A Los Angeles police sergeant facing a criminal trial in the Rampart corruption scandal took the witness stand in federal court Friday in a separate civil rights lawsuit in which he and other officers are accused of trashing a South-Central woman's home.
To protect the officer's 5th Amendment right against forced self-incrimination, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall directed attorneys not to ask Sgt. Edward Ortiz any questions related to the Rampart case.
Betty Jones sued the LAPD over an early morning raid on April 1, 1995, that she said left her home a shambles. Her federal lawsuit charges that the officers broke doors to which they were offered keys, destroyed picture frames and urinated in a steam iron.
Jones' house was one of 97 homes targeted by local and federal law enforcement officers in a major crackdown on street gang members, known as Operation Sunrise.
Ortiz, 44, was assigned to the elite Metro Division at the time.
Under questioning by Jones' lawyer, Stephen Yagman, Ortiz said he and other officers were assigned to gain entry to the house and secure it for detectives, who were to carry out the search.
Jones was at work, according to her suit, but her brother and two sons were asleep. Ortiz said an officer pounded a sledgehammer against the door when calls to open up went unheeded.
After the three men left, Ortiz said, he went inside looking for anyone who might be hiding in a closet or a ceiling crawl space, but found no one. He said he left the place intact.
Ortiz denied ever having concealed evidence or witnessing any other officers doing so. Yagman made it clear after Ortiz's responses that his questions were intended to cover the period up to the raid on the Jones house "and not a day later."
It was not until September 1995, six months after the raid, that Ortiz was promoted to sergeant and reassigned to the Rampart Division. The criminal case against him revolves around his conduct there.
Ortiz along with Sgt. Brian Liddy and Officers Paul Harper and Michael Buchanan are scheduled to go on trial later this month in Los Angeles Superior Court on charges that they conspired to frame defendants in three separate arrests.
Defense lawyer Barry Levin, who is representing Ortiz in the criminal case, attended the federal court proceedings Friday.
Asked why he allowed his client to testify rather than invoke his 5th Amendment rights, Levin said, "because he didn't do anything wrong. Ed Ortiz is telling the truth."