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Police, Prosecutors Uneasy Partners in Simpson Case : Law enforcement: Longstanding tensions have been aggravated. News leaks, evidence handling are sore points.

October 09, 1994|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As partners in one of the most closely scrutinized murder trials of all time, the Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney's office share a mission: finding and convicting the killer of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

But as they tackle the historic case, sources in and around both agencies say Los Angeles' largest law enforcement institutions are moving in opposition as well as in conjunction, blaming each other for leaks, failing to communicate about evidence and even at times undermining each other's efforts.

In recent days, some police officers have grumbled about the performance of Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark, Police Chief Willie L. Williams has appeared on television and reopened a dispute about which agency is to blame for the release of controversial 911 tapes, and detectives have complained that prosecutors failed to back them in the face of a defense request for samples of their hair.

Such disputes are just the latest to arise since June 13, when the bodies of Nicole Simpson and Goldman were found slashed and stabbed to death outside her Brentwood townhouse.

Top officials at each agency concede that there have been some differences but say the working relationship between the LAPD and the district attorney's office is fundamentally solid. Williams and his top staff have praised prosecutors, and Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti has likewise offered public compliments about the LAPD.

"Certainly, there's going to be times when you don't like something that someone may say," Williams said in an interview Friday. But "the overall relationship between the district attorney's (office) and the LAPD is very, very sound."

Garcetti agreed. "Anytime there's a long, protracted situation, there's going to be issues," he said. "I think we have probably the best working professional relationship that we have ever had."

Nevertheless, the Simpson case has triggered a series of pointed disagreements--perhaps the most serious of which involve news reports.

At the district attorney's office, sources say prosecutors blame police for putting out an erroneous report about DNA test results, which some believe was leaked to retaliate for a tongue-lashing that a police detective took from Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito that same day; at Parker Center, meanwhile, some police believe that the district attorney's office leaked the same story in an effort to bolster its motion to sequester the jury. Both agencies deny any wrongdoing.

Other disputes have erupted over the way detectives conducted searches in their quest to build a case against O.J. Simpson, who has proclaimed his innocence in the face of charges that he committed the double homicide. And despite their public proclamations, high-level officials from the two agencies and the city attorney's office continue to dispute how the tapes of dramatic 911 calls placed by Nicole Simpson in 1989 managed to be publicly released.

The slip-ups and finger-pointing in the Simpson case are far from the first time that the LAPD and district attorney's office have been at odds. In fact, the relationship is rife with discord, and several recent cases have deepened the animosity: Many police officers were furious at prosecutors' refusal to bring charges against entertainer Michael Jackson; others were angry about a prolonged and aggressive investigation of a police shooting that left a woman dead atop a hospital.

"There's always been tension in the relationship, and given a case like this where everyone is watching, it's only gotten worse," said former Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, who blames the LAPD for most of the tension. "Historically, the LAPD has not really been up to the standards that the D.A. would like."

Police vehemently reject that characterization and tend to belittle the district attorney's office as a political creature, contrasting that with their perception of the LAPD as a professional institution largely immune to the whims of public opinion.

The combination of historical tensions and new feuding means that a sometimes divided law enforcement team has been handed the challenge of defeating Simpson's battery of investigators and lawyers. Eager to sow discord and to uncover the sources of news reports, Simpson's lawyers have wasted few chances to encourage mistrust among their adversaries, calling for the attorney general to investigate leaks and suggesting that police cannot be trusted.

Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., one of Simpson's lead attorneys, said his side is not averse to raising issues that divide the opposition. "In our position, sometimes you have to be confrontational," Cochran said. "You have to put the other side on the defensive."

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