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
To Steffeny Holtz, Oliva's criminal defense attorney, the conduct of the police warrants legal action on its own merits. "Steve Cooley ran for office on cleaning up Rampart," Holtz said. "He's been looking for a case. Well, here's one on a silver platter."
The arrest came after a night out with friends at the Spearmint Rhino, a strip club located in a dilapidated industrial district southeast of downtown.
Oliva admits being at the club that night, but beyond that, there are two distinct accounts. The police contend that he drove one of two vehicles that engaged two police cars in a high-speed chase. They say he ran interference, swerving across the road in a Dukes of Hazzardmaneuver to keep police from catching the second vehicle. Police say they lost track of Oliva that night, but arrested him weeks later on charges of assault with a deadly weapon for trying to ram one of the squad cars.
Oliva and his lawyers concede there may have been a chase, but insist it involved a single car, and Oliva was not involved in any way. The story of him driving recklessly in a speed duel with two police cars is entirely fabricated, they say, the product of brazen collusion that involved at least two supervisors at the LAPD's Newton Street station.
The lawyers' account is corroborated in part by records from a police computer that directly contradict the incident report composed by officers the night of the alleged chase. Taken together, the police documents detail what appears to be an elaborate frame-up.
The official version is contained in two police reports and in the court testimony of Guillermo Calleros, an officer with LAPD's Newton Division.
According to the initial police report, Calleros and his partner were patrolling Olympic Boulevard east of Alameda Street when they received a call of shots fired near the strip club. They arrived at the club minutes later and found no evidence of a shooting, but spotted a green Ford Explorer parked "awkwardly" on a side street nearby.
According to the police report, the officers ran the car's plates through their onboard computer and no violations turned up. Calleros inspected the car and found its windows up and doors locked, and said he noticed a large assault-type weapon lying on the floor in front of the passenger seat. Calleros called his sergeant, asked for a backup unit, took up a position a half-block away, and settled in to wait.
Minutes later the officers watched a white Mitsubishi Montero pull up -- later identified as being driven by Oliva -- and drop off two passengers, who climbed into the Ford. As the two SUVs drove off, the cops quietly followed. According to the police report, the officers trailed the Ford for several blocks until it ran a red light at Alameda. The police then hit their lights and siren, and the Ford sped off onto side streets to evade them.
Several blocks into the chase, the officers reported seeing Oliva's Montero again, this time driving into their path and trying to block the pursuit. "The white SUV attempted to run us off the road by speeding up and attempting to swerve into us," the report said. Moments later, the report added, "The white Mitsubishi SUV tried to ram the side of our car." The police avoided this assault, lost track of the Montero and kept on the tail of the Ford, which made it to a freeway ramp and led the officers on a 30-mile chase before police found it abandoned.
In court testimony five months later, Officer Calleros repeated the charge against Oliva. "He was right on me, trying to swerve into me."
Oliva did not testify at that hearing, but he told his lawyer that he was never involved in a chase; he simply dropped off his friends at their green Ford and drove home. The first he learned of the case was when he sought to renew his car rental and learned the vehicle was wanted by the police. Oliva was arrested more than two weeks later.
Holtz took her client at his word, and in court she derided the inconsistent police reports and the fantastic nature of the officer testimony. "It begs credulity," Holtz said. If Oliva had truly attempted to ram a police car during a pursuit, she argued, "My client probably wouldn't be alive today . . . If these officers really saw this take place, they would have shot Mr. Oliva and he would be dead. This case is a complete fabrication."
SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE GEORGE Lomeli had more credulity than Holtz, and Oliva was bound over for trial. But that gave Holtz several months to develop her defense, and when the trial date arrived this past February, she had evidence to dispute the officers' account.
The proof came in the form of a log from the MDT, or mobile display terminal, which recorded the communications traffic from the onboard computer in Calleros' squad car. According to the log, Calleros and his partner arrived at the strip club at 2:34 a.m. and saw both the green Ford and the white Montero. Computer inquiries on both cars came back clean, but the Ford yielded a special notice to contact the Rampart detectives division, including the phone number for the station.