Two Los Angeles police officers implicated in an allegedly unjustified shooting incident by former LAPD Officer Rafael Perez have been cleared of misconduct charges by a departmental disciplinary board.
Officers Kulin Patel and Michael Montoya were found not guilty this week of all the charges against them stemming from a 1996 shooting in the Rampart Division that left one man dead and two others injured, including an innocent bystander.
Perez, a convicted drug thief who began cooperating with authorities in 1999 in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, said the shootings of the two suspects in the 600 block of Shatto Place were unwarranted and subsequently covered up. The officers were later given awards for the shooting, he said.
The disciplinary proceedings against Patel and Montoya went on for months, but ended abruptly on Tuesday. The disciplinary board, made up of two LAPD captains and a civilian member, decided that the department's internal prosecutor had not made his case. The board members concluded that the officers need not put on a defense and directed verdicts of not guilty.
Mark MacCarley, Patel's lawyer, said his client knew he would eventually be exonerated.
"He's elated," MacCarley said. "He's proud to be a member of the LAPD, and he's anxious to get back to work."
Patel, MacCarley said, was also falsely accused by Perez of attending a "mug party" at which officers drank alcohol while on duty. Department internal affairs officers dropped that charge when Patel produced a picture showing he was at Disneyland with his family on the day in question.
Attorney Ira Salzman, who represented Montoya, said he believed that his client and Patel benefited from the case dragging on, in part because issues surrounding Perez's credibility began to surface. In fact, with Perez facing possible federal charges for his crimes as an LAPD officer, he did not testify in the case against his former CRASH colleagues.
Numerous members of the Rampart Division's anti-gang CRASH unit were relieved of duty after Perez's allegations about the shooting in the fall of 1999. Some of the key players are no longer with the LAPD: one was fired for an unrelated beating two years after the shooting; another resigned while facing charges in connection with the Shatto shooting; a third was fired for misconduct.
According to Perez, Officer Patel shot an unarmed suspect as he ran down the hallway of an apartment building at 676 S. Shatto Place, which was known for gang activity. When he and other officers realized that the suspect, Juan Saldana, was unarmed, the officers retrieved a weapon Saldana had been carrying earlier and placed it next to his body. As Saldana lay dying, Perez said, the officers huddled and concocted a story to cover their tracks.
While Perez did not directly accuse Montoya of shooting an unarmed man, he said he saw the suspect Montoya shot--Jose Perez--just moments prior to the shooting and that he did not have a weapon. Former Officer Perez said both Montoya and the suspect were out of his view at the moment Montoya fired. Montoya said Jose Perez pointed a gun at him.
Some Say LAPD Reviews Not Impartial
Since Perez began cooperating with authorities, eight of his former colleagues in the Rampart Division have been charged with crimes. But in the LAPD's internal proceedings a number of officers have been found not guilty, leading some to question the impartiality of the department officials who sit in judgment of the accused officers.
"I think it's very difficult for an officer who has spent the vast majority of his career in an organization to really be objective about systemic problems in the department," said Winston Kevin McKesson, Perez's attorney.