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Perjury Charges Against Officer Are Dismissed

Court: The judge cites lack of evidence. The LAPD officer had said on a job application that he lied under oath in a 1997 drunk driving case.

August 16, 2001|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles judge has dismissed felony perjury charges against LAPD Officer James Clifton Andersen, although the officer admitted in an application to another police force that he had lied under oath in a drunk driving case.

Los Angeles County prosecutors filed criminal charges against the 30-year-old Andersen for allegedly testifying falsely in a 1997 preliminary hearing that, before making a traffic stop, he saw a DUI suspect driving a car. Superior Court Judge Michael Luros ruled last week that there was not enough evidence that the LAPD officer intentionally lied for him to be tried.

The Andersen case stemmed from an arrest near Sepulveda Boulevard and Rayen Street in the San Fernando Valley. The case came to the attention of the district attorney's office last year, when the four-year officer applied to join the Fontana Police Department. In his application, Andersen, who was to take a polygraph exam, completed a form that included questions about his experiences in law enforcement.

The examiner's interest soared when he saw Andersen's responses to two questions: "Have you ever lied or committed perjury in court or other official proceeding?" and "Have you colored or embellished your testimony to aid in getting a conviction?"

Andersen first wrote N for both, but then crossed out the responses and twice scribbled Y. Then he explained in writing: "1997. Stated that I observed DUI suspect driving vehicle on my partner's word. I saw susp outside of vehicle."

Fontana officials reported the answers to the Los Angeles Police Department, which opened an internal affairs investigation. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged Andersen in April with perjury under oath and filing a false police report. A conviction on the charges could have resulted in a five-year prison sentence.

In his ruling at the end of Andersen's preliminary hearing, Judge Luros said there was not enough evidence presented in court to show that the officer intended to lie in his 1997 court testimony. "There's nothing to indicate that the statement was willfully, intentionally false," Luros said. "At this time, the court finds then it cannot find any evidence legally sufficient to hold the defendant to answer. The case dismissed."

Luros also said in court that the officer could have been referring in the questionnaire to any 1997 DUI case--not necessarily the Rivera case.

Rivera was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence on Dec. 22, 1996. That night, Andersen and partner Bart Witherow were on patrol just before 10 p.m. when they said they saw a vehicle turn right on a red light without stopping. According to Andersen's police report, the officers drove around the corner and pulled over near the vehicle, which was parked next to a dirt field.

The officers approached Rivera and a friend who was in the vehicle and noticed that Rivera smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot and watery eyes, and was staggering, according to the police report. Rivera was taken into custody and charged with driving under the influence. Andersen, who had been with the LAPD seven months at the time of the arrest, wrote in his report that Rivera was driving and appeared intoxicated.

At the January 1997 preliminary hearing, Andersen was asked: "Did you make contact with the driver of that vehicle?"

He replied: "Yes, sir, we did. At the time when we were pulling up to the traffic stop . . . we observed the driver exit the vehicle, walk to the rear of the vehicle, and it appeared that he was urinating in the gutter."

Rivera told his public defender at the time that there was no way Andersen could have identified him as the driver since he was standing next to the passenger door by the time the police pulled over, according to court papers.

In March 1997, Rivera pleaded no contest to the felony charge and received a 16-month sentence in state prison.

Andersen's attorney, John Barnett, said the case against the officer should have never been filed. "Mr. Andersen was asked a question in an application for a job and he was scrupulously honest in that," he said. "Then he got prosecuted for that. It discourages people from ever telling the truth."

Andersen did not return calls for comment.

Barnett said that Andersen did not intend to deceive the court in the preliminary hearing, and that "we" meant he or his partner Witherow. "It's more a matter of English than morals," Barnett said. "He could have chosen his words differently. But it wouldn't have changed the outcome of the prelim or the case."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Pettersen said he believed the case against the officer was a "clear-cut case of perjury."

"If he knew that he could not say from his own observations [that Rivera was driving], then he should not have testified," Pettersen said.

The district attorney's office does not plan to refile charges, Pettersen said.

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