, Munisoglu said, ”Yes, but I didn‘t give it much weight in making my decision. I have to look at the facts objectively,“ she said.
Corona is now in jail on unrelated charges. At the time of his arrest in the holdup of taxi driver Tefera Wajiria, Corona was facing charges for stealing CDs from a Long Beach Tower Records. He is serving a three-year term, with credit for the 469 days he served awaiting trial in the attempted-murder case.
Douglass has refused to be interviewed and went on stress-related sick leave shortly after the case unraveled. Corona’s attorney, Rubin, said: ”I‘m just thankful I had a judge who was willing to push for the truth.“
The handling of the Douglass matter raises questions about the commitment of the District Attorney’s Office to diligently resolve cases of possible police corruption.
”This case was handed to us on a silver platter,“ said a senior deputy district attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ”We had an obligation to fully investigate Douglass‘ alleged misconduct as soon as we knew about it.“
Word of the detective’s contradictory statements about the fingerprint analysis first reached the D.A.‘s Office on January 9, 2001, when the head deputy in Long Beach, Allen Field, notified the Justice System Integrity Division, which focuses on misconduct involving law-enforcement officers.
Field also called the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division about Douglass‘ conduct in the Corona case. On July 31, the LAPD sent its report to the D.A.’s Office. It was only then that the matter was assigned to Munisoglu. She defended the time she spent reviewing the case. ”The LAPD took its time investigating, and I wanted more information. I don‘t think I have to rush this. It’s a complicated case and has to be explained very carefully,“ she said.
In a written summary of her decision not to file charges, Munisoglu documented statements that Douglass made about fingerprint evidence in the Corona case. Before the trouble arose over the fake report, she wrote, the detective told the prosecutor handling the case that ”there was no fingerprint evidence linking Corona to the taxicab.“
Later, according to Munisoglu‘s report, the prosecutor asked Douglass to check to see if any prints could help identify a second suspect in the case. It was then that Douglass produced what turned out to be the phony report, claiming he had forgotten it was in the file.