|Photo by Ted Soqui|
For all the squabbling and recriminations over who should do what with the Rampart scandal, Police Chief Bernard Parks and District Attorney Gil Garcetti have so far succeeded in keeping details of their wide-ranging investigations secret.
Even the confession of Rafael Perez, the rogue officer turned informant whose statements have been leaked to L.A.’s two daily newspapers, has been withheld from attorneys representing those defendants Perez said were wrongly convicted.
That could change soon as criminal-defense and civil rights attorneys demand access to interview transcripts and investigative documents in several downtown courtrooms. Federal judges in particular seem skeptical of the argument that the public interest is best served by keeping details of the scandal secret.
Disclosure could broaden the scope of the Rampart scandal, bringing to light new allegations of misconduct and new questions about the conduct of the agencies investigating the case. And one case pending in state court could show that Perez has already violated his plea agreement.
Following a hearing in federal court Monday, attorney Greg Yates, who is handling a raft of cases from Rampart defendants, predicted that the stone wall erected by local officials will soon crumble. “On this much the D.A. and the LAPD are in sync — they don’t want any outside influence,” Yates said. “They’re afraid these documents are going to compromise their control — and they’re right.”
Yates is among several civil rights attorneys seeking restitution in federal court for Javier Ovando, the gang member Perez says he and his partner shot and framed on a bogus assault charge, as well as Ruben Rojas, whom Perez says he framed. Deputy City Attorney Paul Paquette asked U.S. District Judge Gary Fees to block all discovery on the Rampart cases for the next six months. Paquette said in papers that the LAPD’s investigation “has identified a number of Rampart officers as suspects in a wide range of criminal activity,” and said disclosure of the underlying documents “could compromise this important and ongoing criminal investigation.”
Fees rejected Paquette’s motion and said, “The time is now to move out on these cases.”
In a similar decision in a Rampart case last week, U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrisian denied a bid by the city attorney to delay discovery for six months.
While the bid to delay access to records came from the city attorney, attorney Greg Moreno saw the political interests of county District Attorney Gil Garcetti at work. “There really is not much defense,” Moreno said of the city motion. “It’s an election year, and the D.A. is dragging his feet.
“He’s not just got to have his ducks in a row, they got to lay eggs, too,” Moreno quipped.
Asked to respond, D.A. spokesperson Sandi Gibbons said, “It’s an election year, and you can expect someone to knock someone who’s running for office.” Gibbons added that prosecutors were doing all they could in response to Perez’s Rampart revelations. “The people running this case are doing a good job.”
Several cases pending in state court also pose a challenge to official efforts to keep a lid on the Rampart scandal. Deputy Public Defender Cyn Yamashiro has made sweeping requests for investigative documents relating to 15 Rampart officers, contending that such material could show that the charges against his clients may have been fabricated.
Yamashiro’s motion drew sharp responses from the LAPD and the district attorney, and particularly from the City Attorney’s Office, which asked the judge to impose sanctions against Yamashiro for making a frivolous request. The matter is scheduled for a Superior Court hearing this week.
Yet another case could undermine the veracity of Rafael Perez, calling into question the shortened prison term he was awarded in return for cooperating with prosecutors. The case stems from the 1993 conviction of Darryl
Najeeullah, who was fingered for arrest by officers Perez and David Mack. According to Deputy Public Defender Randall Rich, the case falls during a period when Perez contends he was abiding by the law; prosecutors have admitted they were troubled that Perez has never made any statements implicating Mack, Perez’s former partner. Mack was convicted of bank robbery last year and sentenced to federal prison.
Najeeullah had recently served time for dealing cocaine when he was picked up by officers as part of a narcotics sweep. He contends that he was clean at the time, and spent a weekend in jail before learning at his arraignment that he was being charged again with cocaine sales. The sole witness to appear against him was Perez, who said Mack told him that he’d seen Najeeullah engage in a transaction. Faced with the prospect of eight years in state prison, Najeeullah accepted a three-year deal.
Rich, who was Najeeullah’s attorney at the time, is seeking a writ of habeas corpus to clear his client’s name, which puts the D.A.’s Office in a difficult position: If it agrees to the writ, it will be admitting on the record that Perez framed someone in a case he’s not confessed to. If it opposes it, Rich will have standing to demand a wide range of compromising material on Perez.
The deputy D.A. on the case has twice been granted continuances to decide which course to take, and Rich is getting impatient. “I would like them to file now and begin the process of ascertaining the truth,” Rich said.