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PARKS URGES DISCIPLINE FOR COMMANDER.

Byline: Phillip W. Browne, Lisa Van Proyen and Troy Anderson Staff Writers

As Mayor Richard Riordan and other officials vowed swift and thorough action in the LAPD corruption scandal, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks announced Monday that a commander who knew about a brutality case and ``chose not to take appropriate action'' has been recommended for discipline.

The commander, Capt. Richard Meraz, said he is being unfairly punished in the scandal that has so far led to a dozen Los Angeles Police Department officers being suspended, disciplined or fired. He called the penalty ``severe,'' short of demotion.

``I feel just a whole myriad of emotions from anger to sadness to disillusionment,'' said Meraz, a 35-year veteran who now commands the LAPD's Central Division. ``I feel that the decisions that I made at the time were correct decisions and I don't agree that the discipline should be as severe as it is.''

He said he would seek a Board of Rights, an internal trial by command staff officers to ``give me the opportunity to give my side of the story.''

Meraz is accused of knowing about the alleged beating of Ismael Jimenez, who claims he vomited blood three times in February 1998 after being handcuffed and beaten at the Rampart Division by Officer Brian Hewitt.

Hewitt filed a writ in Superior Court on Monday to overturn action taken against him by the LAPD and have the incident erased from his personnel file.

Full access probe

In another development in the rapidly expanding scandal, Police Commission President Gerald L. Chaleff said the commission is committed to a ``thorough, objective and wide-ranging'' investigation and that Inspector General Jeff Eglash would have full access to oversee the internal probe.

And Riordan promised to make sure the LAPD was cleaned up as quickly as possible and expressed his support for Parks' efforts.

``It is unfortunate, disappointing and disgusting that a police officer would violate the laws he or she is sworn to uphold,'' Riordan said. ``Do not let a few evil officers ruin the reputation of the entire police force.''

The investigation was triggered when Officer Rafael Perez pleaded guilty to stealing cocaine from LAPD custody and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Perez said he and his Rampart Division partner, Nino Durden, shot Javier Francisco Ovando, 22, a Honduran illegal immigrant, then planted an assault rifle on him. Ovando, left paralyzed, was released Thursday after three years in prison.

Controversy swirled about his whereabouts and whether he is being treated properly by LAPD officials who have been interviewing him since his release.

Ovando's situation

Parks said Ovando is voluntarily cooperating with police and can telephone or meet whoever he wants.

``Ovando is in Los Angeles and he has the opportunity to leave,'' Parks said. ``He has met with friends and family.''

State Sen. Tom Hayden, D-Los Angeles, called for Ovando's release, saying he is concerned about the LAPD holding him in ``persuasive custody.''

``What we are seeing is unique in relation to a Police Department that is charged with wrongdoing and is holding a person who may become a witness against them on down the road,'' Hayden said. ``There is no moral foundation for the very department which apparently abused and nearly took Mr. Ovando's life to continue to keep him in unexplained protective custody.''

He called on Parks to set up a meeting between himself and Ovando to clear up the situation.

Ovando said in Spanish during an interview with KABC-TV ``Channel 7'' news Monday that he was not yet ready to make public appearances that would require him to face intense media pressure swirling around the scandal.

In response to questions about his 2-year-old daughter, Destiny, he said that he thought of her every day in prison.

``She's the only thing I have, and I want to give her the best she deserves,'' he said.

He said he was hoping to meet with her without lawyers present.

Parks said the investigation - the most extensive inquiry into LAPD misconduct since the late 1930s - is widening. It focused on illegal shootings, drug dealing, excessive force and ``code of silence'' violations.

``We will be developing a Board of Inquiry today to look at all of the systems that impact Rampart,'' the chief said. ``We will be looking at all of our systems involved with use of force.''

Parks pledged to cooperate fully with the Police Commission in its probe, but said he also has a responsibility to ensure that information the department releases doesn't raise the risk that the city could be sued.

``The Police Department has the responsibility to protect and assist the city in keeping liability down to reduce future litigation,'' Parks said.

Chaleff said he has assurances from Parks that Eglash will be granted ``full access'' to LAPD reports and evidence.

``Basically, I will have access to everything involved in the investigation and I will report the findings back to the commission,'' Eglash said. ``The commission has made it clear to the chief that they want me to have unrestricted access, and I will continue being their eyes and ears.''

Parks said his discipline record shows his commitment to clean up the department.

``We have terminated over 70 people in the last 18 months for severe misconduct,'' he said. ``We have sent a clear message that misconduct, particularly criminal misconduct, will not be tolerated.''

Tainted evidence

District Attorney Gil Garcetti said he will seek a 30-day suspension of the injunction against the 18th Street gang because evidence used to support the injunction might be tainted.

``Because Officer Rafael Perez was a gang officer whose declarations we relied on, we will go into court today to ask the court to suspend the injunction for 30 days while we determine if the injunction is credible,'' Garcetti said.

The injunctions are designed to prevent gang street violence by prohibiting gang members from associating with one another, wearing pagers and their colors or intimidating businesses and individuals.

``Rafael Perez is just the beginning,'' Garcetti said. ``We are going to follow every lead. We are adding personnel to our prosecution team. I will do everything I have to to get to the bottom of this.''

A spokesman for the attorneys for Ovando's daughter criticized the LAPD.

``If you look at all the statements from last Thursday, they have changed continually. One day he's in police protective custody and the next he is free to go,'' said Gary Frischer, a spokesman for the attorneys.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 21, 1999
Words:1075
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