WS>>An American Death Squad

carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Tue Feb 13 11:55:37 MST 2001

                Phil Murphy <murphy at>

          What you haven't been told about the LAPD scandal  Some
     ironies to note:

     *    The "CR" in this LAPD squad name stands for  "Community

     *    The  crimes committed with guns statistics for  LA  may
          have to be recalculated down.

     *    The    men   described   below   are    the    "trained
          professionals," some believe should have a monopoly  on
          firearms in the US

     ***  The Los Angeles police scandal and its social roots
     ***  Part  1 of a Series By Don Knowland and Gerardo  Nebbia

          Substantially more information has been made public  in
          the Los Angeles Police Department corruption and frame-
          up  scandal.  News reports have revealed  a  widespread
          pattern of unjustified arrests, beatings, drug dealing,
          witness  intimidation, illegal shootings,  planting  of
          evidence,  frame-ups and perjury at the CRASH  unit  of
          the Rampart Division of the LAPD.

          CRASH  is  the  acronym  for  the  Community  Resources
     Against  Street  Hoodlums,  an anti-gang  program  the  LAPD
     implemented over a decade ago.  The Rampart Division  covers
     an  eight square-mile area, just west of downtown, which  is
     largely  working class, heavily immigrant and densely  popu-

          LAPD officer Rafael Perez joined Rampart CRASH in 1996.
     In  1998  Perez was arrested for stealing  eight  pounds  of
     cocaine,  valued  at  a million dollars,  from  the  Rampart
     evidence locker.  In 1999 Perez began to cooperate in giving
     evidence  against his former associates in the hope  of  re-
     ceiving a reduced sentence on the cocaine theft charge.   On
     February 24, 2000 Perez received a five-year prison term  on
     the  cocaine  theft charges, but he is expected to  stay  in
     jail  only a little over a year more, given time served  and
     credit for good behavior.

          Investigators  from  a task force put together  by  the
     LAPD  and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's  Office
     logged over 50 hours of interviews with Perez over the  last
     six  months.  Two Los Angeles Times reporters  undertook  an
     investigation of the scandal, and bits and pieces of Perez's
     story began to emerge.

          Last month the Los Angeles Times published many of  the
     revelations from 2000 pages of Perez's testimony.  The  law-
     breaking  activity  among police was so pervasive  that  the
     Times  concluded: "An organized criminal subculture  thrived
     within  the  LAPD, where a secret  fraternity  of  anti-gang
     officers  and  supervisors committed crimes  and  celebrated

          Among  the most chilling revelations  concern  outright
     police murders or attempted murders.  In 1996 CRASH  officer
     Kulin  Patel shot Juan Saldana when he was running  down  an
     apartment hallway.  Patel and his partner then planted a gun
     on  Saldana after he went down.  When the CRASH  supervisor,
     Sergeant  Edward Ortiz, arrived, he delayed calling  an  am-
     bulance so the officers could concoct a cover story.  Salda-
     na bled to death by the time he arrived at the hospital.

          In  another incident CRASH officers fired 10 rounds  at
     Carlos  Vertiz, a 44-year-old man with no  criminal  record,
     after  they mistook him for a drug dealer.  To  justify  the
     shooting,  officers  then planted a shotgun near  the  dying
     Vertiz which they claimed he had pointed at them.

          In 1996 Perez and his partner Nino Durden shot 19-year-
     old  Javier Ovando in the chest and head and then planted  a
     gun  on  him.  Ovando received a  draconian  23-year  prison
     sentence because he would not show contrition.  In fact,  he
     was innocent.  Ovando was released last year, after  serving
     two  years.  As a result of his injuries he is now  confined
     to a wheelchair.

          On  New Year's eve 1996, Rampart CRASH officers  opened
     fire on and wounded two holiday revelers, afterwards arrest-
     ing them on trumped-up charges.  The officers then rehearsed
     the story that they had fired in self-defense, claiming  the
     revelers  had  fired guns in the officers'  direction.   One
     unnamed  officer has reportedly told his attorney  that  the
     CRASH  cops were out "hunting" that night, that is,  looking
     for people to ambush in sport.

          Perez  told investigators the lengths to which  Rampart
     officers  and their supervisors went to cover up bad  shoot-
     ings.   In one instance, a rookie patrol officer shot a  man
     when he opened a closet during a search and was startled  to
     see the man inside.  When the rookie's supervisor arrived at
     the  scene  he  decided the rookie should say  the  man  was
     holding a mirror, causing him to see his own reflection with
     a  gun and open fire, thinking he had encountered  an  armed

          Officer  Melissa Town shot at a youth who  was  sitting
     with  a  group of friends by a park and then  ran  when  she
     accosted  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 that she  should  say  the
     suspect had pointed it at her.

          Organizing  the cover-up Perez has also  explained  how
     Department  shooting  investigation procedures  were  easily
     thwarted.  Those procedures require local area brass plus  a
     specialized  team  of detectives from  the  Robbery-Homicide
     Division  to  "roll out" to each officer  involved  shooting
     (OIS) scene.  The report by the OIS team is relied on by the
     police chief and the police commission to determine  whether
     a shooting was in or out of policy, justified or not.

          According  to Perez, the shooting  officers'  immediate
     local supervisors typically arrive at the scene first.   The
     supervisors are supposed to preserve the scene and segregate
     the  involved  officers so that the OIS team  can  interview
     them separately before the officers have a chance to  confer
     and agree on a story.  Instead, investigators were  diverted
     from  the scene until the involved officers and their  imme-

     diate supervisors had a chance to come up with and iron  out
     a cover story.  Typically Rampart CRASH officers used secret
     radio codes to accomplish this-they would create a diversion
     to  delay  the investigation, such as  claiming  that  other
     suspects were involved and on the loose.

          Not  surprisingly, all the dirty shootings  related  by
     Perez  were found by the Chief of Police to be  carried  out
     "in  policy," although in some cases the  officers  involved
     were  required to receive additional training so  that  they
     did  not  unnecessarily expose themselves to danger  in  the
     future.   In  other words, the LAPD was concerned  with  the
     health of the perpetrators of the shootings, not the fate of
     their victims.

          Rampart CRASH officers routinely planted drugs, guns or
     other  evidence on arrestees, or fabricated probable  cause-
     the constitutional prerequisite to search or arrest someone.
     Many of the victims whose democratic rights were  flagrantly
     violated were innocent of any crime.

          These  frame-ups sometimes took on a wholesale  charac-
     ter.  Perez has related an occasion when officers rousted  a
     party where several dozen gang members were ordered to their
     knees  with their hands behind their backs.   Officer  Brian
     Hewitt  then walked down the line, randomly dictating  which
     youth would be charged with which imaginary crime.

          CRASH  officers  routinely  and  arbitrarily   punched,
     kicked,  choked and otherwise beat suspects  or  bystanders.
     At  times beatings were a response to suspected  infractions
     committed against officers.  For example, the slashing of an
     officer's  tires  resulted in officers  driving  around  the
     neighborhood,  indiscriminately beating youth.   On  another
     occasion  a  gang member suspected of slashing  a  tire  was
     roughed up and then dropped, stripped of any clothing,  into
     rival gang territory.

          Many  times the beatings were simply for harassment  or
     sadistic  pleasure.   One youth was shot repeatedly  with  a
     bean  bag  gun purely for amusement.  Officer  Brian  Hewitt
     routinely beat handcuffed suspects, preferring administering
     beatings to bothering with booking procedures and reports.

          Hewitt was eventually fired in 1998 for grabbing Ismael
     Jimenez  by  the neck at the station where  all  could  see,
     shoving him against a wall and hitting him repeatedly in the
     chest  and abdomen with his fists.  The  evidence  indicates
     that  Jimenez was beaten because the mother of  another  al-
     leged  gang member filed a complaint against other  officers
     who  beat her son.  Despite serious injury to Jimenez,  dis-
     trict attorney prosecutors, citing a lack of evidence,  have
     twice declined to file charges against Hewitt.

          Another  suspect  was  used as a  human  battering  ram
     against a target drawn on a wall because he said he did  not
     know anything about a gun officers were seeking.  The  young
     man told investigators that his head was pushed through  the
     plaster  and was pierced by splinters from the wooden  studs
     inside the wall.

          Officer  Hewitt's partner Daniel Lujan beat a youth  at
     the  end  of a foot pursuit, badly  injuring  the  suspect's
     knee.  When the supervisor arrived at the scene Lujan admit-
     ted  he had no reason for the beating.  The  supervisor  in-
     structed Lujan to book the man anyway on a drug charge.   On

     another  occasion  Lujan dislocated a  handcuffed  suspect's
     elbow for sport.

          LAPD  procedures normally require filling out a use  of
     force report when force is used.  Perez related how officers
     routinely  fabricated  elaborate stories in  their  reports.
     For  example,  a man was sitting on a  bench  when  officers
     suddenly approached, handcuffed and threw him to the  floor,
     and  began  kicking  his head and body.   According  to  the
     report  the officers filed the man injured himself  when  he
     jumped  out  of  a third floor window  head  first.   Police
     supervisors rubber-stamped this tall tale.

          CRASH  officers also took revenge on anybody  who  com-
     plained  to  the LAPD about their methods, or who  tried  to
     interfere  with their attempts at framing up  people.   Alex
     Sanchez, who heads a local group that attempts to help youth
     to  leave gangs, came forward as an alibi witness for  Jesus
     Rodriguez, a 15-year-old accused of a fatal double  shooting
     by CRASH officers.  In retribution, a CRASH officer attempt-
     ed to arrange Sanchez's deportation so he could not  testify
     and clear Rodriguez.

          In  fact, the close cooperation between  Rampart  CRASH
     officers  and the US Immigration and Naturalization  Service
     to  deport witnesses or others against whom  police  charges
     did  not stick has become a key aspect of the  scandal.   In
     order  to  promote cooperation by immigrants  as  witnesses,
     LAPD  regulations have long prohibited turning them over  to
     immigration.  CRASH officers routinely ignored that prohibi-
     tion with impunity.

          A  social club for uniformed thugs Perez has also  told
     investigators  about  the social aspects of  this  virtually
     paramilitary  unit.  CRASH officers often got together at  a
     bar  near Dodger Stadium to drink and  celebrate  shootings.
     Supervisors  handed out plaques to shooters, containing  red
     or  black playing cards.  Killing was more prestigious  than
     wounding,  meriting  black as opposed to red  cards  on  the
     plaque.   At  least one Rampart lieutenant attended  one  of
     these celebrations.

          Rampart officers also wore tattoos of the CRASH logo, a
     skull with a cowboy hat surrounded by poker cards  depicting
     the  "dead man's hand," aces and eights.  Other CRASH  units
     wore similar tattoos.  CRASH paraphernalia, with this  logo,
     is still for sale at the LAPD gift shop.

          An  officer  could  not join Rampart  CRASH  without  a
     reliable  "sponsor" to vouch for the officer's  "character."
     Officers  who had worked with the prospective initiate  were
     contacted  to  find out if the candidate was too  "by-  the-
     book,"  that is, undesirable for initiation.  A  "solid"  or
     "stand-up" candidate was someone who bent the rules-planting
     evidence, falsifying probable cause to arrest and committing
     perjury in court testimony.

          Once  in  the unit, the officer's conduct  was  closely
     monitored to make sure he or she could be trusted to be  "in
     the  loop."  Once  in, the officers were  trained  in  CRASH
     methods, such as planting weapons.  The job of CRASH  super-
     visors "in the loop" was to protect the CRASH line  officers
     from investigation by higher-ups of their misdeeds.

          Perez's  revelations directly involve 30 Rampart  CRASH
     officers  and  at  least three of  their  supervisors.   The

     investigation  has  already resulted in  20  officers  being
     fired  or relieved of duty.  Criminal convictions have  been
     overturned in 30 cases; at least 70 more are under  investi-
     gation.  LAPD Chief Bernard Parks has called for the dismis-
     sal  of charges against another 99 defendants in  57  cases.
     The  County  District Attorney's Office  concedes  that  the
     number of cases tainted by the Rampart officers under suspi-
     cion  may  run  into the hundreds,  if  not  the  thousands.
     Significantly,  in  the vast majority of  these  cases,  the
     victims of police frame-up confessed rather than take  their
     chances in the court system.

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