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
He objected, gripping at the wheels of the chair and cursing at the police. The officers responded by slamming his head into a metal window frame. A police report said his head struck "two or three times"; Oliva said it was "at least 10 times," leaving him bloody from several wounds.
None of the gang members was found in possession of a gun, but Oliva was once again booked for resisting arrest. This time he reached his lawyer on the phone, and both Greg Yates and his police investigator, a former LAPD captain named Tom Owens, went to the Rampart station. Yates met with Sergeant Richardson, and filed a complaint against the arresting officers, but Richardson found the level of force to be "in policy."
While Yates met with Richardson, Owens went down to the Double Eagle. He said several witnesses agreed that Oliva did nothing to provoke the police beating that night. But the most surprising evidence Owens came across surfaced later, when the police turned over copies of their radio transmissions. Listening to the 911 call of a man with a gun, Owens heard a police radio in the background. The distinctive crackle of a police radio could only mean one thing: The call came from an officer or from someone standing next to one. To Owens, that means that "these guys made the call themselves. This was a setup." The faulty case was dismissed after a preliminary hearing.
Another run-in shows that Oliva's troubles could run even deeper if not for the intervention of his legal team. On April 18 of last year, he was arrested in Hollywood for possession of a gun. After four days in jail he was permitted a phone call, and he contacted Owens, who promptly called Detective Brian Tyndall, then a supervisor on the LAPD's Rampart Task Force, and told him, according to court papers, that "any weapon found on or near Oliva during that contact with Hollywood CRASH officers was planted there by the arresting officers." Owens then demanded that any "alleged weapon" be fingerprinted to eliminate Oliva as a suspect. He was released the following morning with no charges filed and no explanation offered.
CRITICS OF THE LAPD'S HARD-NOSED gang units contend that there's no need for officers to fabricate cases or plant evidence; all they need to do is wait, because hardcore gang members will eventually get caught on a legitimate charge.
That moment may have arrived for Oliva last October 3, when he was picked up with another member of the 18th Street gang and charged with attempted murder. Oliva and his lawyers declined to discuss the case, which is scheduled for trial later this month, but the bare details were laid out at a preliminary hearing in November.
The case rests on the testimony of the alleged victim, a resident of South-Central L.A. named Kyrus Moore. According to Moore, Oliva pulled up to a stoplight well after midnight on the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, across the street from the Museum of Science and Industry, and his passenger threatened Moore with a gun. Moore said he attempted to flee but crashed his vehicle into a curb. When he jumped out and ran, Moore testified that Oliva's passenger fired at him several times; when a second car arrived, someone else began firing, striking Moore once in the foot.
Oliva's defense attorney, a court- appointed lawyer named Pierpont Laidley, asserted in court that Moore had started the trouble himself, opening fire on Oliva and several friends who were loitering on the corner of Figueroa Street at Pico Boulevard, and that they had given chase. Moore denied the accusation, and the judge barred any further questions on how the trouble began.
The judge let the charges stand on the basis of Moore's testimony. Bail was set at $540,000, more than Oliva could raise, and he's spent the past seven months in jail.
Seated in a battered wheelchair during an interview at the downtown jail, Oliva's feverish, his skin dank and clammy, possibly because of an angry welt on his ankle that has swollen to the size of a baseball. He is housed on the medical ward, but his requests for medical attention have been ignored. There's no television in his five-man cell, no radio, no access to an exercise yard. "Just a room and a bed," Oliva says. "The only time I see the sun is when I go to court."
While he refuses to discuss the facts of the Kyrus Moore shooting, it's clear that Oliva blames his troubles on the special attention he's received since going to the press and filing his lawsuit. "I was a nobody until I decided to tell my story. Look at me now," he says, gesturing to the harsh confines of the jailhouse meeting room. These days, he says, "The cops stop me every time they see me. It's kind of hard to hide from them."