Los Angeles police officer charged with attempted murder

LOS ANGELES - A former partner of the police officer who ignited a corruption scandal last year was charged Friday with attempted murder and armed robbery, the most serious charges in the investigation so far.

Five officers now face prosecution for alleged corruption in the anti-gang unit at the police department's Rampart station, and more than 20 officers have left active duty.

Officer Nino Durden, 32, was arrested in the shooting of a gang member who is now paralyzed and the robbery at gunpoint of a suspected drug dealer. Charges also include filing false police reports and committing perjury.

Durden once partnered with Rafael Perez, who told investigators last year that he and other officers beat, framed and robbed people in rough neighborhoods west of downtown.

Durden's lawyer, Darryl Mounger, said his client is innocent and denounced Perez as a liar.

Perez began cooperating with investigators in exchange for a lenient sentence after he pleaded guilty to stealing cocaine from an evidence room.

District Attorney Gil Garcetti said Durden wouldn't have been charged without corroboration.

''We've always known that any case based on the testimony of Officer Perez would be very difficult to sustain in front of a jury,'' Garcetti said.

Because of the scandal, nearly 100 criminal cases have been dropped or convictions overturned.

This week, a police commission review panel asked the department's 9,300 officers to complete an 11-page questionnaire to gauge rank-and-file opinion on department problems.

Durden was charged with attempting to kill 23-year-old gang member Javier Francisco Ovando in October 1996. Ovando was convicted of assault and served three years of a 23-year sentence.

The original police report said Perez and Durden were staking out an apartment building when Ovando burst into a dark apartment and pointed a rifle at them. The report said Ovando was ordered to drop the gun, and both officers shot him when he did not comply.

In an interview of Perez by prosecutors that was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Perez said he never saw Ovando with a gun and that Durden quickly left the shooting scene and returned with a sawed-off rifle that he dropped next to Ovando.

Perez said he recognized the weapon as one the officers had seized previously.

Ovando on Friday was rolled into a new conference at his lawyer's office with his 3-year-old daughter, Destiny, in his lap.

Speaking through a translator, he said he hoped Durden will receive justice and ''for all the damage he's done to everyone, life (in prison) would probably be appropriate.'' He said he hoped the trial will bring out ''the truth about all the bad things that were done.''

''God is doing justice now. Why should I be angry now?'' he said.

The six-count complaint also charged Durden with second-degree robbery, alleging he stole jewelry and money from Grace Cox, whom the officers suspected of dealing drugs, in August 1997.

Durden also was charged with perjury under oath in the case of Miguel Hernandez, who was convicted of a weapons violation in 1996 and served eight months in prison.


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