Meanwhile, what could be Bratton‘s toughest challenge in his first term as chief isn’t in the streets or Parker Center. It‘s the disposition of around 50 or more outstanding Rampart civil rights cases dating back as far as four or more years before Rafael Perez’s arrest in 1999. A few of these cases have been settled; most are slowly wending their way through federal court. They involve as many as 71 officers and possibly hundreds of unjustly arrested or abused plaintiffs. These cases are probably going to cost the city at least another $100 million to settle. And right now, officialdom on every level seems to be obstructing their resolution. Attorneys for the victimized plaintiffs say the big slowdown encourages out-of-court settlements that protect bad cops from disclosure. But attorneys such as Sam Paz, Steve Yagman and Greg Yates say that they see a compelling need, beyond making their clients whole, to get the entire story out in open court. Before the public forgets and all the bad cops retire. The attorneys‘ consensus is that if Bratton really wants to reform the LAPD, he’s going to have to encourage the courts and prosecutors to plow the Rampart field until the worms wriggle to the surface. And the responsibility of the old LAPD management can be held out to dry. Paz, for instance, wants to see named lead plaintiff Bernie Parks on the witness stand.
Paz recalls, ”Bratton‘s said he wants a high-profile settlement.’‘ Yates also hopes “Bratton will do the right thing.’‘ Meanwhile, despite some significant recent victories, big important cases remain, as Paz put it, ”dead in the water.’‘
Another dubious LAPD tradition is at work here: the firewall between civil actions against officers and official suspicion of criminal behavior. A ranking LAPD officer, asked why cops involved in a particularly hard-to-justify million-dollar shooting settlement were still on the force, responded: “Juries will do anything.” Well, yes. But John DeLorean to the contrary, American democracy assumes that juries are right most of the time. The LAPD might as well assume the same and seriously review the disclosures of egregious officer-wrongdoing settlements.
That’s what the L.A. County Sheriff‘s Department’s been doing. When the Times reported this week that the sheriff had neglected to review 800 claims -- not judgments, but claims -- against the department, it was an official scandal. The complaint came from the county‘s year-old Office of Independent Review, which monitors not just settlements and suits, but such claims as may lead to suits and settlements. And the behavior of officers that might lead to such complaints. What do you think of that idea, Bill Bratton?