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Lack of Funds Stalls Rampart Probe

The LAPD seeks private donations so that an independent panel can begin investigating the department's handling of the scandal.

November 06, 2003|Scott Glover and Matt Lait | Times Staff Writers

Eight months after Los Angeles Police Department officials called for creation of a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the department's handling of the Rampart corruption scandal, Chief William J. Bratton said Wednesday the group lacks the money to begin its work.

Civil rights attorney Connie Rice -- who is in charge of the panel -- has acquired office space and hired investigators, but has not been provided funds to get the investigation "up and running," Bratton said. Rice is "understandably anxious" to begin her work, Bratton said, and is "very frustrated." Rice, who was out of town, could not be reached for comment.

The civilian panel was created by the Police Commission last summer to assess the department's handling of allegations of corruption raised by former LAPD officer Rafael Perez. In 1999, Perez confessed to LAPD detectives that he and colleagues in the Rampart Division's antigang unit routinely beat and framed suspects and lied to cover up unjustified shootings.

Bratton and Police Commission President David S. Cunningham III, in a meeting with Times editors and reporters, said Wednesday that they are seeking private donations to pay for Rice's panel. At least four major law firms have agreed tentatively to provide donations, but they want more information about how the probe would be conducted and how its findings would be put to use, Cunningham said.

Rice estimated that the panel would need $300,000 to complete its inquiry, according to Bratton. Rice and the other nine panel members are unpaid, but money is needed for investigators and administration. The chief said he thinks about $50,000 to $100,000 is needed now "to get it up and running."

The Police Commission has sent letters seeking donations, Cunningham said. Bratton added that he believed "the funds necessary to move it forward will be forthcoming."

Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, a member of a council committee that oversees the LAPD, said he was surprised that the panel's work was not well underway.

"This is the first I've heard of any roadblocks," Weiss said. "It's my hope that as much work as possible can be done pro bono. But if there's a need for funding, there ought to be a public discussion."

Bratton and Cunningham were dubious about getting any money from the City Council.

"Good luck getting it out of them," said Bratton. He noted that former LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks, a critic of Rice's panel and police chief when the Rampart scandal was exposed, is chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee.

The panel's work also has been delayed by concerns over liability, according to panel member Jan Handzlik. The members -- many of whom are attorneys -- want to know whom they report to and whether they will be protected by the city if they are sued as a result of their work.

The Rampart scandal broke in September 1999. Perez, who was charged with stealing eight pounds of cocaine from LAPD evidence facilities, agreed to identify fellow crooked cops in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Since then, Perez and seven other officers from the Rampart Division's antigang unit have been convicted of corruption-related offenses. Three of those convictions were overturned by a judge on procedural grounds in a case that remains on appeal. More than a dozen officers who were under investigation either resigned or were fired.

The city has paid $42 million in civil settlements to defendants allegedly victimized by police.

The scandal has been the subject of many reports. In 2000, the LAPD produced a lengthy document detailing managerial shortcomings that one police official said "allowed corruption to flourish." Following that were reports by the LAPD's inspector general, and another at the request of the police union.

But despite repeated promises, the LAPD failed to produce the so-called after-action report, which former Chief Parks vowed would publicly address "the exact nature and disposition of each allegation" that surfaced during the corruption probe.

Frustrated by the department's inability to investigate and complete such a report, Bratton and the commission in February called for an independent probe. Five months later, the members of that panel were announced.

But for the past three months, little progress has been made beyond preliminary discussions about how to proceed.

Meanwhile, some high-ranking LAPD and district attorney's officials concede that many allegations by Perez against officers -- some of whom are still on the force -- have not been thoroughly investigated.

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Times staff writers Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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