Allegations that officers planted evidence spread to another Los Angeles Police Department division Wednesday in a lawsuit accusing two officers of falsely arresting a man. It also alleges that one of the officers committed perjury to put the man in prison.
Jimmy Lee Render, 33, filed suit in federal court over his Nov. 2, 1997, arrest. He alleges that Officers Christopher Coppock and David Cochrane, both of the Central Division, taunted him after he denied having drugs, put him in a patrol car and told him that when he got to the station, "he was going to have some drugs."
Render's drug conviction was overturned in October when the defense accused the officers of illegal conduct and prosecutors failed to argue against it.
Coppock and Cochrane have since left the department amid serious, but unrelated, misconduct complaints. Coppock resigned after he was accused of a false arrest in another case. Cochrane was fired for making false and misleading statements during an internal LAPD investigation. He also was facing internal allegations of planting cocaine on another man he arrested.
Last month, the district attorney's office sent letters to defense attorneys for people arrested by Cochrane and Coppock, notifying them of the misconduct allegations leveled against the two officers.
The officers' complaint history was such a concern that prosecutors also dismissed a 1998 heroin possession case against a defendant unrelated to Render's arrest.
Render's allegations broaden the scope of the LAPD corruption probe beyond the troubled Rampart Division and could add to the ballooning number of criminal convictions already under review by prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.
LAPD Cmdr. David J. Kalish said he could not discuss the details of the case because of the pending litigation. However, he said, "Whenever allegations of misconduct come to our attention, they are thoroughly investigated. And when the allegations are proven to be true, the department takes appropriate action--as with these officers."
Render's corruption case is one of the first to emerge that has no connection to former Officer Rafael Perez, the key figure in the ongoing investigation into police crimes and misconduct. In fact, sources close to the LAPD's task force say Render's arrest was not part of the probe.
According to the initial police report, Cochrane and Coppock were on patrol in full uniform when they spotted Render sitting on the sidewalk on the southeast corner of East 5th Street and South Crocker Avenue, in an area known for a brisk narcotics trade.
Cochrane wrote in his report that he and his partner saw Render holding a clear plastic bag containing what appeared to be numerous rocks of crack cocaine. Render was staring down into the bag, sifting through the rocks with his finger, the report states.
As the officers approached, Render looked up and appeared startled, Cochrane wrote, adding that the suspect jumped to his feet, stuffed the bag in his pocket and ran.
He stumbled about a block away, cutting his eye when he fell, and the officers, who had chased him, seized a bag containing 14 pieces of what appeared to crack cocaine and $328, the report says. Render was arrested and charged with possession of rock cocaine for sale.
Render offers a strikingly different account. He says in court papers that he was standing with a group of other men when Cochrane and Coppock ordered them all against a wall. He ran when one of the officers began to search him, because he thought he had an outstanding warrant for drinking in public and was afraid that he would lose his new job, he contends.
He said that he got tired about a block away and stopped running, and that the officers caught up. Render said Coppock placed him on the ground and Cochrane hit him three or four times on the side of his head, causing the cut above his eye.
The officers then took him to their patrol car and made him empty his pockets, he said, adding that they asked him what he had, an apparent reference to drugs or weapons.
"When he replied, 'Nothing,' the officers stated that when he got to the station he was going to have some drugs," says a writ filed by Deputy Public Defender Dennis Plourd.
Render said he initially thought he had been arrested for evading police. When he learned of the true charges, he told his girlfriend to file a complaint with the LAPD's Internal Affairs division. Nonetheless, according to court papers, he agreed to a plea bargain Jan. 29, 1998, and was sentenced to three years in state prison.
Plourd, the defense attorney, said Render faced the choice of going to trial and risking eight years in prison or accepting a plea bargain and serving 1 1/2 years in prison.
Plourd said that he tried to get the district attorney's office to dismiss Render's case but that prosecutors declined.
"I was flabbergasted," because the prosecutors had to know from the other complaint, which was filed within days of Render's, that there were problems with the officers, he said. The other complaint is the one that led to Cochrane's firing and Coppock's resignation.
Despite the overturned drug conviction, Render remains in prison on other charges. His federal lawsuit, filed by Venice attorney Stephen Yagman, seeks unspecified damages.
Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this story.