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LAPD APOCALYPSE? COP SCANDAL COST MAY BE COLOSSAL, THREATENING CITY SERVICES.

Byline: Greg Gittrich and Beth Barrett Staff Writers

The financial fallout of the LAPD Rampart scandal will far exceed the city's preliminary, ``conservative'' estimate of $125 million, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Daily News.

At least 15 people who were arrested, detained or allegedly abused by anti-gang officers from the Rampart Division already have filed civil lawsuits against the city seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

At least 99 defendants whose rights were violated by former Officer Rafael Perez, the key figure in the scandal, have been identified by police, and the number of victims is widely expected to reach at least 200, possibly 300 - potentially escalating the cost of the scandal and threatening many city services for years to come.

In coming weeks, dozens of lawsuits that are now being drafted will be filed, according to private attorneys representing the plaintiffs. And many others are likely as the investigation expands.

A source close to the police corruption task force, who asked not to be named, conceded the official $125 million estimate given privately to the City Council last week is ``based upon speculation that was based upon speculation.''

The number is ``low'' and ``conservative,'' the source said.

Another high-ranking source said the estimate offered to the council covers only potential damages for cases investigators have looked at during their limited review.

To calculate the preliminary liability, city attorneys have had to rely on oral presentations and a list of 99 defendants in 57 tainted cases that was released Jan. 26 by Police Chief Bernard C. Parks.

``We just don't have a full picture,'' the source said, adding the real bill will be ``overwhelming and daunting.''

Chief Deputy City Attorney Timothy B. McOsker would not confirm any figures that have been reported. But he added: ``Any exposure projections we'd share with (the council) would be based on facts we know or can infer.''

LAPD Cmdr. Dave Kalish said it's premature to come to any conclusions about the final liability bill facing the city. Police are cooperating fully with city attorneys, he said.

A number of the pending civil lawsuits include class-action clauses that call for the court to notify yet unidentified victims of the police thuggery. The cases estimate the universe of victims at 4,000 people, but note the number could be larger.

DELUDED CITY?

Civil rights attorney Steve Yagman, who has filed five of the civil cases against the city, said if the city is relying on risk assessments associated with the cases identified so far by Parks, it is deluding itself.

``If the council had a realistic assessment, it would be so frightening to council members. They'd have nightmares, and who wants to have nightmares? They can be lulled into complacency by ignoring reality. That's what's happening.''

Yagman has a list of more than 12,000 cases involving Rampart officers who have been associated with other tainted cases. He said the extent of the city's liability won't be known until the District Attorney's Office and Public Defender's Office release files needed by plaintiffs' attorneys seeking civil damages.

``It's the apocalypse,'' he said.

The civil actions already filed charge that the unchecked police corruption described to investigators by dirty-cop-turned-informant Perez was not unusual, but typical of a larger policy, pattern and practice by the city and police against primarily young Latinos.

This was not about protecting the innocent, the cases charge. This was about terrorizing people and inflicting an illegal, vigilante-style justice on those considered guilty by sight.

``The scale of this is unprecedented,'' said Jody David Armour, a nationally recognized criminal law and tort expert and a professor at the University of Southern California Law School.

LEGAL ASSAULT

Armour and several civil rights experts said it is certain that the legal assault against the city will intensify as investigators overturn more bogus convictions and Perez identifies additional corrupt cops.

``I can't think of anything in recent memory that compares with this in terms of the substantial liability facing the city. The $125 million estimate, a sizable sum, is not an exaggeration. It's conservative,'' Armour said.

``We have several city employees, police officers, who have engaged in conduct that has wrongfully deprived a still unknown number of citizens of their rights and freedoms.''

The lawsuits cast Rampart's paramilitary CRASH - Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums - unit as a vicious gang.

The civil actions accuse the officers of brutality, unjustified shootings, racial profiling, excessive force, assaults, intimidation, illegal search and seizures, torture, perjury, falsification of evidence, and the filing of false police reports.

The lawsuits also take aim at the city's ability to properly train its police and attack the LAPD's infamous ``code of silence'' - a misplaced loyalty system whereby cops who swore to uphold the law standby as their fellow officers maliciously break the law and shame the city.

``The reason that this is ignored and swept under the rug is most of the actions are taken against people who are not model citizens,'' said Connie Rice, a Los Angeles-based civil rights attorney.

``We've given these cops a license to kill, a license to lie, a license to fabricate evidence because we've asked them to do an impossible job and contain of certain group of people.

``Then we mount a war on drugs and tell the cops we have to win this war even though it's not winable. We create a CRASH unit to control hoodlums and the cops end up acting like the people they are supposed to be controlling.

``The cops really feel abused. That's why they look the other way and act like cowboys. There is a wink and a nod because politicians and voters don't care about how the problem is being solved.''

SEEKING DAMAGES

The plaintiffs who allege being abused by Rampart officers are seeking damages for violations of their civil rights, as well as emotional distress, medical bills, negligence, and other fees.

Some civil actions call for the abolishment of the Rampart CRASH Unit and accuse the anti-gang officers of running a racketeering enterprise condoned by top officials. Several of the lawsuits seek more than $200 million alone.

LAPD's investigation into corruption at the Rampart Division began last year when Perez agreed to turn over evidence to reduce his sentence for stealing cocaine from an evidence room. He pleaded guilty to the theft last September.

Perez told investigators that from 1995-98, he routinely framed innocent people, falsified documents, and committed perjury in court to send his victims to jail.

Most egregiously, Perez implicated himself and his former partner Nino Durden in the shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old man. After firing several bullets into Javier Francisco Ovando, Perez said he and Durden planted a gun on Ovando and then testified in court that he had attacked them.

Ovando maintains he was handcuffed and then shot point blank in the head by Perez. He was released from prison last September after serving three years of a 23-year sentence. Late last year, he, his 2-year-old daughter, and her mother filed civil lawsuits against the city.

LAWSUIT ONSLAUGHT

The following is summary of lawsuits filed as of last week against the city and/or city officials in connection with the Rampart scandal. The lawsuits each name a different list of defendants. Those named include the city, the police department, a bevy of Rampart police officers, current and former city council members, police commissioners, and other city employees. In several cases Police Chief Bernard Parks, former Police Chiefs Willie Williams and Darryl Gates, and Mayor Richard Riordan also are singled out.

CASE #: CV-99-11835

PLAINTIFFS: 2-year-old Destiny Ovando and her mother Monique Valenzuela.

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Destiny's father Javier Francisco Ovando was handcuffed, taken from his apartment, and shot in the chest twice by Officers Perez and Durden in Oct. 1996.

Bloody and injured, Ovando desperately begged for his life. Perez grabbed him by the front of his shirt and held him upright, and shot him point-blank in the head.

Perez and Durden then framed Ovando to make it appear that he had attacked them. Ovando subsequently was sentenced to 23 years in prison, largely on the false testimony of the two officers.

After sitting behind bars for two years and 11 months, Ovando was set free last October at the request of the District Attorney's Office. He is now confined to a wheelchair.

Destiny was born while her father was serving a prison term for crimes he did not commit.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Unspecified.

OF NOTE: Ovando admitted being a member of the 18th Street Gang at the time of the incident.

CASE #: CV-99-12054

PLAINTIFF: Ruben Rojas

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rojas was alone with his sister in his home on March 5, 1997 when Rampart officers came through the door without probable cause. The officers cornered Rojas, who was only wearing his boxers, and demanded to know the location of a gang member. Rojas said he didn't know where the person was.

The officers arrested Rojas and placed him in a police car, telling him they would ``find something'' to charge him with. On the way to the police station, the cops stopped the car, took Rojas out of the vehicle and unhandcuffed him. The cops told Rojas it was his ``last opportunity'' to give the officers information. He repeated he didn't have any.

Still only wearing his underwear, Rojas was taken downtown to Parker Center, where his mother brought him clothes. Perez and other Rampart officers gave the clothes to Rojas after planting cocaine in a pocket.

Rojas was sentenced in Nov. 1997 to six years in state prison. He was released last November at the request of the D.A.'s office. Perez has told investigators that he and other officers framed Rojas.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Unspecified

CASE #: CV-00-00018

PLAINTIFF: Stanley Peralta-Iraheta; aka Jose Perez

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rampart officers shot Peralta-Iraheta in the back as he climbed the stairwell at 676 South Shatto Place, then framed him by saying he pointed a gun at them. Peralta-Iraheta contends he was unarmed. As he lay wounded, one Rampart officer placed a gun to his head and stated: ``Too bad you're going to die, mother f---er.''

Peralta-Iraheta's friend was killed and a witness was wounded by police during the July 1996 incident. Peralta-Iraheta was held liable for the death of his friend and faced a life sentence in prison if convicted. Following the advice of his attorney, he pleaded guilty to assault on a police officer and received time served. The conviction was overturned last November at the request of the D.A.'s office.

Officer Perez has characterized the shooting as ``dirty.''

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Unspecified

OF NOTE: Peralta-Iraheta was arrested last year for an unrelated shooting in September.

CASE #: CV-99-12130

PLAINTIFF: Sofia Saldana, Heriberto Saldana, Rosa Saldana, and the Estate of Juan Manuel Saldana

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rampart officers shot and killed Juan Manuel Saldana during the July 1996 raid at 676 Shatto Place. Officer Perez has told investigators that the shooting was ``dirty'' and another shooting victim during the same raid had his conviction overturned last November at the request of the D.A.'s office.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Unspecified

CASE #: CV-99-13190

PLAINTIFF: Raul Rodriguez

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: A anti-gang officer falsified documents and warped witness statements in an attempt to frame Raul Rodriguez for a Nov. 1996 murder. Rodriguez was acquitted of the charges in 1998, but was convicted of drug and weapons charges stemming from items seized from his home when detectives searched for the murder weapon.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: $100 million in general damages, $1 million against each of the defendant, and other unspecified damages.

OF NOTE: Rodriguez is a former gang member with an arrest record. The officer who Rodriguez claims attempted to frame him for murder has been relieved of duty in connection with the Rampart corruption probe, officials said.

CASE #: CV-99-13080

PLAINTIFF: J. Render

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Police illegally stopped, searched, seized, and planted evidence on J. Render. Based upon the bogus evidence and testimony by the arresting officer, Render was convicted on drug charges. On Oct. 19, the conviction was vacated and the case was dismissed without objection from the D.A.'s office. The court overturned the conviction because of ``illegal police conduct.''

DAMAGES SOUGHT: $1 million in general damages, $1 million in punitive damages against each of the 105 named defendants, and other unspecified damages.

CASE #: CV-99-12811

PLAINTIFF: DeNovel Hunter

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rampart Officer Rafael Perez, the now government informant, planted drugs on DeNovel Hunter in April 1992. Perez bent over by Hunter and acted as though he picked up two foil-wrapped bindels of cocaine that were in his own hand. Hunter was convicted on the charges and spent four years in jail and one year on probation.

OF NOTE: The case is not one of those being reviewed by the task force investigating Rampart. Perez's attorney has stated that his client did not commit any crimes before joining Rampart's CRASH unit in 1994. Hunter had a prior drug record.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: $100 million in general damages, $1 million in punitive damages against each of at least 300 defendants; and other unspecified damages.

CASE #: CV-99-11696

PLAINTIFF: M. Hernandez

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rampart Officer Rafael Perez and his partner Nino Durden falsely arrested Hernandez, a convicted felon, for possessing a gun in October 1996. Hernandez was convicted and held in custody for 22 months, then placed on parole. The weapons conviction was overturned last November at the request of the D.A.'s office based upon statements from Perez.

OF NOTE: Hernandez had been convicted of drug charges in Nov. 1993.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: $100 million in general damages, $1 million in punitive damages against each of at least 300 defendants, and other unspecified damages.

CASE #: CV-00-00451

PLAINTIFF: C. Diaz

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rampart Officer Rafael Perez and his partner Nino Durden brutally beat Diaz, who is a diminutive female. They arrested her, stole cash and personal property from her and forced her into an extortion scheme. If she failed to help the officers finger drug dealers or if she turned the corrupt cops in, Perez and Durden threatened to beat or murder her.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: $1 million in general damages, $1 million in punitive damages against each of at least 100 defendants, and other unspecified damages.

CASE #: BC-204826

PLAINTIFF: Thomas Heo

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: A half dozen cops entered Heo's cellular telephone business in Feb. 1998. When Heo challenged their right to search the premises, a fired Rampart officer told him a search warrant was unnecessary. The officers then closed the shop for about an hour and examined some of the phones. Without cause or explanation, they then arrested and handcuffed Heo and hauled him off to Rampart Station.

Heo, now 29, was cuffed to a bench in a detention room for more than an hour as officers searched through the merchandise. None of the phones were stolen and no charges were filed.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Case settled for $60,000.

CASE #: BC-204824

PLAINTIFF: Eduardo Hernandez

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Hernandez was walking near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado Street when two Rampart officers ordered him to put his hands above his head, handcuffed and arrested him.

One of the officers ``unreasonably, maliciously and sadistically slammed'' Hernandez's head into a wall, causing him to bleed, then jerked on his handcuffed arms resulting in further injury.

Hernandez was jailed for two days without medical treatment. After Hernandez filed a complaint, he said officers arrested him on a fabricated charge that was dropped.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Unspecified.

CASE #: BC-221610

PLAINTIFF: Nabil Hasan

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rampart Officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden swerved in front of Hasan in Sept. 1996 as he was driving east on Burns Avenue with three passengers, forcing the car to stop. After lining up the vehicle's occupants, Perez searched the car without consent.

The complaint alleges that Perez loaded a hangun licensed to Hason that was found in the trunk. Perez then said: ``It's done,'' and Hasan was handcuffed and driven first to a hamburger stand where the officers bought food, then to Rampart Station. He was never read his miranda rights.

In late 1996, Hasan's first trial resulted in a hung jury after he said Perez and another officer, Michael Buchanan, committed perjury. Hasan was acquitted by a jury in 1997.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: $1 million for pain and suffering; $5 million for punitive.

CASE #: BC-129885

PLAINTIFF: Joseph Tenorio, a minor who filed suit through his guardian Marie Santiago.

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Tenorio, 14, he was leaving an apartment building in Oct. 1996 when Rampart Officer Brian Hewitt approached with his gun drawn. The cop handcuffed Tenorio and repeatedly asked for informationon a gun, which the kid said he knew nothing about.

Hewitt began to beat Tenorio in the chest with his fists, then cuffed him to a stairwell railing. As Hewett, Officer Rafael Perez and other cops walked up the stairs, they kicked the boy in the head with their boots causing his head slam against the iron stair railing. Hewitt then drew a circle on the wall and said "this is where your head is going to be." Tenorio continued to plead that he knew nothing about a gun. Then Perez and Hewitt then picked him up and rammed his head into the wall about five times.

The boy's mother called Rampart and complained, but no investigation was done.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Unspecified.

CASE #: BC-218273

PLAINTIFF: Javier Ovando

SUMMARY OF CASE ALLEGATIONS: Rampart officers Rafael Perez, Nino Durden, Michael Montoya and other unidentified officers entered Ovando's apartment without a warrant or consent in Oct. 1996.

Ovando was handcuffed and then shot repeatedly in the chest and body, and finally in the head ``in an effort to ensure that they had killed him,'' according to the lawsuit.

A gun then was planted on Ovando. Officers committed perjury at his trial. Sentenced to state prison for 23 years, he was imprisoned for two years and 11 months, before his conviction was overturned last October without opposition from the D.A.'s office.

DAMAGES SOUGHT: Unspecified.

City's response: Petitioned court to dismiss the case and award defendants attorney's fees

CAPTION(S):

box

BOX: LAWSUIT ONSLAUGHT (see text)

SOURCE: Public records

Bradford Mar/Staff Artist
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 7, 2000
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