Perhaps the most alarming fact about the widening corruption probe into the Los Angeles Police Department is the way in which a most egregious incident finally came to light.
According to police investigators, it probably was a year of softening up in prison that persuaded former LAPD Officer Rafael A. Perez to confess what really happened in the 1996 case of Javier Francisco Ovando. Perez, convicted last year of stealing eight pounds of cocaine from an LAPD property room, has implicated himself and LAPD Officer Nino Durden in an unjustified shooting of the unarmed Ovando during a police stakeout. Ovando has been in a wheelchair since.
Perez has said that Ovando, 22, was framed for assaulting him and Durden. Ovando sat behind bars for three years of a 23-year sentence for crimes he did not commit, police said Wednesday. If not for Perez's confession and cooperation, in exchange for a lesser sentence, the framing of Ovando might never have come to light.
Now, at least 12 LAPD officers currently or formerly assigned to the Rampart Division, west of downtown, have been fired or relieved of duty. A second police shooting in which a suspect was killed and two other people were wounded is also under investigation.
Perez detailed a story of planting a gun on the wounded Ovando, falsifying police reports and committing perjury in court, bringing virtually all of his other police work into doubt. This is especially troubling because of lingering suspicions about false police testimony, nicknamed "testilying" by LAPD officers.
In the 1990s there have been at least 14 cases in which LAPD officers were found to have falsified testimony, withheld evidence or been involved in criminal cases dropped by prosecutors who doubted the officers' veracity, according to earlier Times stories.
Equally troubling was the fact that Perez and another former LAPD officer, David A. Mack, carried on a flamboyant and opulent lifestyle that either drew little apparent attention from colleagues or superiors or was lost behind the police officers' "code of silence." The breakdown of internal oversight was complete.
Mack, sentenced this week to more than 14 years in federal prison for a $722,000 bank robbery, and Perez took Caribbean cruises, dressed in designer suits, drove expensive cars and smoked fancy cigars in fancy bars, according to Times reports.
In an interview Wednesday, LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks spoke of the need for broader internal powers, such as the ability to run financial background checks on officers for signs of extreme debt or living far beyond one's means. Parks also cited the need for random drug tests, something that now occurs only with probationary officers.
The scandal also points out the need for Parks and his internal investigators, the Police Commission and Inspector General Jeffrey C. Eglash to communicate clearly and work closely together. They must do so to spot irregularities and root out bad cops who tarnish the reputation of a department that just this week honored 18 officers with medals of valor.
This investigation, now joined by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office, has really just begun, and no one knows where it will lead. But police and prosecutors must press on regardless of any misgivings about investigating LAPD officers.