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Bratton Seeks Deeper Probes of 3 Shootings

The officer-involved incidents, two in the LAPD's Rampart Division, were called unjustified by corrupt ex-cop Rafael Perez.

November 27, 2002|Megan Garvey and Scott Glover | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Tuesday that police officials are conducting enhanced investigations into three officer-involved shootings that corrupt ex-Officer Rafael Perez said were unjustified and covered up.

"We are looking for additional information in all three cases," Bratton said.

"We are basically starting from scratch in all three cases," added Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell.

McDonnell, promoted by Bratton to be the Los Angeles Police Department's second in command, said he was not in a position to know why a more extensive inquiry into the shootings had not been done. Perez made his accusations about the shootings during 1999 debriefings on corruption in the LAPD's Rampart Division.

Confirmation that the cases remain open came the day after Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley announced that he would not pursue 82 Rampart-related investigations because of a lack of credible evidence.

Two of the shootings that LAPD detectives are reinvestigating took place in the Rampart Division in 1995 and 1996.

In the first case, Perez said, officers concocted a tale to cover up a shooting by a scared rookie who shot an unarmed man in the stomach. Perez, who was not at the scene, said fellow officers later told him that the young officer, startled when the suspect emerged from a bedroom, reacted by shooting him.

The officers then helped Officer Daniel Widman come up with a story that would make the shooting seem more palatable, Perez said. That story, according to Perez, was that the suspect was holding a hand mirror at his waistband when he emerged from the bedroom and that Widman's flashlight beam bounced off the mirror and back into Widman's face at the same time the bedroom door flew open and made a loud noise. Because of the loud boom and flash of light, Widman concluded that he had been shot, so he returned fire, according to the officers' account.

The city later paid $425,000 to settle a civil lawsuit filed by the shooting victim. Widman remains on the job.

The second shooting took place early Jan. 1, 1996, when members of the Rampart CRASH unit allegedly came under fire from New Year's Eve revelers who had been firing weapons into the air.

According to the official police version of events, the suspects opened fire on Officers Daniel Lujan, John Collard and Brian Hewitt. The officers returned fire in self-defense, striking two of the suspects.

Perez, who was present immediately after the shooting, said the officers had actually observed the men firing into the air from a balcony. He said the officers waited for a break in the shooting and then opened fire on the suspects without warning.

During the initial investigation into the incident, investigators were unable to find any evidence that the suspects -- a 51-year-old man and his two sons, none of whom had criminal records -- had fired any shots in the officers' direction. Collard and Hewitt have since been fired for unrelated misconduct. Lujan remains on the job.

Last month, a top department official who has since retired, Assistant Chief David Gascon, told The Times that he was not satisfied with police inquiries into those two cases as well as a third case involving an accidental shooting in the 77th Division.

It is unclear what shooting Bratton was referring to as the third case that needed to be reinvestigated -- the 77th Division shooting Gascon had discussed or a 1998 shooting in the Rampart Division.

Officials in the district attorney's office said this week that they are awaiting a referral from the LAPD on the 1998 shooting. In that case, a man allegedly pointed an unloaded shotgun at Officer Ruben Palomares and his partner, Officer Frank Galindo in the basement of an apartment building.

The suspect, Carlos Vertiz, was fatally wounded by the officers. Perez told investigators that it was widely rumored that Vertiz was unarmed and that the shotgun had been planted to cover up the shooting.

He said the two officers implied as much to him over beers. Investigators began to take the case more seriously after Palomares was arrested while trying to buy 10 kilos of cocaine from an undercover DEA agent in San Diego.

Palomares is no longer with the department. Galindo remains on the job. Bratton said he expects to have reports on the cases within 60 to 90 days.

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