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2 LAPD officers charged with covering up DUI crash, taking the driver home and filing false police report

2 LAPD officers charged with covering up DUI crash, taking the driver home and filing false police report
Two Los Angeles police officers were charged earlier this month with filing a false police report and covering up a DUI crash in 2014, prosecutors said. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Two Los Angeles police officers have been charged with covering up a crash involving a drunk driver and later filing a false police report, prosecutors say.

Following an internal affairs inquiry, Officers Rene Ponce and Irene Gomez were charged Sept. 6 with a felony count each of filing a false report and conspiracy to commit an act injurious to the public, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Both pleaded not guilty last week.

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The two were patrolling the Hollenbeck Division's Boyle Heights area on Oct. 26, 2014, when they were dispatched to a crash in the 3000 block of East Side Boulevard.

Prosecutors said an intoxicated driver had smashed into two parked vehicles, but the officers opted not to conduct a drunk driving investigation.

In their report, Ponce, 39, and Gomez, 38, lied and wrote that the driver had fled the scene, according to the felony complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The two officers then put the driver in their patrol car and drove him home to his apartment complex, telling him to sleep, prosecutors say.

Larry Chavez, 63, said he lives near where the collision occurred along East Side Boulevard and the rumble of the crash awoke him in the early morning hours.

Chavez, a refinery superintendent, said the driver of a white or grey Mustang smashed into his neighbor's cars and tried to run.

With two neighbors, Chavez gave chase and eventually caught up with him.

"We held him down till one of the cops came," Chavez told The Times. "He was so drunk."

Police arrived and handcuffed the driver before putting him in the back seat of a patrol car for about 90 minutes, Chavez recalled.

At the time of the incident, Gomez had been with the LAPD for three years, and Ponce for 13 years.

The defense attorney representing Gomez, Ira M. Salzman, denied that his client ferried a drunk driver home and later submitted a false report. He said Gomez and her colleague carried out standard protocol for a hit-and-run case, including impounding the driver's Mustang.

"This is an ordinary traffic collision," Salzman said. Gomez has no prior connection to the alleged drunken driver, the attorney said. He questioned why it took nearly two years to bring charges against his client, whom he praised as a dedicated officer.

"My client has an outstanding record, with an outstanding reputation for truth and honesty," Salzman said. "She's well-respected by her peers."

Ponce's defense attorney, Bill Seki, did not respond to a request for comment.

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If convicted, each faces up to three years in county jail.

Police presented evidence about the incident to the Los Angeles city attorney's office to determine whether a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge should be filed against the driver, but city prosecutors declined to file charges.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Martha Carrillo, the prosecutor who signed the criminal complaint against the two officers, said the officers and the driver had no personal or professional connection. The driver is also not connected to the LAPD or other law enforcement agencies, Carrillo said.

"There's no connection between them at all," Carrillo added.

The driver's identity was not released because he is a witness in the case, she said.

Twitter: @MattHjourno.

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UPDATES:

10:35 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Larry Chavez.

3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Deputy Dist. Atty. Martha Carrillo and additional comments from Ira Salzman.

12:45 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

12:30 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at noon.

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