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$15 Million Urged to Settle LAPD Shooting

Rampart: City attorney warns of 'virtually certain' liability in case of victim allegedly framed by officers.

November 21, 2000|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In what would be the single largest police misconduct settlement in Los Angeles history, City Atty. James K. Hahn on Monday proposed that the city pay $15 million to a man who was shot in the head and chest, then allegedly framed by two Rampart Division officers.

In a confidential memo obtained by The Times, Hahn urged members of the City Council to approve the settlement with Javier Francisco Ovando, who remains paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair after he allegedly was shot by LAPD Officer Rafael Perez and his then-partner, Nino Durden.

Ovando--whose case has come to symbolize the Rampart police scandal to many--was sentenced to 23 years in prison after Perez and Durden allegedly planted a gun on him and then accused him of trying to attack them. Ovando served two years and six months before his conviction was overturned last year.

"Liability in this case appears virtually certain," Hahn warned the council and members of the civilian Police Commission.

In recommending the settlement to the council, Hahn noted the involvement of a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who was convicted last week of criminal conspiracy charges in connection with another Rampart case.

"The actions of Sgt. Edward Ortiz also create additional liability problems for the city in this case," Hahn wrote. "Ortiz . . . was the first supervisor on the scene in this case. He generated a number of Polaroid photographs in an effort to 'document' the events."

The photographs, Hahn said, depict Ovando lying "wounded on the floor with his hands handcuffed in front of him with the weapon in close proximity to his hands."

"Under LAPD procedures, suspects such as Mr. Ovando would not be handcuffed with their hands in front of them," Hahn noted.

He added that the city would be "hard pressed" to explain why Ortiz would even take such a photograph, given the fact that "Mr. Ovando was still alive and in need of immediate medical attention" when the photo was made.

If approved by the council in closed session today, the settlement would bring the city's payouts in Rampart-related cases to nearly $30 million since April. More than 70 other cases against the city are pending.

The only other case that approaches the proposed Ovando settlement, according to longtime legal observers, is that of Patty Diaz, a young Hollywood girl who was awarded more than $10 million at trial after she was sexually assaulted by an LAPD officer.

"The city attorney's office, most likely, will argue that $15 million is a savings," Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said of the Ovando proposal. ". . . And I suspect most council members would be inclined to agree with that. What happened to Ovando is just horrendous."

As part of his plea bargain on cocaine theft charges, Perez told investigators about the Ovando case, in part, because he promised to disclose a crime for which a man remained falsely imprisoned. It was a case, Perez would later say, that haunted him in his dreams.

According to Perez, he and Durden were on an undercover stakeout in a vacant apartment west of downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 12, 1996, when they shot Ovando, then 19.

Perez said he was looking out a window when he turned and saw Durden talking with Ovando. Durden then drew his gun and fired at Ovando, Perez told investigators. Keying on his partner's actions, Perez said he did the same. Ovando, who was unarmed, was shot in the head and chest, Perez said.

As Ovando lay bleeding, Durden ran out of the apartment and returned with a .22-caliber rifle with a high-capacity banana magazine, which he placed next to the young man, Perez alleged. Perez said he and Durden had seized the gun about two weeks earlier, and that Durden had filed off the serial number.

Perez said he and Durden then concocted a story to cover up the shooting, alleging that Ovando had assaulted them.

Ovando, a tattooed 18th Street gang member, was sentenced to 23 years in state prison. Despite his tough image, the young man had no previous criminal convictions, according to court records.

Ovando was released from prison in September 1999, days after Perez told investigators about the frame-up.

Durden, meanwhile, is awaiting trial on attempted murder charges in connection with the incident.

Ovando's accounts of the shooting have varied. Initially, he told his public defender that he had virtually no memory of the incident. More recently, however, when interviewed by LAPD detectives he offered an account even more troubling than Perez's.

He told police that the two officers handcuffed him before shooting him in the chest and head.

"Following the incident, Mr. Ovando was initially hospitalized at USC-County Hospital for emergency medical care," Hahn told council members in his memo.

"He underwent neurosurgery, during which portions of his brain were removed. He remained in the hospital during his criminal trial, and he was eventually turned over to the state prison medical staff."

Hahn added that during Ovando's incarceration, he never received rehabilitation therapy.

"Mr. Ovando has permanent paralysis of both legs, and numerous bullet fragments remain in his chest," Hahn said. "Various neurologists have confirmed that Mr. Ovando will not regain use of his legs."

Ovando's attorney reportedly has agreed to the deal. Hahn is recommending that the city pay Ovando in four installments over the next 2 1/2 years. The first installment of $6 million would go out before Dec. 31 if the council approves the settlement.

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Times staff writers Matt Lait and Scott Glover contributed to this story.

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