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Byline: Beth Barrett and Greg Gittrich Staff Writers

From the moment an LAPD sergeant got the initial report that Rampart Officer Brian Hewitt viciously beat a handcuffed prisoner to the day Chief Bernard Parks fired him, the LAPD vigorously investigated the case.

Hewitt, however, was never prosecuted because the same evidence used to fire him was deemed insufficient by the District Attorney's Office to bring criminal charges.

On Feb. 26, 1998, only four days before dirty-cop-turned-informant Rafael Perez stole cocaine from an LAPD evidence room, Ismael Jimenez staggered into Good Samaritan Hospital's emergency room.

Ashen and crying, Jimenez - a burly, tattooed gangbanger - had been in a Rampart Division detectives' interview room less than an hour earlier, according to records obtained by the Daily News from the LAPD and the District Attorney's Office. The documents provide the first detailed account of the case and the actions of the LAPD and District Attorney's Office in handling that.

Official LAPD reports said Jimenez told the physician, identified as Dr. Brian Harris, that Hewitt had punched him in the chest and stomach and grabbed him by the neck. Harris scribbled Hewitt's name on the hospital bedsheet, noting Jimenez said the cop attacked him.

The doctor noticed that Jimenez's chest was red and observed marks on Jimenez's neck consistent with finger marks. Jimenez then vomited.

Moments later, a security guard who saw Jimenez enter the hospital holding his side listened to him detail the attack. The guard called the Rampart Station, documents show.

A Rampart sergeant arrived at the hospital and interviewed Jimenez and then took him to the station for questioning. Before leaving the hospital, Jimenez, still emotional, refused to allow doctors to insert a long tube down his throat to determine whether he was bleeding internally.

A tale of abuse

At the station house, Jimenez told the sergeant that he and his friend Eduardo Hernandez were arrested hours earlier by Hewitt and another cop outside a tattoo parlor. He said they were doing nothing wrong - a contention the LAPD Board of Rights would later support.

According to Jimenez, Hewitt refused to release him from the Rampart detectives office unless he helped the police find a gun.

When the handcuffed Jimenez balked, he said, Hewitt grabbed him by the neck and began choking him. Hewitt then shoved him, causing his head to slam against the wall, punched him two or three times in the chest and hit him once on his left side above the belt line, Jimenez said.

Minutes later, another officer entered the room. Jimenez said he told the other officer he could not breathe normally. The cop told him to relax and left the room.

Jimenez threw up for the first time. The vomit was splashed with blood. The second cop then returned, removed the handcuffs and gave him water. The officer offered to provide medical attention, but Jimenez said no.

Reports indicate that Jimenez was released around 7:10 p.m. and he walked back to the spot where he was arrested less than two hours earlier. After finding his friend, Jimenez arrived at the hospital about 30 minutes later, records show.

Bloody interview room

Having recorded the tale of abuse, the sergeant who met Jimenez at the hospital inspected interview room No. 2.

The carpet was stained red with bloody vomit. Dried blood was splattered on one wall, according to documents.

Official reports show the sergeant secured the room and summoned the LAPD Crime Lab and Photo Lab. The room was photographed, and an LAPD criminalist collected blood samples and cut out a 12-inch-square piece of carpet.

Later, photographs were snapped of Jimenez's injuries, and his blood was drawn. Jimenez's DNA was matched to samples from the room.

The disciplinary hearing

On June 18, the LAPD Board of Rights reviewed the evidence, called several witnesses, heard Hewitt's defense and concluded Jimenez was illegally arrested and beaten, according to the hearing transcript.

In all, the board found Hewitt guilty of six counts related to the arrests of Jimenez and his friend. Perhaps most notably, the board found that several of Hewitt's actions included ``elements of criminality.''

``No one can mitigate or otherwise condone the deprivation of legal rights, particularly the assault of a handcuffed prisoner who was improperly detained,'' the board concluded.

``Officer Hewitt, you have become too much a liability to yourself, partners, the city, the department and the community. Therefore, this board recommends to the Chief of Police that you be removed.''

`Insufficient evidence'

The District Attorney's Office offered a different take on the matter a few months earlier.

In a report to the LAPD completed by county prosecutors in March, the District Attorney's Office concluded there was ``insufficient evidence'' to prove in court that Hewitt assaulted Jimenez.

``Accordingly, we decline prosecution,'' the report stated.

County prosecutors wrote there were no witnesses to the assault other than perhaps Jimenez's friend in the other room.

As for the bloody walls and vomit in the interview room, the prosecutors conceded the evidence could ``potentially corroborate'' the allegations. They also noted that the emergency room doctor was willing to testify that the injuries were consistent with being choked and punched.

However, the District Attorney's Office had found its own physician, Dr. Jordan Goodstein, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai. Goodstein reviewed Jimenez's medical records, photographs of Jimenez, a summary of police reports related to the alleged beating and scientific data from the crime scene.

Goodstein concluded that ``the material provided to him did not suggest that

Jimenez had any serious injury,'' according to documents, nor did it indicate the bloody vomit was related to ``blunt force trauma.''

Goodstein argued that it was more likely that Jimenez had a small injury to his tongue or in his mouth, which was not detected by the E.R. doctor. That possible, but undetected, cut might have caused the blood stain on the carpet, he concluded.

According to Goodstein, the presence of mouth cells and saliva in the blood stain suggested ``the likelihood that this has been expectorated from the mouth rather than vomited.''

That same issue came up at the LAPD disciplinary hearing. After testimony from both the emergency room doctor and Goodstein, the board found the conflicting opinions to be inconclusive and stressed that any difference of opinion did not nullify other evidence that Hewitt used unnecessary force.

The board said any speculative cut to the mouth ``could have occurred after Jimenez struck his head on the wall.''

Sources said the bedsheet on which the E.R. doctor scribbled Hewitt's name also was entered into evidence.

In addition, the disciplinary board relied on the testimony of the security guard at the hospital and the cop who released Jimenez from custody, both of whom stated that Jimenez did not look well and needed medical attention.

Another witness testified that he observed a person fitting Jimenez's description vomiting outside the police station.

And contradictory to the county prosecutors' stance, an LAPD criminalist testified that the blood on the interview room carpet was ``consistent with voluminous droppings, not spitting,'' documents reveal.

It's all about credibility

The District Attorney's Office also raised questions about Jimenez's credibility as a witness. ``He is a felon on parole for kidnapping,'' the report noted.

The prosecutors argued Jimenez lied to investigators about details of his arrest and claimed he did not know the name of the officer who released him or the real name of the man he was with when arrested. He later conceded that he knew his friend Hernandez and the cop who let him go.

The prosecutors also surmised Hewitt could argue in court that the cop who released Jimenez was the real attacker. They said Jimenez was an informant for that officer and probably did not like Hewitt.

Once again, those arguments were rejected by the LAPD Board of Rights.

``We want to tell Officer Hewitt and others who may hear about this case that we know that the issues of credibility of a gang member and a hard- core criminal vs. the credibility of a Los Angeles police officer is of concern to you and may be to many department employees. And it was an issue to us,'' an LAPD captain on the board explained.

While the board factored in Jimenez's and Hewitt's credibility, the captain said, ``We based our decision . . . on corroborative evidence and testimony involving independent witnesses. . . . (The) charges are not hinged on credibility issues.''

Simply, the board ruled there was enough evidence and corroborative testimony to conclude that Hewitt beat Jimenez and deserved to be fired.

A source close to the Rampart corruption probe said Hewitt should be behind bars awaiting a jury trial, not sitting at home.

``We want to put this guy before a jury,'' the source said. ``When is the last time you heard of the Police Department pushing for the criminal prosecution of one of its own and the DA's Office refusing to do anything?

``It's disturbing and insulting to the investigators.''



Drawing: A tale of LAPD abuse

Bradford Mar/Staff Artist
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 14, 2000

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