Former officers Evan Samuel, left, and Richard Amio in court last November. (Christina House, For The…)
Two former Los Angeles police partners who were found guilty of perjury and conspiring to obstruct justice avoided jail Tuesday when they were sentenced to community labor and probation, capping the first conviction of LAPD officers accused of falsely testifying during a trial in more than a decade.
Describing his sentencing decision as among the most difficult a judge could face, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor called the officers' conduct "regrettably shameful" but said he also took into account the careers and lives they had led.
He ordered that Evan Samuel, 41, perform 750 hours of service on graffiti removal or some other intensive labor and that Richard Amio, 34, complete 500 hours doing the same type of work. Samuel had faced a maximum sentence of more than seven years behind bars while Amio faced more than six years.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office had sought a minimum sentence of three years, arguing in court papers that "the lies told throughout their reports and testimony ... were deliberate and malicious and constituted a sophisticated attempt to derail the administration of justice."
Pastor sentenced the men after defense attorneys argued that their clients had spent their lives committed to public service and had large numbers of family and friends ready to watch out for them if they were placed on probation.
A retired LAPD lieutenant who had supervised the officers described them in court as "the best of the best" in the department. Charles Wampler, a 36-year police veteran, said Samuel and Amio had shone in the department's gang unit.
The judge said he disagreed with Wampler's description.
"It causes shame to an institution as ... highly respected as the Los Angeles Police Department," Pastor said. "It's not conduct that is the best of the best."
The case against the Hollywood Division gang officers involved a 2007 drug arrest in which they claimed that they had seen a suspected gang member, Guillermo Alarcon Jr., run and throw an object that split open to reveal crack and powder cocaine. The officers testified that they immediately recovered the drugs and arrested Alarcon.
But Alarcon's attorney produced a videotape that appeared to sharply contradict the officers. The video showed a group of officers searching for more than 20 minutes in the carport where Alarcon had been arrested until one officer announced that drugs had been found. After viewing the tape, a judge dismissed the charges against Alarcon and declared him factually innocent.
Alarcon's attorney at his trial, Deputy Public Defender Victor Acevedo, criticized Tuesday's sentences as "way too lenient," saying that the officers deserved at least two years in prison — the same sentence he said his client was offered by the district attorney's office before the 2008 trial.
"Do you know what this tells every potentially corrupt police officer? That you get a freebie, that you get a pass," Acevedo said.
The defense lawyers described the sentences as a fair punishment given the officers' histories.
While he was a student at Cal Poly Pomona, Amio volunteered with several associations for various minority groups on campus, his attorney, Robert Rico, told the judge. After college, Amio worked as a youth counselor before joining the LAPD in 2002, Rico said.
In a letter to the judge, Samuel said he realized after attending the Police Academy that his life passion was helping people and that he enjoyed persuading young gang members to stop associating with gangs. His attorney, Ira Salzman, said the community labor was onerous work but added that he was gratified by the sentence.
The video played a key role in convicting the officers. During last year's perjury trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Geoffrey Rendonhighlighted some of the dialogue that the apartment complex surveillance camera caught.
"Be creative in your writing," an officer says in an apparent reference to the arrest report that needed to be written.
"Oh yeah, don't worry, sin duda [no doubt]," another officer replies.
A different officer says, "Come on, this is a man who put a case on somebody who has no dope. And he's doing time ... two years."
Jurors found Samuel and Amio guilty on one count of conspiracy each and multiple counts of perjury. Amio is on administrative leave from the LAPD. Samuel joined the LAPD in 2002 and left for the Chino Police Department in 2008. He was fired while on probation in Chino after The Times reported on Alarcon's drug case. He now runs a fitness gym.