Revolutionary Worker #1118, September 16, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
Two years ago, in September 1999, L.A. cop Rafael Pérez copped a plea on charges that he had stolen drugs from a police station in order to supply his own drug-selling network. Pérez--a member of the "anti-gang" CRASH unit of the Rampart Division in the immigrant barrio of Pico-Union--began spilling the beans about years of criminal activity and violence against the people by CRASH cops. His confessions sparked what became known as the Rampart scandal, which was fueled by sharp infighting within the power structure in L.A.
Almost two years later, on July 23, a judge ordered that Rafael Pérez be released immediately from prison--months before his time was up. The L.A. Times wrote that Perez's release "ends a chapter in the Rampart corruption probe." What they meant was that the powers-that-be have come to a truce for now in their infighting and want to shut the door on the scandal, which led to widespread revelations of LAPD corruption and brutality.
While the voices of authority are declaring the scandal over, there is no justice for the people: No justice for the hundreds or thousands still in jail--or deported to somewhere in Latin America because of lying cops working with the hated Migra agents. No justice for the people in oppressed communities where the cops are an occupying army, rolling through the streets with license to kill.
Scandal and Cover-up
The Rampart scandal is a sordid story of police murder, robbery, assaults and frame-ups against the people. The CRASH cops stole drugs from drug dealers to sell them on the street. They robbed people of cash and jewelry. They beat up or framed anyone who resisted or got in their way. They used "throw-down" guns to cover up police murders. The scandal started at Rampart, but the same things were exposed in divisions all over the city. And behind the cops were police commanders, judges, prosecutors and legislators who rewarded the cops, took part in railroading people who were framed by lying cops, or covered up for the cops' crimes.
At one point the DA released a list of 3,300 people who had been convicted on the testimony of 20 cops who were suspended or fired through the scandal (out of a total of 70 cops who were eventually implicated). Other people were simply deported out of the U.S. by INS agents when CRASH cops couldn't come up with anything to frame them on.
Of these thousands who may have been framed by corrupt cops, only a handful--a little over a hundred--have had charges dismissed. And most of these people had already done years of prison time. The city paid out over $100 million in claims to people who were assaulted or framed by Rafael Pérez and other cops. But none of their cases went to trial.
Lawyers who represented many of the released prisoners brought a civil suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act (RICO), accusing the LAPD of being a "continuing criminal enterprise." The suit was a chance to uncover further evidence of police corruption, perjury and brutality. A federal judge originally allowed the suit to go forward. But this July, a different judge ruled that people could not recover any damages for injuries or false imprisonment. It's unlikely that the suit will proceed under these circumstances.
Of the 70 cops implicated in the scandal, only Rafael Pérez and his partner Nino Durden have been sent to prison. Durden made a deal for an eight-year sentence on a variety of charges, including the attempted murder of Javier Ovando. In 1996, 19-year-old Javier was stopped by Pérez and Durden. They shot him in the face and chest--and then planted a gun on him and framed him for assault.
Last fall, four CRASH cops, including a sergeant, were tried on minor charges like falsifying arrest reports. The jury came down with a guilty verdict on three of the cops, which was a blow to the system. A few weeks later, the judge declared that the jury made a mistake, and she simply threw out the guilty verdicts.
The judge's ruling is being appealed, but the appeal could be in the courts for years. Meanwhile, the authorities have put a hold on any further charges against cops implicated in the Rampart scandal.
The LAPD, the police commission and other official bodies announced "internal reviews" of the LAPD off of the Rampart scandal. L.A. law professor Erwin Chemerinsky pointed out that these reviews didn't answer key questions: "How many officers in the Rampart Division CRASH unit participated in illegal activities? How many officers in this unit and in the Rampart Division knew of illegal activity and were complicit by their silence? How high within the Department was there some knowledge of illegal activities by Rampart officers? Was there similar illegal activity in other CRASH units, in other specialized units, and in other divisions?"
Rulers' Infighting Behind the Scandal
From the start, the power structure's handling of the Rampart scandal had nothing to do with a search for truth. The exposures of police corruption and rot were propelled by divisions within the ruling class over how to make the LAPD a more effective machinery of repression over the masses of people.
Powerful interests--including the U.S. Department of Justice, some local politicians, and the L.A. Times--made it clear they wanted a systematic way to deal with the kind of corruption revealed in Rampart: crews of cops who are into self-aggrandizement and profiting from activities such as drug dealing. This is a phenomenon in many police departments across the U.S. The rulers are concerned that such corruption increases anti-police sentiments and undermines the ability of the police forces to control the masses.
But the LAPD--known for its long history of resisting systematic changes--worked to limit the Rampart exposures. The LAPD refused to give immunity to any cop who wanted to come forward and break the code of silence. This effectively kept cops from testifying about the scandal, since they could be hit with criminal charges themselves. At the same time, the LAPD tried to discredit Rafael Pérez's confessions by saying his stories were uncorroborated by other cops. The LAPD gave minimal cooperation to investigations by the DA's office. At one point, LAPD Chief Parks ordered detectives not to give any information to the DA.
As more and more exposure came out through the scandal, the U.S. Justice Department demanded that the city submit to a "consent decree." This is a legal agreement made in federal court and overseen by a judge. The consent decree became the focus of the ruling class forces pushing for ongoing anti-corruption clean-up within the LAPD.
In September 2000, then Mayor Riordan and Chief Parks agreed to the consent decree. In July of this year, a monitor for the consent decree was appointed. The monitor is supposed to oversee compliance with the decree and report to the judge.
The "reforms" under the agreement includes beefing up police department internal affairs, new training programs for cops, a bigger police commission staff, a special squad for investigating use of force by cops, a computerized tracking system to keep track of brutal cops, and maintaining data on racial profiling.
But there have been similar "reforms" of the LAPD in the past. For example, the computerized tracking system was recommended by the Christopher Commission --and agreed to by the LAPD--ten years ago, after the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. The "special squad" for investigating use of force by cops is similar to a unit under the DA's office--which was disbanded because of "budget problems" and because it had not resulted in a single prosecution of a cop.
Authorities Declare the Scandal Over
None of these "reforms" are meant to change the fundamental nature of the police force. In fact, just days after the finalization of the consent decree, the DA's office whitewashed one of the most shocking police murders of recent years. The DA announced that there is "insufficient evidence" to bring the cop who shot Margaret Mitchell to trial. Mitchell, a 100-pound Black homeless woman, was killed by an LAPD cop who claimed she was "threatening" him with a screwdriver. While Chief Parks defended the cop, the police commission released a report calling the shooting "out of policy"--not justified by the LAPD's own rules.
And on July 17, LAPD Chief Parks announced a series of gestapo-type raids in Pico-Union. Almost 300 people were arrested for drug charges. The arrests were part of a joint police operation between the LAPD and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Parks struck a "we're back" tone at the press conference: "We're pleased to be here to announce that police work is alive and well in the Rampart area." Cops bragged that the raids had netted several people who were framed by Rampart cops and received cash settlements from the city.
The contradictions among the authorities over how to regulate the LAPD are complex and ongoing. Even as the DA helped the LAPD whitewash the murder of Margaret Mitchell, the police commission overruled the objections of Chief Parks and reopened the case of a cop who used a throw-down gun to justify the shooting of two teenagers in South Central L.A.
But the power structure overall appears to be moving to close the curtains on the Rampart scandal. Major national media, such as New Yorker magazine and the public TV program Frontline, have done pieces on the scandal. The basic thrust of these pieces has been that Rafael Pérez may have told the truth about his own criminal activities, but what he says about such activities being widespread in the LAPD is unreliable. (In reality, most of the investigations carried on by the DA's office and others corroborated Pérez's stories about criminal activity among LAPD cops.)
A recent event at Jordan Downs housing project in Watts was probably another reminder to the authorities about the urgency of sweeping the Rampart scandal under the rug. On Sunday night, August 5, people came out of their apartments, outraged at the way the cops were treating a young man they arrested for supposedly stealing an inflatable playpen, and started throwing things at the police. Police in riot gear were quickly sent out to the housing project.
For people living in areas that are openly under the gun of the police, the Rampart scandal has been a rare experience of vindication--the whole world could get some idea of the injustice and brutality that people in these oppressed neighborhoods face at the hands of the enforcers in blue. And it has been an opportunity for people in other communities to learn about the real nature of the police, which the rulers want to keep hidden. The power structure is now trying to declare the scandal over. But the ugly truths about the police that came out through the Rampart scandal cannot be erased by a consent decree or other agreements among the powers-that-be.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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