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
Then he turned his fresh eyes to Rampart, a case he repeatedly branded “L.A. Confidential II.” He promised to “get to the bottom” of police crimes and malfeasance first uncovered when Officer Rafael Perez was caught by his superiors swiping cocaine from a Los Angeles Police Department evidence locker. There’s no question that fresh eyes were needed. Cooperation between the LAPD and Garcetti’s office had been minimal, and open warfare between the D.A. and Police Chief Bernard C. Parks peaked with a public statement from Mayor Richard Riordan telling the two men to stop acting like children.
But soon after the task force began doing its work, Cooley stopped using words like “fresh eyes” and started referring to the “so-called Rampart scandal.” Cooley today boasts of convicting nine police officers. But three of those convictions were thrown out by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor on her own motion. Cooley is appealing. He’s counting one officer twice — Nino Durden was convicted in both federal and state courts. Meanwhile, he claims credit for Rampart convictions won by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Almost all of the convictions obtained by our federal counterparts were a result of our efforts,” Cooley says, “so we really did the heavy lifting there. We were very, very thorough in getting LAPD to give us complete investigative packages regarding any of the allegations of corruption, as thoroughly analyzed by the assigned lawyer, Bill Hodgman, who’s an excellent head of the Ad Hoc Rampart Task Force. And we took it up a notch . . . We were looking for the patterns of corruption, to see how widespread it was, see if there were any linkages. And we did that. It’s in our Rampart report.”
Cooley promised that report in November 2001, during a rare press conference in which he unveiled “protocols” for reporting and investigating suspected criminal acts by police officers and other justice system officials. After making his announcement, a reporter asked about the Rampart probe, and Cooley fielded the query by declaring his office was ready to “close the book” on the corruption scandal.
It was another year before the release of the Rampart Task Force Report, which detailed 82 declinations to file. The report said crooked ex-officer Nino Durden “never implicated any other officer in criminal misconduct” besides himself and Perez. Defense lawyers who had seen transcripts of the Durden examination said the ex-officer named eight others who could be criminally prosecuted. They also blasted Cooley for failing to follow up with criminal charges against officers in the cases of more than 100 defendants who had to be freed after evidence surfaced that the police who testified against them may have lied. Cooley, meanwhile, has fought to support the convictions and notes that “we’re not buying into every convicted individual’s false claims.”
His take on Rampart: “I think it’s ended rather well, considering what a mess it was.”
The federal probe continues. The city Police Commission has established a new task force to get to the bottom of Rampart.
Cooley also promised to reopen the case of the Belmont Learning Center, a glorified high school just west of downtown that became, in the district attorney’s words, a “public works disaster of biblical proportions.” He seemed especially intent on finding criminal wrongdoing given the fact that Garcetti took a look and came up with nothing, as did state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Again, Cooley appointed a task force, and again, it came up with very little. As in Rampart, a report gathered dust for a year before the office released it. Only this time, his own troops fell into a divisive squabble over the contents. One result of the Belmont investigation: Roger Carrick, counsel to Los Angeles Unified School District Inspector General Don Mullinax, and longtime Deputy District Attorney Anthony Patchett, whom Cooley appointed to probe the matter, are challenging Cooley in the March 2 race. Both say Cooley blew the probe. The district attorney will have none of it.
“The Belmont work from this office is probably some of the best work ever undertaken,” Cooley says. “Everyone took a shot at Belmont. Garcetti. Lockyer. Hahn. And the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In my view all of their combined work, add it all up, put it in a stack, didn’t measure up to the ultimate product produced by my Belmont task force. I count Belmont a complete, major accomplishment for this office, in terms of following through on a promise. I said we’d get to the bottom of it, we got to the bottom of it. We published our report. It’s been on our Web site for a year or so. This is good work.”
You don’t bring charges in Rampart, in Belmont, or in anything, Cooley insists, if you can’t back them up. “If you’re a good D.A., an honest D.A., an ethical D.A., you don’t do it unless you believe . . . this evidence is sufficient to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury,” he says. “After considering all plausible defenses, that’s it. If you can’t meet that