Crimes of the LAPD
Revolutionary Worker #1031, November 21, 1999
Javier Francisco Ovando, a 19-year-old immigrant, is walking down the hallway of an apartment building in the Pico-Union neighborhood when two cops stop him. They force him to his knees, handcuff him and shoot him in the face. The cops then take off the handcuffs and plant a rifle in their victim's hands. Ovando lives but is paralyzed and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He gets sentenced to 23 years in prison after the cops lie in court, saying they shot in "self defense."
A Salvadoran woman, who has come to America to escape U.S.-backed death squads in her country, is cornered by a cop while she sells fruit to support her family. The cops plant cocaine on her. Then on the way to the station, they rob her of $300--all her savings. Immigration takes away her green card.
A 36-year-old Latino is approached by cops who want him to finger drug dealers. When he refuses, they plant drugs on him. He gets eight years.
A cop plants drugs on a young man, and promises to ask the court for a lighter sentence if the man helps him sell kilo after kilo of cocaine--drugs the cop has stolen from evidence rooms at the police station. The man's sister, who is involved in prostitution, is also forced to sell cocaine. And she's forced to have sex with the cop.
In Los Angeles, the biggest police corruption scandal in 60 years is producing a steady stream of stories like these. The news reads like scenes from a movie like The Bad Lieutenant or Copland, where cops are out getting high, robbing, shooting and framing people, killing to cover up vast criminal enterprises.
But this is not a movie. These are true scenes taken from daily life in poor neighborhoods, communities of oppressed nationalities, places where people don't always speak English, where every day they live with a brutal occupying army of police. These are stories of crimes that have been kept hidden, covered up. But now the stories are coming to light and the rot and ugly details are oozing out.
This crisis in the LAPD began with the confessions of Rafael Pérez--a cocaine-dealing cop, convicted of stealing four kilos of dope from an evidence room at the police station. Pérez, who worked in the CRASH anti-gang unit in the Rampart Division (precinct) in the Pico-Union barrio, admitted to not only stealing drugs, but to a string of unprovoked police shootings and frame-ups.
CRASH stands for "Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums." Since it was created in 1977, its operations have been expanded to each of the LAPD's four bureaus. Unlike other specialized units that are common in police departments, like homicide, vice or organized crime, CRASH does not target any specific kind of "crime." Its targets are people. In the name of "anti-gang" actions, CRASH has been at the forefront of the war on youth.
Pérez decided to talk about these crimes by CRASH cops as part of a plea bargain--in order to get a lighter sentence. And he's now in jail, along with an ex-partner, David Mack, who robbed a bank. Since Pérez's confession, the LAPD has been forced to fire or suspend 15 officers. They say more officers may be implicated in this scandal. And the powers-that-be are scrambling to do damage control--announcing that investigations are underway by the LAPD, the DA's office, a special grand jury and the FBI. But no reports or indictments have yet been issued.
The cases of hundreds of people who were convicted on the testimony of the suspended and fired cops are now being examined--although only five cases have been made public. Seven "questionable" shootings are being investigated--but only two have been identified in the news.
More Dirt Comes to Light
Initially the revelations of blatant criminal activity by cops centered on the Rampart Division CRASH unit. But the scandal has now spread beyond this bunch of police. The first stories that came to light were about cops on the street. But now supervisors and others are being implicated.
Officer Pérez admitted to shooting and framing Javier Ovando and that the assault rifle planted on Ovando was stolen from some alleged "gang members" by police the week before. Pérez and his CRASH partner, Nino Durden, both lied in court. Javier Ovando has now been released from prison. But he spent three years behind bars, paralyzed, in a wheelchair--for nothing.
The police department has even admitted that the shooting of Javier Ovando and other shootings were not simply the acts of "out-of-control" cops. An LAPD lieutenant admitted that a sergeant at Rampart Division was "quarterbacking the whole thing," training the cops to fake such crime scenes. And other cops were involved in the cover-up. For example a detective at Rampart Division had the stolen gun that was planted on Ovando destroyed so that it couldn't be traced back to the police.
Rafael Pérez also confessed to a 1996 raid in which a small army of cops rampaged through an apartment building shooting people. Salvador Ochoa, who was walking with his children, was shot twice and was seriously injured. Juan Manuel Saldana was killed, shot in the back. His friend José Pérez was shot twice in the back but survived, partly because courageous neighbors confronted the cops as they were poised to shoot him in the head.
Again, the cops created a fake story, planting a gun on José Pérez. Pérez was forced to plead guilty to assault and spent a year in jail. When he got out he was again targeted by the cops, and he is now facing phony murder charges.
The cops who carried out these attacks on the people day after day were praised, rewarded and promoted for their actions. In his one public statement, Rafael Pérez said that he was "trying to impress supervisors...and stopping at nothing to do that." And before the scandal broke, even when cops were disciplined, they were often given light punishments because it was said that they had "exemplary service records" with the police department.
The criminal behavior of these cops was blatant. At Rampart Division a number of CRASH department cops kept an apartment near the station where they had frat-house-type parties, drinking and having sex with prostitutes, on and off duty. All kinds of other cases of brutality, planted evidence and frame-ups, are being uncovered.
In 1995, the supervisor of the CRASH unit at Wilshire Division, Sergeant Salvador Apodaca, killed two people under circumstances that were suspicious enough to cause relatives to sue the police department. He was also in charge of the LAPD's infamous K-9 dog unit at a time when it was the target of civil rights lawsuits--since almost all dog bites occurred in areas with large populations of Blacks and Latinos. But this cop's rap sheet was no barrier to his being promoted to supervising the CRASH unit at a time, following the beating of Rodney King, when the police department was supposedly concerned with cutting down on brutality.
In June 1995, Sgt. Apodaca's personal pick-up truck was stolen in front of his house. In the truck were confidential names and addresses of cops, a handgun and a number of cell phones. It is against LAPD policy for cops to be involved in cases where they are themselves the "victim." But Sgt. Apodaca led five of his CRASH unit cops on what even lawyers for the LAPD called a "vigilante" effort. After finding the truck in the downtown area, they went rampaging through the city of Norwalk where they invaded the home of Luciano Cordova and his son, José Cordova.
With guns drawn, the cops waved a folder at Luciano Cordova, saying they had a warrant for the arrest of José Cordova. The cops then charged up the stairs to José's room and as two cops held Luciano downstairs, the others tortured José. They hit him in the face and stomach and then used a chokehold--a type of torture that was outlawed by the LAPD when the many deaths it caused led to a storm of protests. Throughout all this the cops kept demanding information about the theft of the truck and its contents. José later said, "I was thinking I was gonna die." The cops then took him to a police station and forced him to sign a "confession."
For these acts of torture and attempted murder, six cops got slaps on the wrist-- suspensions that ranged from two days to one month. And not even all of these suspensions were for brutality. Some involved "improper use of overtime"--when the cops insisted they get paid, a supervisor signed bogus overtime slips. All but one of them are still working for the LAPD.
Esaw Booker says he was framed by Officer Rafael Pérez and his partners in 1992. Pérez planted a rock of crack in Booker's pocket--leading to Booker's conviction on the sale of cocaine and five years in prison. He is now 54 years old and must use a walker because of a stroke brought on by the stress of incarceration. Esaw Booker found evidence in police files showing that one of the cops who testified against him was not even present at the alleged drug sale. Booker has now won a hearing in federal court.
In another case, a man named Joseph Jones refused to finger drug dealers for Officer Pérez. He was then framed-up for drug possession. On November 10, a court order released him from prison after he served two and a half years of an eight-year sentence. Four others have had charges against them thrown out after it came to light that Pérez and Durden planted drugs or weapons on them. One of those framed was Miguel Hernández, a 41-year-old resident of Pico Union. The two cops planted a gun on him after they recognized him on the street as someone on parole.
Crimes Against Woman
The abuse of women was rampant among the cops in the Rampart Division. On May 4, 1998, two of the cops now under suspension from Rampart Division forced a woman to have sex with one of them after they found a crack pipe in her car. They stopped the woman when they were on patrol, and threatened to come to her house later and "get her" if she didn't drive to a location in the neighborhood. The woman later told investigators she met them out of fear. She said the cops forced her to rent a motel room, where one of the cops had sex with her while the other waited.
The two cops were never prosecuted for this rape "under color of authority," though they were suspended--one for two months, the other for six weeks. They were not fired because the disciplinary board was "very impressed by the ratings and commendations" the two cops had received. Only after Rafael Pérez started to talk were these cops suspended indefinitely.
Cops all over the U.S. cultivate relationships with prostitutes and other women who are vulnerable to arrest. They use these women for sex, as drug runners, informants, witnesses or partners in extra-legal activities. In the case of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, for example, the prosecution forced a prostitute who had a long-standing relationship with a cop to give false testimony. Rafael Pérez used one of his "girlfriends" to help him move the huge amounts of cocaine he stole from the police department.
Backed by an Unjust System
The criminal actions of the Rampart Division CRASH cops have been backed up by other oppressive arms of the law, like the courts and the immigration police.
Joseph Jones, Miguel Hernandez, José Perez and many others plead guilty to false charges because judges always give longer sentences to defendants who demand their supposed "right to a trial." They were afraid they would get convicted anyway if it was their word against a cop. California's "Three Strikes" law also compels many people to make deals. If a defendant makes a plea bargain, he or she can avoid the 25-years-to-life sentence of "Three Strikes." In the case of Joseph Jones, he got eight years because the DA agreed to ignore his prior convictions. Under California's new Democratic governor, no inmates with a possible life sentence are being paroled.
The Immigration Service, which operates right out of Rampart Division, took immigration papers away from people who were falsely convicted. In some cases the INS deported undocumented people that the CRASH cops had targeted. One of the recent cases that the police had to dismiss was that of Manuel Pérez, who was arrested with Joseph Jones. Pérez pled guilty, but fled before his sentencing. He was arrested in Texas and deported to Honduras. And now the INS is threatening to deport Javier Ovando, the man who was shot in the face, paralyzed and then framed by the police.
The powers-that-be are very worried about the impact of this scandal and are trying to do damage control. But they want and need to keep their dogs in the street.
The LAPD has announced that CRASH and other units affected by the scandal will not be abolished. The District Attorney's office has been forced to suspend two anti-gang injunctions, which prohibit certain named defendants from carrying pagers or cell phones or being together in public. But authorities are already trying to get these injunctions back in force.
A year ago, on October 22, 1998, on the 3rd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, two youth marched in Los Angeles with a banner reading "Fuck Pérez `Rampart."' Most people didn't know who they were talking about. Now, a year later, everybody knows.
This October 22, the two youth were back at the NDP protest. One of them talked to the RW about the scandal, "I feel somewhat happy. The reason I say `somewhat happy' is that there are still corrupt cops out there. You're supposed to protect and to serve, and yet you're beating them down, stealing their money, their wallets and their jewelry. There are still to this day, even in Rampart Division, there are still corrupt cops, even the ones that haven't been ratted out yet. To this day, the ones that are on patrol right now, they're still beating people down, still taking their jewelry, still taking their money and dropping them off."
This scandal has opened up a big, deep sewer of rottenness, corruption and crimes against the people. And all the people are getting a look at the real nature of this system's enforcers. For the people who must live under the occupation of the LAPD, it's time to expose them even more and step up the fight against police murder and brutality.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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