Rampart Scandal on Trial

Part 2: Power Structure Infighting and Pig Enforcers

Revolutionary Worker #1080, November 27, 2000, posted at http://rwor.org

Los Angeles, November 15: Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! After four days of deliberations, the jury in the first Rampart Corruption Scandal trial came back with guilty verdicts for three of the four cops who had been charged with framing people and planting evidence. The defense attorneys were "stunned and sputtering" and the guilty cops were in shocked disbelief. They were so confident that they would be acquitted--as the whole trial had been stacked with cops and their affiliates: The defendants were all cops. Their attorneys were all long-time defenders of cops, one is an ex-cop. The investigation to collect evidence used in the trial was done by cops. Almost all the witnesses on both sides were cops. And the whole thing was overseen by a judge who is pro-cop and married to a former gang prosecutor.

But in spite of all this, the people on the jury cut through the self-serving lies of the cop defendants and cop witnesses. And they refused to go along with the attempts to discredit the testimony from the victims of police frame-ups by painting them as gang members and ruthless criminals. In coming to their decision to find three of the cops guilty of "conspiracy to obstruct or pervert justice, perjury, and filing false police reports," the jury foreman explained, "We decided, yes, there was a code of silence."

The LAPD's Rampart scandal began over a year ago. Rafael Perez, who had been a Rampart CRASH anti-gang officer, copped a plea bargain to charges that he had stolen drugs from LAPD evidence lockers to help supply his personal drug sales network--and then began to spill the beans about widespread corruption and brutality in the Rampart CRASH unit.

Perez implicated dozens of cops in numerous crimes and acts of brutality. He told chilling tales of how this was regularly and systematically approved and facilitated by supervisors within the LAPD. He painted a picture of a systematic war being waged by CRASH officers against the people--especially the youth--in the Pico-Union neighbor-hood where the Rampart Division is based.

After months of growing outrage among the people, and infighting and maneuvering within the ruling class over how to deal with the scandal, a handful of charges were finally filed against CRASH sergeants Brian Liddy and Edward Ortiz and CRASH officers Paul Harper and Michael Buchanan. This was based on testimony from Perez.

The fact that three of these cops have now been found guilty is a blow to the system. But the system also has its ways of trying to blunt a guilty verdict. The cops are already saying they will appeal, and the judge still has to pronounce sentences--which range from something as little as probation to a maximum of four years in prison. And whatever the outcome in this particular case, there will continue to be infighting and maneuvering within the ruling class over how to bring the Rampart scandal to an end without further damage to the system. The following article is Part 2 of an analysis of the trial of the first cops charged in the scandal; Part 1 ran in last week's RW.

Ruling Class Concerns About Cop Corruption

The exposures of Rampart spearheaded by the L.A. Times were public expressions of some sharp struggle within the ruling class over how the LAPD should deal with the problem of corruption. Generally the ruling class likes to resolve their differences and cut their deals away from the public eye. Public discussion about corruption in the police force would undermine police authority, and in this case--linked as it is to incidents of cold-blooded murder, attempted murder, cover-ups and frame-ups of the very people they are victimizing--would confirm to all of society what the basic masses have said all along about how the police operate in their neighborhoods.

More than a year before the Rampart scandal broke, the LAPD learned about how Rafael Perez, a Rampart CRASH anti-gang officer, was involved in a drug operation. The LAPD tried to deal with this in-house and keep the whole thing quiet. But a section of the ruling class decided it was necessary to use public exposure and scandal to force concessions, even if it ended up causing some serious damage to public trust in the police. This section of the ruling class didn't just want dirty cops fired--they wanted a systemic solution to the problem, and they pushed the Rampart scandal into the spotlight in order to force certain changes in the LAPD.

It was the corruption, not the brutality, that these forces were upset about. At a time when the ruling class is instituting increased control over the masses and needs a disciplined and loyal police force to carry out this control and suppression, there is a growing problem in police departments across the country of small "crews" of cops who are into self-aggrandizement, who want to profit from the criminal activity they are supposed to control. Corruption has its impact on the masses and runs the risk of creating increased lawlessness instead of control in the neighborhoods of the basic people.

Large sections of the population already don't trust the police. But if the masses, especially the youth, conclude that all cops are corrupt and that they aren't going to get any justice when those cops bust them on phony charges and then conspire with the rest of the "justice system" to railroad them to prison, then they may also conclude that they might as well take things into their own hands. And if people from the middle class become outraged by police brutality and corruption and don't believe that everyone is receiving equal justice under the law, then they aren't going to defend the system.

Bourgeois Infighting and Deal-Making

While the L.A. Times wrote editorial after editorial calling for uprooting corruption, LAPD Chief Parks and Mayor Riordan carried out their own campaign of obstructionism and attempts to minimize the scandal, the centerpiece of which was the LAPD's Board of Inquiry report which blamed the "Rampart corruption incident" on "mediocrity" in the ranks of the LAPD and a handful of rogue cops.

In May of this year, after months of growing outrage among the people, and damaging infighting and maneuvering within the ruling class in Los Angeles over how to deal with the scandal, the U.S. Justice Department stepped in to try to resolve the infighting. They threatened to file a lawsuit against the LAPD for a "pattern and practice" of misconduct, including improper police shootings, stops and searches, and seizures of property. A trial would bring even greater exposure of systematic and deliberate brutality by the LAPD, and if the LAPD lost--almost a foregone conclusion given that the department's own Board of Inquiry report admitted the misconduct--it would be forced to make certain changes under the oversight of a federal judge. So the Justice Department offered an alternate course--sign a Consent Decree promising to make certain reforms and the trial could be skipped. But the LAPD would still have to live with a federal judge overseeing reforms in the department. Parks and Riordan stubbornly refused.

After months of secret negotiations and behind-the-scenes confrontations, intense pressure from other ruling class forces compelled Parks and Riordan to offer a concession in mid-September, stating their willingness to compromise on certain issues to reach an agreement on a Consent Decree. Two days later the L.A. Times broke the first story of Sonia Flores, the ex-girlfriend of Perez, who had spilled the beans about widespread corruption and brutality in the Rampart CRASH unit. Flores accused Perez of dealing cocaine in 1992, years before he joined CRASH and during the period when he claimed he was still a good cop. The exposure of Perez offered a way out of the scandal: if Perez could be discredited, then all his allegations of corruption and brutality could be discredited as well.

But mindful of the strong resistance of Parks and Riordan and the chance that they would not follow through on their promise to sign on to the Consent Decree, the L.A. Times wrote that Flores' allegations could go two ways: "First, they suggest that the police criminality at the heart of the scandal extend[s] beyond the troubled Rampart Division and predate[s] the misconduct of that station's anti-gang CRASH unit. Second, they could undermine prosecutors' ability to use Perez as a credible witness against other allegedly corrupt cops." In effect, the L.A. Times was saying that we can end the scandal here, but if there's no agreement reached around the Consent Decree, we can take the exposure broader and deeper. Four days later Parks agreed to "diligently implement" the Consent Decree when it was finalized.

Within a couple days, another article on Flores appeared on the front page of the L.A. Times. But now the newspaper that for a year carried story after story exposing the police as criminals based on Perez's testimony, did an about-turn and viciously attacked him, repeating Flores' allegations that Perez had been involved in as many as four murders and had buried some of the bodies in Tijuana. Whether any of the allegations were true was beside the point. And even though Flores now says she lied about the murder allegations, the effect was to discredit Perez and make it virtually impossible to use him as a witness against any other cops in the future. For a year, Perez's revelations were used to force major changes in the LAPD over the stubborn objections of L.A.'s police chief and mayor. And now they are painting him as a totally discredited lying scumbag and as the principal reason why they cannot convict any cops.

With all parties agreeing in principle to a Consent Decree, they can now take their dispute back behind closed doors and continue the wrangling there over the exact terms of the changes the LAPD will be forced to make. But from the point of view of the people, nothing about the Consent Decree will bring any justice and it will not bring any real reform in the way the police operate against the people.

Ruling Class Concerns

While there are still some significant differences and disagreements among the authorities over important aspects of how the LAPD will carry out policing in L.A.--and there is the possibility that differences could again erupt in public struggle in the future--there is also real concern that things could get out of hand if they continue with all the exposure of police brutality and criminality. Perez's revelations broke more than a year ago and people are increasingly demanding justice for all of the victims of LAPD's actions. The Rampart scandal was one of the focuses of the October 22nd Coalition's 2,500-strong National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality march and rally in Los Angeles this year. Public support for LAPD has suffered considerably, and broader elements of the justice system--the prosecutors' office, the judges, the public defenders' office and more--have also been implicated in the mass railroading of innocent people.

Another element moving the ruling class to end the scandal now is the plummeting morale within the LAPD itself. The number of LAPD officers has fallen by more than 1,000 in the past year-and-a-half as more cops quit, transfer to other law enforcement agencies or take early retirement. The LAPD can't recruit enough new officers to take their places and has had to cancel some recent recruit classes at the police academy because they can't fill them. Maintaining officer morale is a tricky thing. Part of it requires creating a base of support for the police and their actions among civilians. Even more important than drumming up public support is backing up the rank-and-file pigs when they carry out their brutal role among the people--like Chief Parks' immediate statements of support for the cops who killed Margaret Mitchell, a homeless woman, last year for holding a screwdriver in her hand, or the cop who murdered Black actor Anthony Dwain Lee at a Halloween costume party this year because he supposedly pointed a toy gun at the cop.

The power structure needs to have cops who are ready, willing and able to kill and brutalize in order to maintain their unjust status quo. As Carl Dix, spokesperson for the RCP, has pointed out: "Police brutality is built into the very fabric of this society. We live in a society divided into haves and have nots. The haves, the capitalist class, rule over the majority of the people and use force to suppress the people here in this country and around the world that they rip off. Enforcing the unjust conditions that their system forces millions in the U.S. to endure requires a police force capable of inflicting unspeakable brutality and murder. Not every cop has murdered someone, but most have helped cover up these abuses or looked the other way when they go down."

Infighting within the ruling class can lead to revelations of some of the ugliness and brutality of this system. But the authorities have their own reasons and class interests for exposing it, and it is a big mistake for the people to think we can rely on them to achieve any real justice. We should, however, seize on those times when they allow a little truth to come out to drag the whole truth into the light of day. We, who are the victims of all this police brutality and criminality, know the truth of what has gone down and what goes on. Only we can demand justice without compromise. That's why we say, only the people can stop police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation!

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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