Ex-Policeman Denies Cover-Up for Officer in Fatal Crash

Times Staff Writer

Former Torrance Police Officer Timothy Thornton on Wednesday denied allegations made in court earlier this week that he and other officers concealed a police sergeant's alleged drunk driving on the night of a fatal 1984 traffic accident.

Thornton testified in Los Angeles Superior Court that he never admitted being part of a cover-up to protect Sgt. Rollo Green, contradicting the Monday testimony of Timothy Pappas, another former officer.

Traffic Death

The conflicting testimony grows out of a lawsuit filed in 1984 by John and Geraldine Rastello of San Pedro, whose son, Kelly, 19, died in the traffic collision with Green. The suit alleges that nine members of the Torrance Police Department covered up Green's drunk driving as part of a pattern of whitewashing police abuses.

Jurors also heard Wednesday from another defense witness, a crash-reconstruction expert who said Rastello caused the late-night crash by speeding on his motorcycle and not applying his brakes properly.

Thornton, 30, told jurors that he smelled alcohol on Green's breath after the crash, but that the off-duty sergeant did not appear to be drunk.

Defense attorney Casey Yim then asked Thornton if he had made the admissions that Pappas described: that he had covered up, admitted lying in a pretrial deposition and said that others lied too.

"No, sir," a stone-faced Thornton answered repeatedly.

Lawyers for the Rastello family attacked Thornton's credibility, asking him about two incidents in which he allegedly lied. The first allegation led to Thornton's suspension and the second to his firing, he testified.

In the first case, Thornton said he was accused of falsifying a report to make it look like he had proper cause to make an arrest for possession of marijuana. Although he continued to deny the allegation, Thornton acknowledged that his superiors confirmed the allegation and suspended him.

Details Limited

Only limited details of the second incident were discussed because of an order by Judge Abby Soven.

That case also involved Pappas and Thornton. In May, 1988, Pappas shot an unarmed man, Patrick J. Coyle, whom he had pulled over during routine patrol. Coyle was left partially paralyzed.

Police reports about the incident say that the three officers at the scene--Pappas, Thornton and Mark Holden--all said that Pappas fired his gun after Coyle moved suddenly, as if to reach for a weapon. All three officers were fired later, when Thornton told police supervisors that the story was a lie and that Pappas fired his gun without provocation.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Darden said the shooting appeared to be accidental.

Darden subsequently offered Thornton immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Pappas and Holden. The two officers are scheduled for a preliminary hearing Sept. 12 in Los Angeles Municipal Court on two felony charges: conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to falsely charge another with a crime.

Pappas and Holden have pleaded not guilty.

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