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THE RAMPART SCANDAL

Parks Says Agencies Share Rampart Blame

Scandal: Prosecutors, others missed 'red flags,' chief contends. Public defender rejects call for self-critique.

March 02, 2000|SCOTT GLOVER and MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

While acknowledging numerous failures within his own department, Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks on Wednesday suggested that the LAPD did not bear sole responsibility for what has become the worst police corruption scandal in the city's history.

Parks, in a lengthy and at times contentious news conference attended by dozens of reporters from across the country, called on the Los Angeles County district attorney, the public defender and others to conduct self-critiques of their roles in the Rampart scandal similar to the one made public by the LAPD.

"We're making a challenge to every member of the criminal justice system to do the same thing we've done," said Parks, waving a copy of the LAPD's 362-page report concluding that mediocrity is rampant within the department.

The chief said false information put forward by LAPD officers "did not send off the red flags that you'd expect" when reviewed by deputy district attorneys and public defenders who were also involved in the cases.

One former deputy district attorney agreed that prosecutors should have seen warning signs, noting that two prosecutors regularly worked out of the Rampart station, where they teamed up with officers in the anti-gang CRASH unit at the center of the scandal. The former prosecutor, who asked not to be identified, said the arrangement was unique to Rampart and posed a serious problem.

"When you have lawyers working directly with police officers in a CRASH unit, they become too much a part of the team," the former prosecutor said. "And, when you're part of the team, there's a high risk you're going to lose your objectivity. . . . When you're that close--you're there in the station--I'd think a light bulb would go off."

Victoria Pipkin, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the prosecutors, while regularly meeting with officers at the station, were not assigned there. They were part of a hard-core gang unit working on cases from that area.

"They have to talk to the police," she said. "How else are they going get information?" Pipkin said there was nothing improper about the arrangement, and that she considers any suggestion otherwise politically motivated.

Pipkin and other officials from the district attorney's office declined to respond to the chief's challenge. Several sources in the office, however, said they believed Parks was attempting to deflect responsibility for the corruption scandal within his department.

Public Defender's Office

Public Defender Michael P. Judge said his office already had "established a public integrity assurance unit," and was looking at new ways to prevent police corruption from further undermining the credibility of the criminal justice system.

Judge, however, rejected any suggestion that his office bears responsibility for the police crimes and said such a comprehensive inquiry into his operation is not necessary.

"We are not responding the way the LAPD has because we have not engaged in homicides, evidence planting, false arrests and burying innocent people or sending them to prison," Judge said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in a recent interview said he had planned to bring a motion directing Merrick Bobb, a nationally recognized expert on police abuse who is special counsel to the Board of Supervisors, to conduct a review to determine how county agencies such as the district attorney's and public defender's offices could better guard against police corruption.

But Yaroslavsky has yet to formally propose such a review and has said he opposes allowing blame for the scandal to shift from the LAPD to other agencies. In a brief interview last week, he said he may renew his call for the review later, after county attorneys assess the scandal's potential financial impact on the county.

Despite his challenge, Parks and several of his top command officers acknowledged that the LAPD has serious problems of its own to contend with. The department's Board of Inquiry report concludes that a litany of administrative, managerial and human failures created an atmosphere in which corruption at Rampart, and possibly elsewhere, thrived.

Many of the breakdowns that allowed the scandal to occur remain uncorrected despite growing public and political criticism of the LAPD and the city leadership.

On Wednesday, Deputy Chief Michael J. Bostic, who headed the department's internal inquiry, did not attempt to minimize the report's findings.

"What the report clearly says to us as the leaders of the Los Angeles Police Department is mediocrity is alive and well," Bostic said. "It's clear when you read through this that we've allowed mediocrity to flourish. And when I say we, I'm talking about the command structure and every one of us that are here today. We have to take responsibility for that."

During a fiery question and answer period following Bostic's remarks, one reporter asked Parks whether simply taking responsibility was enough.

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