The Rampart CRASH Unit:
Blood on the Hands of the LAPD

Revolutionary Worker #1024, October 3, 1999

On the streets of Pico-Union, South Central, East L.A., Watts and other neighborhoods of oppressed people in Los Angeles, there is a certain understanding about the police. It's a knowledge that comes from bitter experience--from firsthand experience of police beatings, harassment and murder.

In 1991 many more people had their eyes opened to that reality through the video of the Rodney King beating. The 1996 O.J. trial brought us the audio--L.A. cop Mark Fuhrman boasting on tape about how he and others mistreated and brutalized African-Americans, Mexicans and women.

Now, a huge exposť--involving the "anti-gang" CRASH unit and the Ramparts Division of the LAPD--has revealed a nest of police corruption, cover-ups and foul crimes against the people. The authorities might have to review the cases of hundreds of people whose convictions were based on testimony by fired or suspended cops. The whole LAPD is engulfed in a deep and massive scandal. It's the "Fuhrman tapes" multiplied many times over.

*****

October 12, 1996 Javier Francisco Ovando, 19 years old, was walking down the hallway of an apartment building in the Pico-Union when two cops, Rafael Perez and Nino Durden, stopped him. They forced him to his knees, handcuffed him and shot him in the face. Ovando slumped to the floor. The cops took off the handcuffs and planted a rifle in his hands. Ovando lived--but he is paralyzed and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

The cops claimed that they were in a vacant apartment when Ovando burst in and pointed two guns at them. The police said they fired in self-defense. Based on the cops' shameless lies, Javier Ovando was convicted of attempted murder of a police officer. A judge declared that Ovando showed no remorse for his "premediated crime"--and sentenced the young man to be locked away for 23 years.

At the sentencing Gloria Romero--the mother of Ovando's girlfriend, Monique Valenzuela--confronted the cops and said, "Sooner or later, the truth will come out."

Three years later, the truth has come out. Officer Rafael Perez admitted to the truth about the shooting of Javier Ovando and other crimes committed by CRASH cops. His confession was part of a plea bargain in which he admitted to stealing over eight pounds of cocaine from a police evidence locker.

Another dirty shooting by CRASH that Rafael Perez revealed took place July 20, 1996. Josť Perez was standing in front of his apartment house in the 600 block of Shatto Place. When he saw several carloads of cops roll up, he walked inside his building. The CRASH police charged in, shooting at residents. Josť Perez was shot in the back with no warning. Juan Manuel Saldana was killed with multiple gunshots in another part of the building. A third man, Salvador Ochoa, was seriously wounded as he walked down the stairs with his children.

As he was recovering from his wounds Josť Perez found out that his friend Juan Saldana was dead. He also learned that the police claimed he was armed and that they were charging him with his friend's murder. He recalled, "I got shot in the back and my homeboy got killed. They have to make a story out of it. I didn't have a gun. I was on the floor, bleeding and they handcuffed me. I wasn't even running. I was walking. They said I was pointing a gun at them. But I didn't even have a gun. Neither me or my homeboy ever shot a gun."

The chief of police declared the killing of Juan Manuel Saldana and the wounding of Josť Perez and Salvador Ochoa "justified." After 10 months in jail, Josť Perez was offered a deal to plead guilty to assault on an officer to avoid a life sentence. He finally got out with 10 months time served.

The confession of Officer Perez has exposed a mountain of police crimes against the people: Murder, attempted murder, brutality, frame-ups, robbery, extortion and drug dealing. These crimes were covered up by commanders and rubber-stamped by the chief of police. The criminals in blue were praised, promoted and given rewards, honor and respect by their colleagues and superiors. The exposures that started with Officer Perez have produced the biggest LAPD corruption scandal since the 1930s.

Officer Perez is on his way to prison, and Officer Durden has been suspended. Perez's former partner, David Mack, is in a federal lock-up for bank robbery. Twelve cops have been fired or suspended with pay.

Pico-Union, where Officer Perez used to prowl, is the most densely populated neighborhood in the western U.S. Hundreds of thousands of people from Central America and Mexico have transformed the area into a vibrant immigrant community. It is home to poor proletarians working in the garment factories, restaurants, car washes and private homes of Los Angeles.

The authorities have hit Pico-Union with sweeping repression. The police have set up "barricaded zones." An INS detention center was built right in the neighborhood--and Migra agents work alongside cops in the Rampart Division. Much of this repression has been focused on the youth. Belmont High, the main high school in the area, is a mini-police-state where students have to run a gauntlet of cops and metal detectors just to get to class. Under two "anti-gang" injunctions against a youth organization, the 18th Street, 140 individuals are subject to arrest for things like hanging out together or carrying beepers and cell phones. The cops are given a free hand to gaffle people up--to question and harass them in the name of enforcing the injunction. The L.A. "anti-gang" injunctions have become a "model" for cities all over the country.

CRASH (which stands for "Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums") has been at the forefront of this war on youth in Pico-Union and other parts of the city. CRASH units are known for fomenting fighting between different gangs and dropping gang members off in hostile neighborhoods. They shot 15-year-old Tony Gutierrez in the back in East L.A. Just days after the current scandal broke, CRASH cops shot and wounded two people in the Nickerson Gardens projects in South Central.

During the 1992 L.A. Rebellion, people in South Central witnessed LAPD "kill squads" roaming around and carrying out drive-by shootings. These cops rode in unmarked Chevies typical of CRASH.

CRASH has put together huge computer databases with the names and alleged gang affiliations of young people. Their databases include up to half of the youth living in certain poor neighborhoods. This information is used for lists of "the usual suspects" when the cops are looking for someone to frame, as well as for the "anti-gang" injunctions.

As justification for these injunctions, the DA used statements of eight CRASH unit cops who have now been fired or suspended. These cops provided the names of half of the people named in the injunctions. Prosecutors considered the police story about the shooting of Javier Ovando "some of the most persuasive police testimony" in favor of the injunctions. Rafael Perez himself provided key statements as a "narcotics expert."

When the current scandal began, DA Gil Garcetti was planning hearings on more injunctions against the people of the area, based on the same lying testimony from CRASH cops. But the scandal has forced the authorities to suspend the "anti-gang" injunctions against the 18th Street gang.

Despite the ugly facts that are coming to light through this scandal, official figures are unrepentant, describing the problem as just a few "rogue" cops. When Garcetti talks about the problems caused by the exposure, he doesn't mention the scarred and stolen lives of the people beaten, framed and murdered. He talks about how the authorities are going to save their injunctions. Mayor Richard Riordan told the police, "You have the support of the Los Angeles community." At Rampart Division, cops hung a banner on the front of the building saying, "The Community Loves the Men and Women of Rampart Station." Lawyers for cops accused in the scandal have said that the CRASH unit is unfairly criticized by "criminals" who want to damage police officers' careers.

The official investigation into the LAPD is being carried out by--the LAPD itself. The DA's office is responsible for deciding whether to prosecute any of the cops, but it will act on information from the police themselves. The U.S. Attorney's Office has announced an investigation into possible "violations of civil rights," but they too are going to rely on LAPD investigators.

Javier Ovando's conviction was overturned at the request of the DA--reportedly the first time in the city's history that the DA has gotten an innocent person released. The DA's office first announced that Ovando would be deported to Honduras, where he lived as a young child. Then he was released to the LAPD, who are holding him practically incommunicado at an unknown location. The LAPD says they are trying to "protect" him. But clearly, it's murdering cops that he has the most reason to fear.

The unfolding scandal has brought a sense of vindication for the people who live the day-to-day reality of police murder and brutality. People from Pico-Union who have been silenced for years are getting to speak out. And those in other neighborhoods are getting to hear them. When Javier Ovando was shot, there was a witness. But he didn't try to testify. As one of his friends put it, "The homeboys wanted to say something, but they couldn't. Who would believe 18th Street gang members?" As this police crisis rages, people all over the city want to--and need to--hear the stories from Pico-Union.


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