A major cocaine dealer who was the primary target of a Los Angeles County anti-drug team testified Tuesday that narcotics officers fired a shot at him although he was unarmed, then claimed he was carrying cocaine to frame him during a 1987 incident.
Ricky Donnell Ross, a convicted dealer known as "Freeway Rick," told federal jurors that members of the Southwest task force also routinely threatened him and once left behind a sinister message at a girlfriend's apartment--a teddy bear with "a knife sticking in its head."
The testimony of Ross, who is serving a 10-year prison term for drug trafficking in Ohio, came as federal prosecutors began winding down their case against six narcotics officers accused of corruption and civil rights abuses.
The five sheriff's deputies and a Los Angeles police detective, who had worked together on the Southwest task force, are on trial in U.S. District Court for allegedly beating drug suspects, planting narcotics and falsifying police reports.
The officers are also accused of stealing cash and property during drug raids and lying in affidavits to obtain search warrants against suspected drug dealers.
In calling the 31-year-old Ross to the witness stand, prosecutors described him as "probably the most significant drug dealer" to testify for the government and asked him to describe the events of April 14, 1987.
According to prosecutors, members of the task force--which had been formed to crack down on Ross' cocaine trafficking ring--were chasing the dealer's car that night in South-Central Los Angeles when Ross suddenly turned into a driveway, ran from his car and scaled a nearby fence.
Following close behind, one deputy fired a shot at the fleeing Ross, prosecutors said. But the officers later concocted a story that it was Ross who fired a shot at deputies, government lawyers said, and lied about finding a kilogram of cocaine that Ross left behind.
Ross turned himself in to police a few weeks after the incident, but he testified Tuesday that he was not carrying a gun or drugs on the night of the shooting. He said he later confronted some of the task force members.
"I asked them, why did you guys frame me?" Ross said.
According to Ross, one officer replied, "We always get our man."
Ross' testimony came after he told jurors that the officers had relayed a number of death threats to him through friends and family members.
"I don't know what words (they used)," he said, "but (it was something like) I wouldn't be taken alive."
Charges were eventually dropped against Ross, who later moved his cocaine operations out of state. He testified that he was involved in drug trafficking for nearly a decade and sold as as much as 20 kilograms of cocaine a day. With his drug profits, Ross said he bought more than a dozen homes and apartment buildings, a motor inn and several other businesses.