LAPD corruption case goes to jury

LOS ANGELES - The first trial in a police corruption scandal that has led to more than 100 overturned convictions went to a jury Wednesday after three and a half weeks of testimony, part of it from gang members.

In their closing statements Wednesday, defense attorneys appealed for acquittal of the four police officers charged, saying there was no credible evidence the men committed perjury in criminal cases against gang members.

The allegations surfaced after a former officer, in a plea bargain on charges of stealing cocaine from an evidence locker, told prosecutors of widespread corruption in an anti-gang unit at the Police Department's Rampart station.

Attorney Barry Levin spoke Tuesday in defense of Sgt. Edward Ortiz and the other officers, giving a fiery closing statement in which he called the defendants heroes and denounced gang members as ''creeps.''

Braun reminded jurors they had not heard from key witnesses, including the disgraced former officer, Rafael Perez.

Perez has been the prosecution's star witness but was dropped from their list after an ex-girlfriend accused of him of Perez committed murders during a drug deal. His lawyer said Perez wouldn't testify unless his immunity covered those allegations.

Perez's allegations against the Rampart Division rocked the local justice system and led to dismissal of some 100 convictions which Perez said were tainted by illegal police actions, including abusing and framing suspects. The city expects to pay as much as $125 million in lawsuits by defendants in those cases.

In the trial, prosecutors claimed the officers manufactured stories to justify arrests. They said two officers falsely claimed to have been hit by a truck driven by a fleeing gang member in 1996. In another incident the same year, the officers were accused of planted a gun on a convicted felon.

Deputy District Attorney Anne Ingalls denounced the defendants Wednesday as being ''just like the defendants in other cases. When they lie they fight with you, they get mad at you. ... They blame someone else.''

''It's been depressing to see people who normally stride into court so confident ... and now they couldn't remember anything. Sad days for the LAPD,'' Ingalls said.

Prosecutors accused the officers of writing false reports in the two cases and committed perjury at preliminary hearings. The judge acquitted Officer Michael Buchanan of two perjury counts during the trial, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove he was on vacation during a gang raid on which he filed a report.

Buchanan's lawyer on Wednesday said the jury should not to be swayed by politicians and the media.

''We're not talking about making a public statement on whether police are good or bad,'' attorney Harland Braun said. ''We're talking about these men who have done nothing wrong.''

Attorney Paul DePasquale, representing Sgt. Brian Liddy, conceded that minor points written in a police report might have resulted from mistakes, but ''a mistake does not qualify as a false report.''

Officer Paul Harper's attorney Joel Isaacson told jurors that convicting his client would reward Harper's lifetime of service with a felony record.


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