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THE RAMPART SCANDAL

Evidence Backs Majority of Perez's Allegations of Wrongdoing

Some still question his credibility, but investigators believe his charges have held up.

August 11, 2003|Scott Glover And Matt Lait | Times Staff Writers

Was Rafael Perez lying?

Explaining why more police were not prosecuted for crimes that Perez alleged they had committed, some authorities have argued that Perez falsely implicated fellow officers. Some prosecutors have even dubbed Perez "the devil."

Evidence suggests that Perez, who is serving a sentence in federal prison, may have made mistakes during interrogations. But other witnesses and physical evidence have corroborated the majority of his allegations.

In March of 2000, just five months after Perez started talking, the LAPD published a 362-page Board of Inquiry report, in which it accepted much of the ex-officer's testimony and questioned how the Police Department had allowed the corruption that he described to take root.

As time passed, many within the department and elsewhere began to raise doubts about Perez's truthfulness. Police union officials started referring to the Rampart scandal as "the Perez scandal," saying that the former officer had been the only really crooked cop in Rampart and that he had just been trying bring the others down with him.

Perez's critics say that, even after his transformation from corrupt cop to whistle-blower, he did not always tell the truth.

He failed a series of polygraph exams. He falsely accused an officer of being at a so-called mug party in which officers drank liquor on duty; in fact, the officer had been spending the day at Disneyland with his family and had ticket stubs and photos to prove it. Perez allegedly bragged to fellow inmates at the jail where he was being housed during the Rampart investigation that he was making false accusations against officers he didn't like and that investigators were swallowing the stories hook, line and sinker.

Then there were the allegations of a former lover, who in the midst of the unfolding scandal told investigators that she had witnessed Perez's killing of two drug dealers -- crimes to which he had not confessed and that would have clearly not been covered by his plea bargain agreement. The woman's allegations surfaced just as four officers he had accused of wrongdoing were scheduled to go to trial. In part because of her story, prosecutors did not call Perez to testify at the trial.

But those who believe Perez's allegations, including LAPD detectives and prosecutors assigned to investigate them, say these attacks on his credibility don't hold up under scrutiny.

The polygraph exams he failed, for example, were so poorly administered that the results were meaningless, according to a nationally recognized expert hired by his lawyer and another hired by prosecutors. The LAPD examiner, one expert concluded, was either inept or had intentionally rigged the test so that Perez would fail.

It is true that Perez wrongly placed at the mug party an officer who had actually been at Disneyland. But he told investigators that the man was a nondrinker so therefore would not have been taking part in the most serious misconduct, making it unlikely that Perez was intentionally trying to target the officer. Moreover, detectives confirmed that there indeed had been such a party, and many officers received suspensions for drinking on duty.

Authorities have found no independent evidence to support the claims of the "jailhouse snitches" who said Perez had been fabricating allegations against former colleagues. The informants include a former LAPD officer who was fired for forgery, a drug user whom the DEA deemed an unreliable informant because of "his history of lying" and another man viewed by task force investigators as not credible.

As for the murder allegations lodged by the former lover, they were later retracted and she was sentenced to federal prison for lying to investigators.

Meanwhile, Perez's credibility held up at various junctures.

In February of 2000 when he was sentenced to five years in prison on the charges of drug theft, prosecutors told the judge that there was no evidence that Perez had been untruthful during his cooperation in the Rampart probe and that therefore he should receive the reduced sentence he had been promised. Four months later, as a precaution before deciding whether to fire an officer Perez had accused of misconduct, members of an LAPD board of rights called a supervisor to testify under oath about Perez's veracity. The lieutenant told board members that investigators by that time had corroborated "70 to 80%" of Perez's allegations, and that none of the investigators believed Perez had lied to them.

And Perez's central allegations -- that officers in Rampart's CRASH anti-gang unit had planted evidence, beaten suspects and covered up unjustified shootings -- have been corroborated through criminal and disciplinary proceedings against more than a dozen of his former colleagues.

Rick Caruso, former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said he has come to believe that Perez was telling the truth.

"At a certain point, when somebody makes allegations and they're consistently being proved true in some form or another, there's some level of credibility that you've got to afford that person," Caruso said. "As bad as a person as he was, and as bad as the things that he did."

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