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D.A. Hands Over Perez Transcripts, Naming 28 Officers

Rampart: Bitter talks lead to disclosure to defense. Four men implicated in crimes or misconduct remain on duty. Prosecutor's office says more names will be forthcoming.

May 20, 2000|MATT LAIT and TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After days of contentious negotiations, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti on Friday gave the public defender and the Indigent Defense Panel 3,242 pages of transcribed interviews with ex-Officer Rafael Perez and the names of 28 LAPD officers implicated in crimes or misconduct connected to the ongoing Rampart corruption scandal, four of whom remain on active duty.

Some prosecutors, sources said, believe their office has a legal obligation to disclose to defense attorneys the names of at least 40 current and former officers who are suspected of criminal activity. Many of the officers whose names were not turned over remain on active duty, sources said.

Victoria Pipkin, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said the office will forward the names of other officers suspected of wrongdoing as early as next week. "This was just the beginning," she said.

In a confidential letter to defense attorneys Friday, Garcetti wrote that the 28 officers "are alleged in the transcripts to have participated in criminal activity . . . to have committed acts involving moral turpitude or . . . may have substantial material evidence favorable to an accused."

The Perez transcripts and other information were provided to defense attorneys under a confidential protective order that prohibits them, under threat of contempt, from revealing the contents in any way to third parties. The alternate public defender refused to agree to those terms and did not receive the information.

The county public defender and the Indigent Defense Panel, which consists of private attorneys appointed by the court, represent individuals too poor to retain their own attorneys. Most of the people allegedly victimized by Rampart-related police misconduct are in that category. The alternate public defender is essentially a second, lower-cost public agency designed to reduce the number of private criminal defense lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants at public expense.

Defense Attorneys Had Sought Transcripts

Ever since the LAPD corruption scandal broke in September, defense attorneys have been clamoring for the transcripts of Perez's hours of interrogation and the names of officers suspected of wrongdoing so they could adequately represent their clients. The onetime anti-gang officer has been cooperating with authorities as part of a plea bargain to obtain a lesser sentence for stealing cocaine from a police evidence facility.

Under the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady vs. Maryland, prosecutors must disclose to defense attorneys all potentially exculpatory information, including information that might impeach an officer's credibility.

"We felt we should have had this information a long time ago," said Public Defender Michael P. Judge. "The failure to disclose this information has significantly impeded our ability to identify the cases that warrant reopening, as well as to successfully defend innocent people charged in current cases."

Perez's admissions and allegations of corrupt police behavior already have led to the dismissal of more than 80 criminal convictions, and legal experts estimate scores of other cases are likely to be overturned.

Attorneys for the public defender's office said they were eager to review their newly acquired information. That office defends about two-thirds of all the felony defendants in Los Angeles County.

Former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School, predicted that the disclosure will give the public defender a chance to determine if there are more innocent victims in prison.

"They were a little tired of taking the D.A.'s word for it. Now they will have a way to check and do their own investigating," she said.

Public defenders and other defense attorneys were critical of the district attorney for holding back the names of other LAPD officers who have been implicated in crimes and misconduct by Perez.

Judge also was critical of the LAPD for keeping officers suspected of wrongdoing on active duty. "If there is a strong suspicion that they have been engaged in misconduct, they should be placed on administrative leave immediately," he said.

Department Policy of 'Proactive Steps'

LAPD Cmdr. David J. Kalish, a departmental spokesman, declined comment on why the four officers have not been relieved of duty. He said, however, "It is the department's practice to take proactive steps whenever an investigation uncovers potential serious criminal conduct."

The four officers who remain on active duty are John Collard, Andrew Lassak, Howard Ng and Dennis O'Sullivan. Lassak, Ng and O'Sullivan are assigned to the Rampart Division, where the corruption investigation is centered.

In addition to the approximately 40 officers suspected of criminality, Perez has implicated at least 32 LAPD officers as witnesses to crimes and misconduct that they allegedly failed to report.

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