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D.A. Finds No Fault With Police Chief on Rampart

March 08, 2001|TWILA DECKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley defended Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks on Wednesday, saying that the chief has cooperated with him and that blaming Parks now for the Rampart corruption scandal is futile.

"I don't think at this stage it really adds much to anything [to blame Parks]," Cooley said.

Cooley's remarks, which followed a speech he gave to FBI agents at a law enforcement ethics seminar in Long Beach, were in response to a report by Police Commission Inspector General Jeffrey C. Eglash. Eglash accused Parks of withholding information from county prosecutors last year as they investigated claims that officers in the Rampart Division CRASH Unit routinely abused and framed suspects.

Cooley said that, since he took office three months ago, Parks has been very cooperative with him. The chief has helped him in his efforts to develop written guidelines to ensure that officers suspected of criminal wrongdoing in the future are investigated by the D.A. office's new Justice Integrity System Division.

The division will be responsible for investigating allegations of corruption among police officers, attorneys, judges, clerks and others in the justice system.

Cooley said some of the criticism from Eglash is unfair because Parks chose to forward his concerns to the U.S. attorney's office, rather than to the previous district attorney, Gil Garcetti. Cooley defeated Garcetti in a bitter election campaign last fall.

"The chief was trying to get results through the U.S. attorney," Cooley said. "There was some issue of who you share information with first."

In his speech, billed by his aides as his most important to date on public corruption, Cooley voiced concern "about increasing encroachment within law enforcement to create separate inspector generals and independent review councils."

"That is the constitutional role of the county's chief prosecutor," Cooley told the FBI agents on the Queen Mary.

Cooley said the Rampart scandal occurred because the previous decision makers in the D.A.'s office had been "asleep at the switch."

He said he plans to stop corruption through written guidelines to ensure that police officers suspected of wrongdoing are referred to his office for investigation.

Had a specific policy been in place under the previous administration, he said, the Rampart scandal might not have happened.

"There was a critical failure by the district attorney's office. We did not exercise an independent prosecutorial role over the Los Angeles Police Department," Cooley said.

Cooley, who took office Dec. 4, said a young deputy district attorney suspected that Rafael Perez, the LAPD officer who eventually turned informant, had lied in court on two occasions but did not know what to do about it.

"If there had been [a written] policy, Perez would have been detected sooner and most of the Rampart scandal would have been avoided," Cooley said.

He renewed his pledge to strictly enforce the state's open-meetings law. He said violations of the law have been largely ignored, not just in Los Angeles but throughout the state.

He said his promise to enforce the law, known as the Brown Act, has gotten more response than any action he has taken so far, including his decision to file charges against the so-called "Angel of Death," Glendale respiratory therapist Efren Saldivar, who is charged with poisoning patients at a Glendale hospital.

"No action since I became district attorney has . . . drawn a more positive response from citizens or the media in protecting the public interest," he said. "Public commissions, boards and councils and other public agencies have been put on notice that they evade this law at their peril."

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