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Ex-Cop Durden Gets Three Years

Rampart: Rafael Perez's partner is sentenced for civil rights and weapon violations as part of a plea bargain.

June 12, 2002|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rafael Perez's co-defendant in the Rampart police corruption scandal was sentenced to three years in prison Tuesday for violating federal civil rights laws and possessing an illicit weapon that was used to frame an innocent man.

Former Los Angeles Police Officer Nino Durden bowed his head as U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder pronounced the sentence, the outgrowth of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

Durden declined an offer to address the court. But in a recent letter to the judge, the 33-year-old former cop wrote: "My mistakes, though serious, are not representative of the true person that I am. I will live with the shame of my poor judgment forever."

Snyder also ordered Durden to pay $281,010 in restitution, mostly to cover the cost of prosecuting and imprisoning two people who were falsely convicted of trumped-up charges.

Durden, who remains free on $50,000 bail, was given 60 days to surrender. He also is awaiting sentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court on his guilty pleas to six Rampart-related charges.

Perez, who sparked the Rampart police corruption probe after he was caught stealing cocaine from a police evidence locker, was sentenced in the same federal courtroom last month to two years in prison.

Both men made plea deals in which they promised to cooperate in an ongoing FBI investigation of other Rampart officers.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Mary Carter Andrues, who heads the probe, declined to say Tuesday whether additional prosecutions are expected.

Perez reportedly implicated about 70 Rampart officers in what he said was a pattern of misconduct involving illegal beatings, shootings and false arrests of suspected gang members.

So far, more than 100 criminal convictions have been overturned because of Perez's admissions and more than a dozen LAPD officers have resigned or been fired. But besides Perez and Durden, only a few have been prosecuted.

Outside court Tuesday, Durden's lawyer, Bill Seki, said Perez's claims of widespread misconduct in the Rampart Division were exaggerated.

"The scandal that people talked about was not as far-reaching as Perez and members of the press made it out to be," he told reporters.

Seki said Durden gave this perspective to federal agents and prosecutors during numerous debriefing sessions after his guilty plea in April 2001 to three separate acts of misconduct.

The most high-profile episode was the framing of Javier Francisco Ovando, a former 18th Street gang member, who was shot in the head, shoulder and hip in 1996 when he walked into a vacant apartment where Perez and Durden were conducting surveillance.

After realizing that he was unarmed, Perez brought a short-barreled rifle to the apartment, used a rag to wipe off fingerprints and placed it close to the wounded Ovando's hands.

According to the plea agreement, the two officers later "practiced and pantomimed" a tale about how Ovando burst into the apartment with the assault rifle and was shot in self-defense.

Ovando, who was left partially paralyzed from the shooting, was tried, convicted and sentenced to more than 23 years in state prison.

The frame-up went undetected until 1999, when Perez was arrested on the cocaine theft charge and began talking to county prosecutors about corruption in the Rampart Division.

Perez served three years of a five-year state prison sentence before being released last year, only to face related federal charges and another prison term.

In the Ovando case, Durden admitted violating Ovando's civil rights under color of authority by fabricating evidence, making a false arrest and lying in court. He also pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, the weapon that was planted next to Ovando.

Durden, who joined the LAPD in 1994, admitted guilt in two other cases.

On May 25, 1997, he said, he and Perez framed Jose Madrid on a weapons charge, claiming that the man possessed a fully loaded .38-caliber handgun when he did not. Madrid pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

On April 2, 1997, Durden said, he and Perez threatened to arrest Jorge Toscano and his girlfriend, Cynthia Diaz, unless they revealed where money was hidden in their apartment. Toscano did so and the two officers stole $1,300 from him, Durden said. He was ordered Tuesday to reimburse the couple.

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