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Lawyer to Head Review of Rampart Probe

The Police Commission names Connie Rice to the fifth panel to study aspects of the scandal.

May 28, 2003|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

Dissatisfied with the job that Los Angeles police did investigating their own corrupt officers, the Los Angeles Police Commission will name prominent civil rights attorney Connie Rice to head a fully independent commission to review the 1999 Rampart scandal.

Rice will lead a seven-member Rampart panel charged with judging whether the department has corrected mistakes that allowed the scandal to occur, Commission President Rick Caruso said.

The other members will be announced next month. The panel will be the fifth group convened to study some aspect of the Rampart scandal.

"We are going to have a strong lineup of people on the independent committee, and we are going to give them all the resources that they need to do the job," Caruso said. He did not know what the cost would be.

"I have an enormous amount of confidence in Connie's leadership and her analytical skills to chair this committee, along with her understanding of the operations of the LAPD."

That experience won praise from Police Protective League Vice President Mitzi Grasso, who called Rice a consummate professional with experience and evenhandedness.

"We don't agree with Connie on every issue," Grasso said. "However, we applaud her efforts with regard to community policing, police partnership and the restructuring of the LAPD and are looking forward to working with her on this project as well."

LAPD failures have been examined by other commissions in the last 40 years: the McCone Commission, which followed the 1965 Watts riots, and the 1991 Christopher Commission, convened in the aftermath of the Rodney G. King beating.

Rampart has already been the subject of four reports, including one in 2000 by the Rampart Board of Inquiry, an official police investigative body, a second the next year for the police union by Erwin Chemerinsky, a USC law professor, and earlier reports for the Police Commission's Rampart independent review panel and Los Angeles County Bar Assn. task force on the state of the criminal justice system. Those reviews largely focused on recommendations surrounding allegations of corrupt actions by police.

Rice said her review would not duplicate previous efforts.

"We are going to start with everything that's in the record and move on. We are going to determine what was or what wasn't done institutionally; we are not obviously going to do anything about the substantive allegations. We are not going to go back and try to figure out what happened incident by incident."

Chemerinsky, who said he also has been asked to serve on the new Rampart panel, said the focus on fixing department policy to prevent future incidents of corruption was appropriate, given the time that has passed since the scandal broke.

"I don't think this is meant to be a factual investigation into Rampart because it's too late, and this group doesn't have the proper authority and resources to do that," Chemerinsky said. "What is necessary now is a study of how Rampart was investigated so as to provide a protocol for the future in handling scandals in the Police Department."

Calls for creation of the independent panel were made in February by Caruso, the commission and Chief William J. Bratton, who expressed frustration with the speed and quality of the department's Rampart "after action" reports.

But the LAPD has yet to produce those reviews four years after it was revealed that former Officer Rafael Perez told authorities that he and other anti-gang and narcotics officers in the Rampart Division routinely planted evidence, framed suspects and covered up unjustified shootings.

Then-Chief Bernard C. Parks promised a short time later that the department would prepare a report that would document "the exact nature and disposition of each allegation" that surfaced in the corruption probe. Known in the department as an "after action" report, the review was supposed to complement the department's Board of Inquiry report, which addressed the administrative and managerial failures that police officials believed contributed to misconduct in Rampart.

Parks initially said the after action report would be presented to the public by early 2001. But as the inquiry continued, the chief and other department officials stopped talking publicly about the report.

Rice said she didn't think the department got to the bottom of the scandal, in which nine officers have been convicted of crimes ranging from planting evidence to assault and drug theft, and which severely crippled department morale. But this effort would look forward, not back, she said.

"This is not a crime scene investigation type of report, nor is it a historical compendium," Rice said

Rice has filed class-action civil rights cases involving police misconduct, race and sex discrimination and unfair public policy in transportation, probation and public housing.

Her biggest cases include a landmark suit on behalf of low-income bus riders that forced the MTA to improve the bus system, and a suit that secured funds for school construction in Los Angeles after the money had been earmarked for more affluent suburban school districts.

Rice said she wants to get to the heart of the Rampart scandal and the culture that spawned it.

"What we are really interested in is to say what did we learn, what's been implemented, what's been changed," Rice said.

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