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LAPD Abandons Final Report

Department's promised inquiry was crippled by a code of silence, inexperienced investigators and a lack of priorities, panel says.

July 12, 2006|Scott Glover | Times Staff Writer

After long promising that it would provide a full public accounting of the Rampart Division scandal, the Los Angeles Police Department now acknowledges that it has not completed that work and has given up trying.

According to a blue ribbon panel assigned to sort through the corruption details, the LAPD's investigation into the scandal was hindered on several fronts.

The panel's report cited, among other things, bickering between police and prosecutors who were supposed to be working together, a lack of experienced investigators and a code of silence that discouraged officers from coming forward with information about colleagues suspected of misconduct.

"LAPD failed in its attempts to conduct its own investigations" into the Rampart crisis, the report said. "Indeed, if the department had intentionally tried to develop a plan to mask the extent of ... corruption and limit the number of officers punished, it could not have had a better plan."

The report is the fourth major study of the scandal, which was sparked by the admissions and allegations of Police Officer Rafael Perez.

The events unfolded during the terms of two chiefs of police -- Willie L. Williams and Bernard C. Parks, who is now a City Council member.

Perez once worked in the Rampart Division's anti-gang unit and was accused of stealing six pounds of cocaine that had been booked as evidence when he agreed to identify other allegedly crooked officers in exchange for a lighter sentence. He told investigators that officers in the anti-gang unit routinely falsified reports, planted evidence, administered beatings and covered up unjustified shootings.

Earlier reports on the scandal dealt primarily with failures in the criminal justice system that allowed abuses to occur. Connie Rice's group went further by delving into the department's efforts to investigate corruption and punish officers involved.

The panel found that the department's inquiry, conducted by a special task force of detectives, was flawed from the start. Numerous experts agreed that such an investigation "should operate like a widening net" in which wiretapping, surveillance and other methods are employed.

Although detectives used some of these methods during the investigation of Perez's drug theft, "the task force did not design such an investigation when following up on Perez's allegations of misconduct," according to the report.

As the scandal grew, detectives with little experience were assigned to the task force. To more senior investigators, the appointments seemed to be made with little consideration for who had the best skills for the job. Some high-ranking LAPD officials interviewed by the panel "recalled that some supervisors seemed to volunteer officers they wanted to get rid of for Rampart task force duty."

Setting priorities for the task force was also a problem, the panel found, "to the point where allegedly unlawful shootings languished without investigators while a team pursued allegations of an on-duty beer party at the Police Academy."

The report also noted Perez's supposed failure of a polygraph exam. Though panel members cited experts who said the test was so flawed that its results could not be trusted, his purported failure had a devastating effect on his credibility. "The lie detector test was a shock; it took the wind out of our sails," said one deputy district attorney who was quoted in the report, but not named. "I think a different result would have colored the whole investigation differently."

The panel found that the investigation was also hindered by then-Chief Parks' refusal to grant administrative immunity to officers who witnessed misconduct but failed to promptly report it. Fear of being fired for such an offense probably prevented some officers from coming forward, the panel concluded.

A lack of cooperation between Parks and then-Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, in which the two publicly feuded over the investigation, severely hindered prosecutorial and investigative efforts," the report concluded.

Attempts to investigate officers internally through the LAPD's so-called Board of Rights process also faltered, the panel found. In such cases, an officer -- typically a sergeant with no formal legal training -- serves as the prosecutor. Two high-ranking LAPD officials and one civilian community member serve as judges.

In Rampart cases, the panel found, the system largely failed. The report said the officers who were supposed to prosecute cases were provided with incomplete files, were stonewalled by potential police witnesses and "were simply outmatched by the seasoned private defense attorneys representing accused officers."

Even some judges "seemed inclined against finding officers guilty in these cases," the report said. The panel was also critical of the department for failing to fulfill a promise by Parks to issue an "after-action" report on the scandal that would disclose the "exact nature and disposition of each allegation."

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