Jury misconduct claim threatens LA police corruption verdicts

LOS ANGELES - The convictions of three officers in the biggest corruption scandal to rock the police department were thrown into jeopardy Friday when an alternate juror came forward to accuse the foreman of deciding the defendants were guilty before testimony even began.

The alternate also alleged that the jurors often discussed the case among themselves outside of court before deliberations began - a violation of the judge's instructions.

Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor ordered more testimony on the matter later this month.

Defense attorneys said the allegations are sufficient to warrant a new trial.

The district attorney's office refused to comment.

The allegations came three days after the verdict in the first trial to come out of the scandal.

Sgt. Brian Liddy, Sgt. Edward Ortiz and Officer Michael Buchanan were convicted of conspiracy and other crimes Wednesday involving the framing of gang members four years ago. A fourth defendant, Officer Paul Harper, was acquitted of all charges.

Alternate juror Wendy Christiansen, 30, who did not participate in deliberations, told the judge that on the day the jurors were selected, she had lunch with an alternate and jury foreman Victor Flores. ''A comment was made that he believed the defendants were guilty,'' she said.

A telephone listing for Flores could not immediately be found.

Christiansen also alleged that throughout the trial other jurors openly said they thought the prosecution's police witnesses were lying when they claimed they didn't remember things. And jurors often expressed their dislike for three of the defense attorneys, she said.

''Every time we'd come back from being out here (in the courtroom), there were a lot of comments being made about the defense attorneys. They didn't like the defense attorneys. The person they did like was (Joel) Isaacson,'' she said.

Isaacson's client was the officer who was cleared.

''Whether they like me or not I could care less,'' said Barry Levin, Ortiz's lawyer. ''But whether you like an attorney or not, you can't take it out on the client. The crux of the judicial system is you're entitled to 12 unbiased jurors.''

The scandal involving an anti-gang unit at the police department's Rampart station began when former Officer Rafael Perez got caught stealing cocaine from an evidence locker and agreed to become a government witness. Perez told investigators that officers framed people, planted evidence, committed perjury, even shot innocent victims.

More than 100 convictions have been thrown out because of the scandal.

Jurors were questioned at length during jury selection and on written questionnaires about whether they had preconceived views, and all said they were unbiased.

Each day, the judge instructed them not to discuss the case with each other until deliberations and then only in their deliberation room.

Defense attorney Harland Braun said that if the three convicted officers win a new trial, he will seek to have it moved out of central Los Angeles.

''I question whether as an LAPD officer you can get a fair trial in Los Angeles,'' he said. ''The jurors come in with an agenda.''

The judge ordered the foreman and the other alternate identified by Christiansen to testify Nov. 22.


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