LAPD corruption scandal resurfaces


Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 28, 2003 at 10:11 p.m.

LOS ANGELES - The police corruption scandal that cost the city $40 million in legal settlements flared up this week when the new chief ordered an outside investigation and newly reported testimony suggested that corrupt officers are still on the beat.

Police Chief William Bratton, who took office in October, criticized an internal review of the scandal as unacceptably flawed, and he called for an independent probe of the allegations that officers planted guns and drugs, lied under oath and shot unarmed suspects.

The Rampart scandal, named for the gang-infested section of the city where it originated, led to judges overturning convictions or tossing out charges in about 100 cases. It broke in 1999 after former officer Rafael Perez was arrested for stealing cocaine from an evidence locker and talked about a 1996 case in which officers shot and paralyzed a man.

Some 70 officers were investigated and nine, including Perez and his former partner, Nino Durden, have been prosecuted. Both men are in prison.

In November, District Attorney Steve Cooley declined to prosecute 82 more alleged Rampart police corruption cases, citing insufficient evidence and Durden and Perez's lack of credibility as witnesses. At the time, the decision was seen as a signal that the scandal was all but over.

But the scandal flared up again with Bratton's call for a more rigorous investigation and recently disclosed transcripts of Durden's interviews with state and federal prosecutors in 2001.

According to the transcripts obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Durden named two officers who allegedly filed false reports in connection with the 1996 shooting. Both of those officers remain on active duty.

The district attorney's office said it will look into whether any cases should be reopened.

"We are re-looking at the statements of Durden to see if we missed anything," district attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.

Federal prosecutors continue to investigate the Rampart scandal.

An independent panel will be appointed in two weeks, said Joe Gunn, executive director of the city's civilian Police Commission. The probe is likely to examine the chain of command that allowed the problems to fester, rather than focusing on rank-and-file officers.

"When you look at the scope of corruption on the street level, it was very small," said City Councilman Dennis Zine, a former LAPD officer. "I think Bratton wants to look beyond that into the command level."

Critics of the department said the move toward an outside review is long overdue.

"This issue is too important to be swept under the rug," said Ramona Ripston, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "At stake is nothing more than the department's credibility and prospects for regaining the community's trust."

City Councilman Jack Weiss, a former federal prosecutor, said: "The police department will never be able to move successfully into the future until it comes to grips with the recent past."

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