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
The case was suspended that August, after Oliva spent three months in jail, and after he agreed to enter a drug-diversion program. The drug charge was not erased until last year, when it was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler, but in the years that followed, Oliva maintained a wary peace with the police.
The truce ended in August 2000, when Oliva was profiled in the weekly New Times. It was the first story about the 1995 incident that Captain Salicos called "unit misconduct," and it placed Oliva at the white-hot center of the unfolding scandal.
OLIVA'S NEW ROUND OF COP PROBlems began soon after the New Times story. It is detailed in a stack of traffic tickets -- 25 of them issued between October 2000 and June 2001 -- with infractions ranging from the mundane to the laughable: passengers with open containers, rolling stops, double parking, no front license plate, a broken taillight, loud music, improper position for a right turn, no seatbelt. With the fines and the court appearances, they came to dominate Oliva's life -- and that of his lawyer. "I spent the better part of last year dealing with this guy's tickets," said attorney Holtz. "Most of them were thrown out."
The tickets were issued throughout the city, which might suggest that Oliva was just a bad driver. But he and his lawyers insist Oliva had been "red-flagged" -- meaning that any inquiry into a law-enforcement database would yield a notice for strict enforcement. Mixed in with the tickets are a series of misdemeanor criminal charges, each of which could have resulted in jail time, but none of which survived judicial review.
The CRASH unit lodged the first of the misdemeanor charges on November 3, 2000. Oliva was pulled over for faulty rear lights, his fourth stop in two weeks. He was ordered out of the car, but he balked -- his wheelchair was in the trunk. According to the police report, he declared, "I'm not getting out unless I'm under arrest." The officers booked him on four counts of resisting arrest and driving with the intent to evade arrest -- two charges for each officer in the squad car. The case was thrown out after a court hearing this April.
In another resisting-arrest case, police said Oliva refused to get out of his vehicle; this time, the violation was for loud music, and this time, Oliva was the passenger. The case was dropped when both the city attorney and the district attorney declined to mount a prosecution.
The arresting officer in both cases was Mike Richardson, the sergeant named to head the new Rampart gang unit after CRASH disbanded. According to Oliva and his lawyers, Richardson is especially aggressive in pressing complaints against the gang member. Said Holtz, "Richardson really has it in for my guy."
In court papers, attorney Greg Yates cites Richardson as an example of the sort of continuity inside the department that makes reform at the LAPD so difficult. During his eight-year tenure in the department, Richardson spent three years in the 77th Street Division, where Rafael Perez said the corrupt Rampart cops learned their craft, and the last four at Rampart itself. In addition, Richardson is the brother of Officer Mark Richardson, now assigned to the elite Metro Division. Mark Richardson was a key figure at the Rampart CRASH unit when Perez was there, and is named in several lawsuits alleging police misconduct. When Perez was asked if Mark Richardson was a problem officer at Rampart, the former officer was positively effusive: "He's done it all . . . Absolutely! Planted guns, planted dope . . . He's absolutely committed perjury."
MIKE RICHARDSON WAS THE SUPERVIsor at the scene of still another Oliva arrest, on May 17 of last year. That night Oliva was hanging out with several buddies, most of them gang members, at a burger stand called the Double Eagle. Located on Alvarado Street at Olympic Boulevard, the Double Eagle is not the kind of place easily confused with McDonald's. It's built of painted concrete block, and orders are served through a slot in a wraparound metal cage. On a given night you might find a customer at the window swigging from a 40-ounce bottle of beer; on the weekends, said counterman Julio Ramirez, "Sometimes it gets real crazy."
But for Oliva and his friends from 18th Street, the restaurant is a regular hangout. "It's cool because they've been coming here a long time," Ramirez said. "They don't bother us for nothing. They grew up around here."
The night of the arrest, police said they received a call of a man with a gun outside the restaurant. A helicopter was dispatched, and four officers headed out to investigate. They arrived in their usual fashion: tires squealing, barking orders and immediately pushing people around. As usual, the gang members answered with resentment.
According to police, when officers ordered Julio Escamilla to exit the restaurant, he asked, "Why?," and then he complied. The officers turned to Oliva, who was seated in his wheelchair playing a video game. He said, "Hold on," but the police were in no mood to wait. All four grabbed hold of Oliva and the wheelchair, trying to force his arms back to be handcuffed while shoving him toward the entrance.