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File:Bernard Parks.jpg

Chief Bernard Parks after the April 29, 2002 hearing in which he was denied a second five year term as LAPD Chief[1]

The Rampart Scandal refers to widespread corruption in the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (C.R.A.S.H.) anti-gang unit of the LAPD Rampart Division in the late 1990s. More than 70 police officers in the CRASH unit were implicated in misconduct, making it one of the most widespread cases of documented police misconduct in United States history. The convicted offenses include unprovoked shootings, unprovoked beatings, planting of evidence, framing of suspects, stealing and dealing narcotics, bank robbery, perjury, and covering up evidence of these activities. [2]

The Rampart Scandal is notable in popular culture because at least three Rampart police were found to be on the payroll of hip-hop mogul Marion "Suge" Knight of Death Row Records, a convicted felon with known ties to the Bloods gang. Moreover, detective testimony and a wrongful death lawsuit filed on April 16, 2007, holds Rampart CRASH officers Nino Durden, Rafael Pérez, and David Mack responsible for the 1997 drive-by murder of platinum-selling hip hop recording artist Notorious B.I.G..[3]

As of May 2001, the Rampart investigation, based mainly on statements of admitted corrupt cop (Perez), implicated over 70 officers of wrongdoing. Of those officers, only enough evidence was found to bring 58 of those officers before an internal administrative board. Of those, 12 were given suspensions of various lengths, 7 resigned, and 5 were terminated. Bringing into question whether many of Perez' statements were factual, or an attempt to shift attention from himself and transfer blame. [4] As a result of the probe into falsified evidence and police perjury, 106 prior criminal convictions were overturned. [5] The Rampart Scandal resulted in more than 140 civil lawsuits against the city of Los Angeles, costing the city an estimated $125 million in settlements.[6]

Reportedly, as a result of the scandal, Police Chief Bernard Parks was not rehired by Mayor James K. Hahn in 2001, which is believed to have precipitated Mayor Hahn's defeat by Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2005 election.[7]

The full extent of Rampart corruption is still not fully known, with several murder and robbery investigations involving Rampart police that remain unsolved to this day.[8][9]

Timeline of scandal

March 18, 1997 - Officer Kevin Gaines road rage shootout

Around 4:00 pm on March 18, 1997, undercover LAPD officer Frank Lyga shot and killed Rampart CRASH officer Kevin Gaines in self-defense following a case of apparent road rage.[8] [10] According to Lyga's and other witness testimony, Gaines, blasting rap music, pulled his green SUV up to Lyga's Buick. Gaines had a shaved head and wore his sweatshirt open to his navel, exposing the breadth of his chest. Lyga looked over at Gaines, who returned his stare, and said "Can I help you?"

"No. Roll up that window, you punk motherfucker," Gaines responded, "or I'll put a cap up your ass."[10]

"Do you have a problem?" Lyga asked.

"I'm your problem, motherfucker." replied Gaines. "Pull over right now and I'll kick your ass!"

Gaines flashed gang signs at Officer Lyga and pointed to the side of the road. Lyga nodded and said "Let's go." When Gaines pulled over, Lyga sped away, thinking he had avoided the unpleasant situation.

Gaines sped after Lyga, brandishing a steel-cased .45 caliber handgun. Lyga took out his gun and began frantically calling fellow officers for help using a hidden radio activated by a foot pedal. Lyga's voice can be heard on police recordings, "Hey, I got a problem. I've got a black guy in a green Jeep coming up here! He's got a gun!"

Pulling up at a stop light, Lyga testifies that he again heard Gaines shout "I'll cap you.". Lyga fired his 9mm Beretta into the SUV, lodging one bullet in Gaines' heart. Lyga radioed one final transmission: "I just shot this guy! I need help! Get up here!"

The killing of a black officer by a white officer created a highly publicized LAPD controversy and prompted allegations that Lyga's shooting was racially motivated. Within three days, Gaines' family hired Johnnie Cochran to sue the city of Los Angeles. Lyga reported that Gaines was the first to pull a gun, and that he responded in self-defence. Lyga told Frontline, "In my training experience this guy had 'I'm a gang member' written all over him."

In the ensuing investigation, the LAPD discovered that Gaines had apparently been involved in similar road rage incidents, threatening drivers by brandishing his gun. The investigation also revealed that Gaines was associated with rap recording label Death Row Records and its controversial owner, Suge Knight. Investigators learned that Death Row Records, associated with the The Bloods, was hiring off-duty police officers like Gaines to serve as security guards.

Lyga served desk duty for one year while the LAPD reviewed the details of the shooting. Following three separate internal investigations, Lyga was exonerated of any wrong doing. The LAPD concluded that Lyga's shooting was "in policy" and not racially or improperly motivated.

Following the incident, the Gaines family retained attorney Johnnie Cochran and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for $25 million. The city eventually settled with Cochran for $250,000. Lyga was angry the city settled, denying him the chance to fully clear his name. Judge Schoettler wrote a letter to Chief Bernard Parks stating "Had the matter been submitted to me for a determination, I would have found in favor of the City of Los Angeles." Schoettler's letter alleged political reasons for settling the case, namely, City Attorney James Hahn was preparing to run for mayor and black voters were his primary demographic. [6]

The Gaines-Lyga incident was subtly dramatized in the 2004 Academy Award winning film, Crash.

November 6, 1997 - Officer David Mack bank robbery

File:Mackdot.gif

LAPD photo of David Mack

On November 6 1997, $722,000 was stolen in an armed robbery of a Los Angeles branch of Bank of America. After one month of investigation, assistant bank manager Errolyn Romero confessed to her role in the crime and implicated her boyfriend, LAPD officer David Mack, as the mastermind. Mack was sentenced to 14 years and three months in federal prison. He has never revealed the whereabouts of the money, bragging to fellow inmates that he will be a millionaire by the time he is released.[8]

February 26, 1998 -- Rampart Station beating

Rampart CRASH officer Brian Hewitt brought Ismael Jimenez, a member of the 18th Street Gang, into the Rampart police station for questioning. According to Officer Pérez's recorded testimony, Hewitt "got off" on beating suspects. In the course of questioning, Hewitt beat the handcuffed Jimenez in the chest and stomach until he vomited blood. After his release, Jimenez went to the emergency room, and told doctors he had been beaten in police custody. Following an investigation, Hewitt was eventually fired from the LAPD, as was Ethan Cohan, a Rampart officer who knew about the beating but failed to report it (as Perez had done until facing severe jail time). Jimenez was awarded $231,000 in a civil settlement with the city of Los Angeles. Jimenez is currently serving in federal prison for the distribution of drugs and conspiracy to commit murder.[6]

May, 1998 -- Investigative task force created

On March 27, 1998, LAPD officials discovered that six pounds of cocaine were missing from an evidence room. Within a week, detectives focused their investigation on LAPD Rampart CRASH officer Rafael Pérez. Concerned with a CRASH unit that had officers working off-duty for Death Row Records, robbing banks, and stealing cocaine, Chief Bernard Parks established an internal investigative task force in May, 1998.

The task force, later named the Rampart Corruption Task Force, focused on the prosecution of Rafael Pérez. Completing an audit of the LAPD property room revealed another pound of missing cocaine. The cocaine had been booked following a prior arrest by Detective Frank Lyga, the officer who shot and killed Rampart officer Kevin Gaines. Investigators speculated Rafael Pérez may have stolen the cocaine booked by Lyga in retaliation for Gaines' shooting.[6]

August 25, 1998 -- Perez arrested

File:PerezMugShot.gif

Officer Rafael Pérez's testimony led to the investigation of 70 Rampart officers and overturned more than 100 convictions[6]

Officer Rafael Pérez, at age 31 and a nine-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, was arrested on August 25, 1998 for stealing six pounds of cocaine from a department property room. The cocaine was estimated to be worth $800,000 on the street. [11] As he was arrested, Pérez reportedly asked, "Is this about the bank robbery?" Pérez would later deny that he had any knowledge of David Mack's bank robbery, and never testify against Mack. Pérez was charged with stealing 6 pounds of cocaine from the LAPD evidence room. Investigators would eventually discover eleven additional instances of suspicious cocaine transfers. Pérez eventually admitted to ordering cocaine evidence out of property and replacing it with Bisquick.[6]

On September 8, 1999, following a mistrial, Pérez agreed to cut a deal with investigators. He plead guilty to cocaine theft in exchange for providing prosecutors with information about two "bad" shootings and three other Rampart CRASH officers engaged in illegal activity. For this deal, Perez received a five-year prison sentence as well as immunity from further prosecution of misconduct short of murder. Over the next nine months Perez met with investigators more than 50 times and provided more than 4,000 pages in sworn testimony. Perez's testimony implicated about 70 officers in misconduct.[6]

Examples of Rampart police brutality

Perez's testimony reveals how, allegedly, Rampart supervisors were widely aware of and encouraged ongoing police brutality, concocting cover stories for offending officers, planting evidence to frame suspects, signing off on false reports, and even awarding plaques to congratulate officers for shootings and killings.[5]

Shootings

  • In 1996, CRASH officer Kulin Patel shot and wounded Juan Saldana when he was running down an apartment hallway. Patel and his partner then planted a gun on Saldana as he lay bleeding. When their CRASH supervisor, Sergeant Edward Ortiz, arrived, Ortiz delayed calling an ambulance until the officers concocted a cover story. Juan Saldana bled to death before arriving at the hospital.[12]
  • CRASH officers fired 10 rounds at Carlos Vertiz, a 44-year-old man with no criminal record, when they mistook him for a drug dealer. To justify the shooting, the officers planted a shotgun on the dying Vertiz and claimed he had pointed it at them.[12]
  • In 1996, officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden handcuffed 19-year-old gang member Javier Ovando and then shot him in the chest and head, paralyzing him. The officers then planted a gun on him. Ovando received a 23-year prison sentence based on the officers testimony.[12]
  • On New Year's Eve 1996, Rampart CRASH officers opened fire on and wounded two holiday revelers and then arrested them on trumped-up charges. According to Perez's testimony, the officers rehearsed a story claiming the revelers fired guns in the officers' direction, and were shot in self-defense.[12]
  • Perez testified that a rookie Rampart patrol officer shot an unarmed man he discovered hiding in a closet. When the rookie's supervisor arrived at the scene, he directed the rookie to claim the man was holding a mirror, causing him to see his own reflection with a gun and open fire.[12]
  • Officer Melissa Town shot at a youth in a park who fled when she approached him. When her supervising sergeant arrived, he pulled a 5-1/2 inch piece of chrome from the bumper of a nearby car and instructed Town to say the suspect pointed it at her.[12]

Beatings

  • Rafael Perez told investigators of an occasion when officers broke up a party and ordered several dozen gang members to their knees with their hands behind their backs. Officer Brian Hewitt walked down the line, randomly assigning a fictitious charge to each youth.[12]
  • Perez relates how after a Rampart officer's tires were slashed, a group of officers drove around the neighborhood indiscriminately beating any youth they encountered. On a similar occasion, a gang member suspected of slashing a tire was beaten, stripped naked, and dropped into rival gang territory.[12]
  • On one occasion, a youth was repeatedly shot with a bean bag gun for amusement.[12]
  • For another suspected gang member, officers drew a target on a wall, and used the youth's body as a battering ram. The young man told investigators his head smashed through the plaster and was pierced by splinters from the wooden studs inside the wall. The officers were attempting to obtain information from the youth about a missing gun.[12]
  • Some officers, notably Officer Brian Hewitt, preferred administering beatings to gang members, rather than bothering with booking procedures and reports. According to Perez's testimony, Hewitt in particular was known for beating handcuffed suspects, and beating for sadistic pleasure.[12]
  • Officer Daniel Lujan, Brian Hewitt's partner, beat a youth at the end of a foot pursuit, badly injuring the suspect's knee. When his supervisor arrived at the scene, Lujan admitted having no reason for the beating. To justify the beating, the supervisor instructed Lujan to book the man on a drug charge. Perez testifies that on another occasion, Lujan dislocated a handcuffed suspect's elbow for sport.[12]
  • Perez's testimony also recounts a story of officers approaching a man sitting on a bench, handcuffing him and throwing him to the ground, and kicking his head and body. According to the police report the officers filed, the man injured himself by jumping out of a third floor window head first. Rampart supervisors rubber-stamped this fictitious account.[12]

CRASH culture

In extensive testimony to investigators, Pérez provided a detailed portrait of the culture of the elite CRASH unit. Perez insisted that 90% of CRASH officers were "in the loop", knowingly framing innocent suspects and perjuring themselves on the witness stand. Perez claims his superiors were aware of and encouraged CRASH officers to engage in misconduct; the goal of the unit was to arrest gang members by any means necessary. Perez described how CRASH officers were awarded plaques for shooting suspects, with extra honors if suspects were killed. Perez alleges that CRASH officers carried spare guns in their "war bags" to plant on suspects. In recorded testimony, Perez revealed the CRASH motto: "We intimidate those who intimidate others." [5]

CRASH officers would get together at a bar near Dodger Stadium in Echo Park to drink and celebrate shootings. Supervisors handed out plaques to shooters, containing red or black playing cards. A red card indicated a wounding and a black card indicated a killing, which was considered more prestigious. Perez testifies that at least one Rampart lieutenant attended these celebrations.[12]

Rampart officers wore tattoos of the CRASH logo, a skull with a cowboy hat encircled with poker cards depicting the “dead man's hand,” aces and eights.[12]

Rampart ties to Death Row Records

The Rampart Corruption Task Force investigators discovered that hip-hop mogul Suge Knight, owner of Death Row Records, had several of the corrupted Rampart officers on his payroll, including Kevin Gaines, Nino Durden, Rafael Pérez, and David Mack. Knight was hiring off-duty Rampart police to work for Death Row as security guards for hefty amounts of money. For instance, after Gaines' shooting, investigators discovered Gaines drove a Mercedes, wore designer suits, and found a receipt in his apartment for a $952 restaurant tab at the Los Angeles hangout, Monty's Steakhouse.[8]

Ties to the Bloods

Knight, a native of Compton, has known ties to the Mob Piru Bloods. Following Rafael Perez's arrest, investigators discovered photos in Perez's apartment depicting him dressed in red and flashing Blood gang signs. Since David Mack's arrest, he has openly joined the Bloods while in prison, renouncing his affiliation with the LAPD and wearing as much red colored clothing as can be obtained in prison. At the time of Kevin Gaines' shooting by LAPD officer Frank Lyga, Gaines was flashing gang signs and waving a gun. [13]

Ties to the murder of Notorious B.I.G.

The April 16, 2007 wrongful death lawsuit for the murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G. names Rampart officers Durden, Pérez and Mack as perpetrators of the crime. [3] The lawsuit states that Perez admitted to the LAPD that he and Mack "conspired to murder, and participated in the murder of Christopher Wallace (aka Notorious B.I.G.)." Both Perez and Durden were on duty the night of the murder outside the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard on March 9, 1997.

The wrongful death lawsuit is corroborated by testimony by investigating LAPD detectives Brian Tyndall and Russell Poole, who believe Mack and other Rampart police were involved in the conspiracy to kill Wallace. [14] Poole claims that LAPD Chief Bernard Parks refused to investigate their claims of Mack's involvement, suppressing their 40 page report, and instructing investigators not to pursue their inquiry. Detective Poole, an 18 year veteran of the force, quit the LAPD in protest and filed a lawsuit against the LAPD for violating his First Amendment rights in preventing him from going to the public with his information.[15]

Record settlement

File:Javier Ovando.jpg

Gang member Javier Ovando was shot and paralyzed, then framed by Rampart officers Nino Durden and Rafael Pérez

The city of Los Angeles faced more than 140 civil suits resulting from the Rampart scandal, with total estimated settlement costs around $125 million.[6]

Javier Ovando was awarded a $15 million settlement on November 21, 2000, the largest police misconduct settlement in Los Angeles history. 29 other civil suits were settled for nearly $11 million.[6]

Rampart investigation coverup

There have been multiple allegations that Chief Parks and members of the LAPD were actively involved in obstructing the Rampart Investigation. Parks was in charge of Internal Affairs when Gaines and other Rampart officers were first discovered to have ties to the Bloods and Death Row Records. Parks is said to have protected these officers from investigation. [9] According to Rampart Corruption Task Force Detective Poole, Chief Parks failed to pursue the Hewitt Investigation for a full six months. When Poole presented Chief Parks with a 40 page report detailing the connection between Mack and the murder of Notorius B.I.G., the report was suppressed.[9]

On September 26, 2000 Detective Poole, an 18 year veteran of the force, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and Chief Parks. Poole, lead investigator on the Lyga-Gaines shooting and member of the Rampart Corruption Task Force, resigned from the Department and claimed in his civil suit that Chief Parks shut down his efforts to fully investigate the extent of corruption within the Department. Poole specifies conversations and direct orders in which Chief Parks prevented him from pursuing his investigation into the criminal activities of David Mack and Kevin Gaines, notably involving the investigation of the murder of Christopher Wallace.[16]

Many city officials, including Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, expressed a lack of confidence with Chief Parks' handling of the investigation.[16] On September 19, 2000, the Los Angeles City Council voted 10 to 2 to accept a consent decree allowing the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee and monitor reforms within the LAPD for a period of five years. The Justice Department, which had been investigating the LAPD since 1996, agreed not to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Bernard Parks opposed the consent decree, but were forced to back down in the face of overwhelming support by the city council. [17]

The "L.A.P.D. Board of Inquiry into the Rampart Area Corruption Incident" was released in March 2000. The report made 108 recommendations for changes in LAPD policies and procedures. The Board of Inquiry report, sanctioned by Bernard Parks, was widely criticized for not addressing structural problems within the LAPD.[17]

"An Independent Analysis of the Los Angeles Police Department's Board of Inquiry Report on the Rampart Scandal" was published in September 2000, by USC law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky at the request of the Police Protective League. Chemerinsky outlined six specific criticisms of the Board of Inquiry report, namely that the LAPD minimized the scope and nature of the corruption; and abetted the corruption through its own internal negligence or corrupt policies. Chemerinsky called for an independent commission to investigate corruption; and a consent decree between the City of Los Angeles and the Justice Department to monitor effective reform.[17]

The "Report of the Rampart Independent Review Panel", published in November 2000, was created by a panel comprised of over 190 community members. Its report issued 72 findings and 86 recommendations. The report noted the Police Commission had been "undermined by the Mayor's Office" and that the Inspector General's Office had been "hindered by ... lack of cooperation by the (LAPD) in responding to requests for information."[17]

Political and cultural aftermath

Police Chief Bernard Parks was not rehired by newly elected Mayor James K. Hahn in 2001. This arguably caused Hahn to lose the support of South Los Angeles's black community, leading to his defeat by Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2005 election.[7]

The ensuing elimination of the Rampart CRASH division following the scandal is believed to have enabled the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang to grow its already substantial power among the Rampart district's Salvadoran population. [18] The rival 18th Street Gang continues to thrive in Rampart as well, with as many as 20,000 members in Los Angeles county. [19]

In 2002, the television series The Shield premiered, depicting a band of rogue Los Angeles police officers. The program was so directly inspired by the Rampart Scandal that "Rampart" was nearly used as the series title.[20]

The video game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas contains a storyline about the CRASH division that is extremely remniscent of the corruption of their real-life counterparts.

The 2008 feature film Street Kings and the 2004 film Cellular are loosely based on the historical events of the Los Angeles Rampart Scandal.

See also

References

External links


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