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Los Angeles

Judge Overturns Firing of Officer Accused by Perez

LAPD: Humberto Tovar was the first to be terminated as a result of the corruption probe. Court orders him reinstated.

January 19, 2002|SCOTT GLOVER and MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has overturned the termination of an LAPD officer who was implicated in police misconduct by corrupt former Officer Rafael Perez, authorities said Friday.

Humberto Tovar, who was the first Los Angeles police officer fired as a result of Perez's allegations of widespread corruption, is expected to be reinstated within weeks, attorneys said.

Tovar had appealed his August 2000 termination from the LAPD, alleging that the evidence presented at his departmental disciplinary hearing did not support a finding of guilt. He further alleged that Perez's testimony was not credible and that the disciplinary panel acted improperly during its deliberations.

Last week Judge Dzintra Janavs ruled in favor of Tovar, ordering the LAPD to reinstate him. The decision is expected to be formalized later this month. Once reinstated, Tovar may face disciplinary hearings relating to other acts of misconduct alleged by Perez.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department declined to comment on the judge's decision.

The case that led to Tovar's termination involved the March 1996 drug arrest of Toby Semick, a suspected gang member.

In interviews with investigators, Perez said he planted marijuana on Semick to frame him. He said Tovar, his partner at the time, was aware of what he was doing.

"I made it very obvious to him that, you know, we're going to do [Semick] for something," Perez told authorities. "We just couldn't figure out what. Then later on, after we had gotten back to our car . . . I told [Tovar] we were gonna plant marijuana on him."

Perez testified to that version of events at Tovar's disciplinary hearing. Semick also testified at the hearing that he was framed, but he did not place Tovar at the scene, attorneys said.

In his defense, Tovar testified at his hearing that the information in Semick's arrest report was true.

The captain who presided over the hearing said the fact that Perez was a convicted felon and admitted perjurer did not mean he was "devoid of any credibility."

The captain and the two other members of the disciplinary panel said they were unable to find a plausible motive for Perez to lie about Tovar's involvement in the arrest, noting that each officer expressed admiration for the other during his respective testimony and that there was no evidence of animosity between them.

The judge, however, cited concerns about credibility in overturning Tovar's termination, attorneys in the case said.

Perez agreed to identity officers he said were corrupt in exchange for a five-year sentence on his cocaine theft conviction.

In November, Perez entered into another agreement, this time with the U.S. attorney, in which he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the shooting and framing of an unarmed gang member in exchange for two years in federal prison.

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