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'98 Slaying by Rampart Officers Focus of Probe

Investigation: Victim's friends and family have disputed police reports that he was a drug dealer.

December 30, 1999|SCOTT GLOVER and MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Detectives on the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart corruption task force have reopened an investigation into a 1998 shooting in which two undercover narcotics officers fatally shot a man while they were searching for a drug dealer.

Carlos Perez Vertiz was shot to death May 19 in the basement laundry room of the apartment building where he lived in the 200 block of South Kenmore Avenue when he allegedly pulled a shotgun on the officers, according to police records.

Police at the time portrayed Vertiz as a "well-known drug dealer" who gave officers no choice but to shoot when he leveled the weapon at them, according to friends and family of the dead man.

But Vertiz, 44, had no previous arrests involving drugs or violence, records show. He worked steadily as a painter and carpenter in the years before he was slain.

Tim Shaw, a robbery homicide detective assigned to the task force, declined to comment on the probe.

But several witnesses interviewed by Shaw and other detectives said investigators appear to be pursuing a theory that Vertiz was killed in a case of mistaken identity.

"Some things just don't add up," one witness quoted a detective as saying.

Vertiz's killing is one of more than half a dozen questionable shootings under review by the Rampart task force. At least two shootings have been characterized as "dirty" by former LAPD officer-turned-informant Rafael Perez, the man at the center of the corruption probe. He has alleged that officers assigned to Rampart shot unarmed men and then planted weapons to cover their tracks.

In the Vertiz case, Officers Frank Galindo and Ruben Palomares--neither of whom is among the more than 12 Rampart officers who have been removed from active duty in connection with the probe--fired 10 rounds, hitting Vertiz multiple times, according to police documents.

Vertiz, who allegedly provoked the shooting by aiming a sawed-off, 12-gauge shotgun at Palomares, never fired the weapon. The gun's chamber was empty, according to police documents, but there were four rounds in the gun's magazine. An examination of the gun later revealed that its serial number had been obliterated. A similarly modified firearm was planted on a young, unarmed gang member, who Perez says he and his former partner Nino Durden shot and then framed for assaulting them.

The shooting was found "in policy" by the department earlier this year. Galindo, who is still assigned to the Rampart Division, declined to comment for this story. Palomares, who has since been transferred to another LAPD division, could not be reached for comment.

According to internal LAPD documents, Galindo and Palomares were working an undercover narcotics detail May 19, 1998, when they received a tip from an informant that a drug dealer was expecting a delivery of cocaine from "a wholesaler" within the hour. The informant told Palomares that the drug dealer was a man in his 30s, and was wearing a black tank top shirt, according to police documents. The wholesaler drove a taxi and was going to make the delivery in the 200 block of South Kenmore Avenue, the documents state.

The two officers decided to survey the area from a three-story apartment building at 246 S. Kenmore Ave. Just after 7 p.m., they allegedly ascended to the roof of the building and then worked their way down, floor by floor, checking for gang members and drug dealers who could pose a threat to their safety, as they watched for the expected drug deal.

The officers cleared the first three floors without incident, the police report states. Then they reached the basement laundry room. There they saw a man later identified as Vertiz in a black tank top standing in the corner, his back to the officers, the police report states. Galindo and Palomares, according to their account, saw a shotgun tucked under Vertiz's right arm. Both his hands were in front of his body, and he appeared to be fidgeting with something.

The officers immediately drew their guns, identified themselves as police and ordered Vertiz--in English and Spanish--to put his hands in the air. Vertiz turned clockwise, the report states, raised the barrel of the shotgun and pointed it at Palomares.

Palomares, fearing that he was about to be shot, fired six rounds at Vertiz. Galindo, also fearing for his safety and that of his partner, simultaneously fired four rounds at Vertiz. Vertiz, hit by multiple shots, fell to the ground. He died at the scene.

Police said they recovered a plastic container holding 2.76 grams of cocaine next to Vertiz's body. A toxicology test performed after Vertiz's death found no drugs in his system, according to a source who has reviewed the report.

Those who knew Vertiz said they find the purported circumstances of the shooting implausible.

"Something is wrong," said Teresa Arriaga, Vertiz's girlfriend of 16 years, who was with him in his third-floor apartment minutes before he was shot. "But it's our word against the police's word."

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