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The Rampart Verdict 

The deeper meaning of LAPD’s biggest scandal may never be known

Wednesday, Sep 4 2002
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Page 4 of 4

Then, against the backdrop of the city's still-smoking skyline, hard-line Chief Daryl Gates was forced from office, a new, independent inspector general was appointed, and the department's recruitment and training policies were thoroughly revamped. Yet none of those reforms prevented the Rampart scandal. Is there reason to believe the consent decree will fare any better?

Commission president Caruso answers with a determined optimism. "There's some old-school thinking here, and there's a lot of new-school thinking — much more concerned about the quality of life in the city, much more sensitive to how they do their job," Caruso said. "And the new-school thinking is the one that needs to prevail, and that will prevail."

Commander Koenig said change comes in stages, and will only volunteer that "It's not done yet." In his view, former Chief Willie Williams "brought a sense of police-community partnership back to the organization," while Chief Parks "brought a sense of discipline; the next chief's challenge will be to marry those two things into some sort of a cohesive cultural shift."

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That's a lot to ask, certainly, and still would leave untouched some of the primary failings of the criminal justice system exposed by the Rampart scandal. In his study for the police union, Chemerinsky challenged judges in criminal trials to speak out when officers provide blatantly false testimony in court. Specifically, he called for changes to the Code of Judicial Ethics to require that officers who lie on the stand be reported.

That might seem reasonable — after all, perjury by any witness can be ruled contempt of court — but it provoked sharp reaction from Judge Larry Fidler, who handled most of the Rampart cases at L.A. Superior Court. In a rare public response to Chemerinsky's report, Fidler dismissed the notion that jurists could serve as a meaningful curb to false testimony. "Very rarely is it clearly obvious that someone is lying," he said.

Alternate public defender Gary Wigodsky calls local prosecutors to account on the same score. "What did we learn from Rampart?" Wigodsky asked. "We didn't learn that some cops are corrupt. We already knew that. We learned that information on corruption is suppressed — by the district attorney, by the city attorney, by the police agencies."

Wigodsky said prosecutors and the police are bound by law to turn over any evidence that might impeach the credibility of an officer, and has gone to court to force them to comply. But District Attorney Steve Cooley has given little ground, ordering his deputies not to disclose suspected misconduct unless an officer has been indicted — a much narrower standard than the one adopted by his predecessor, Gil Garcetti.

Cooley's hard-line position only makes sense to Winston Kevin McKesson. As the attorney who represented Perez through a criminal trial and then through the Rampart firestorm, McKesson is sympathetic to the dozens of young men framed by Perez and his cohorts. But he also considers himself a realist.

"It's not the D.A.'s job to look and see where the cop is lying," McKesson said. "It's a conflict of attitudes. If your son gets killed, if my son gets killed, you're not going to want the D.A. who's looking out for a dirty cop. You want the D.A. who's going to put the bad guy in jail."

McKesson brings the same sense of realism to the question of change and reform at the LAPD. He rejected the debate over Perez's veracity, asserting that the Rampart controversy turned on individual attitudes. "This was not information that they wanted to hear," McKesson said of the public at large. "The many people who live in the more conservative, less integrated parts of the city, they really don't care. It's not their children being targeted, not their children being sent to prison."

McKesson reflected on the L.A. cycle of protest, riot and reform. "The citizens of Los Angeles really get the police department they want," he said. "You get another scandal, another short period of time where people pretend to be outraged, and then just go back to where it was."

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