By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
To date, four separate investigations have examined the Rampart scandal. In February, LAPD Chief William Bratton announced that the issue needed yet one more look after the so-called after-action reports long promised by former Chief Bernard Parks were deemed all but worthless. Last week, the Police Commission named civil rights attorney Connie Rice to head the fifth Rampart inquiry. The Weekly’s CELESTE FREMON caught up with Rice at her office last week.
L.A. WEEKLY: As an attorney who’s won a number of significant lawsuits against the LAPD, you are a fairly interesting choice to head this new Rampart panel.
CONNNIE RICE: Well, I know that a lot of people are looking at the Police Commission as if they’ve lost their minds for hiring me. In fact, initially when I was asked, I said no.
What changed your position?
I called a whole bunch of people and asked if anything could be accomplished by a new inquiry. And if so, would they help? Or would they sabotage it? The reaction I got from cops was that they were reluctant to see Rampart opened again, but they also felt it needed to be done because the same mistakes are being made in the department right now. So, I gave the Police Commission three conditions under which I’d take the position, and they agreed to all of them.
And the conditions were . . .?
They have to give me every document I ask for; the panel has to have subpoena power; and the chief has to offer immunity when necessary.As opposed to Bernard Parks, who refused to give anyone immunity in the first Rampart investigation, thereby effectively sandbagging it.
Yeah. Immunity is critical. Anyway, they agreed to everything.
For many, “Rampart” has become a code word for the abuses that occurred departmentwide in the city’s minority communities: planting evidence, excessive use of force — all the stuff that former Deputy Chief David Dotson has described as “expediency corruption . . .”
That’s why we’ll be looking at the whole system, the whole culture. We want to examine if the mindset that allowed this behavior has changed. Of course, some cops want significant change. Others don’t. So we need to bring the discussion between those two polarized camps out in the open. In the past, the argument has always occurred behind a wall of silence.
Speaking of walls of silence, your law practice is currently made up mostly of whistleblower cops, is it not?
I call it my “Serpico” practice. I represent cops who are either whistleblowers or the targets of a hostile policing culture — like women cops and minority cops.
What insights have those “Serpico” cases given you that might help in the Rampart inquiry?
I’ve learned what’s most effective in changing the system. In the past, I used to have clients who were the targets of police abuse, people who’d gotten beaten up by the cops, kids who’d been mauled by police dogs. But, I found when you go into court with a client who isn’t viewed as anything but a gang member, or someone from a poor community, you have no capacity to demand policy change. The judges won’t hear it. Juries don’t pay attention. But if you walk into court with a cop as your client, you can ask for something entirely different, because the cop has a different kind of status. I could spend the rest of my life defending victims of police abuse, and nothing inside the department would really change. If they lose a verdict, the brass simply writes the check and views it as the cost of doing business. People have been suing the police for 100 years, and it doesn’t make a dent. I’ve learned the only people who can change police culture are cops.
Do think Chief Bratton will make a measurable dent?
I think he’s sincere in wanting to chart a new course for the LAPD. And I know if you make the case to him in a way that he can hear it, he won’t ignore it. I just don’t know him well enough yet to know how far he’ll go. But leadership really matters. Under Sheriff Baca, the county’s liability payouts for police abuse have gone from $20 million a year to $2 million. I mean, he’s got ex–civil rights lawyers doing simultaneous investigations. At LAPD you can’t even get the inspector general to do simultaneous investigations. They don’t want anybody looking over their shoulders. I’m telling you, Baca’s 30 years ahead of nearly everyone else in law enforcement.
What qualities do you think you bring to the new Rampart panel that’ll make it more effective than the previous four investigations?
Well, I think I have a perspective that most civil rights lawyers don’t have. And that’s basically the fact that we put cops in an impossible position. By “we” I mean the voters, the general society. We have a bargain with the police that requires a containment model of policing.
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