Perez’s Bitter Saga of Lies, Regrets and Harm
Whatever else he was, is, or ever will be, for most of the 10 years Rafael Perez was in the Los Angeles Police Department he exemplified the hard-charging ideals the LAPD promotes. He was a good cop--a very good cop, even--who at some point became one of a certain, distinctive other kind of cop.
Not an outlaw cop. Not at first. It started, as it usually does, more subtly than that.
One of Perez’s old bosses, talking not long ago about the secret pleasures of a policeman’s life, recalled how he and friends would think nothing of ending a night shift at 1 a.m. in, say, Foothill Division, far northwestern Los Angeles, then driving 50 miles to Anaheim for a beer. They knew a tavern there that stayed open late.
“If you have a badge,” he said, “you can drive real fast.”
In addition to the thrill of speeding across a sleeping landscape of 12 million people, this recollection hints at a vital aspect of life as some cops live it. They inhabit--or think they do--a world apart from normal men and women.
This belief is not unusual in the Los Angeles Police Department, where insularity has been raised to a sacramental rite; it is particularly pronounced in the department’s special units, distinct segments of the force that operate with virtual autonomy.
Cops in these units are, by definition, set apart--even from other police. For most of his career, Perez, the man at the center of the LAPD Rampart scandal, worked in two of these units: gang suppression and undercover narcotics.
It is common, particularly among the hardest charging cops in these units, to come to believe they reign over secret domains, that they are governed by codes of behavior of their own devising, liberated from normal life and its bothersome rules. In this shadow world, they can come to feel like royalty, true princes of the city and masters of all they survey.
They drive real fast.
What we know now about Rafael Perez, of course, makes breaking the speed limit look like a missed homework assignment.
What we know, in summary, is this:
Perez has admitted to hundreds of instances of perjury, fabrication of evidence and false arrests. He has admitted stealing drugs from police evidence lockers and reselling them on the street. He has admitted stealing drugs, guns and cash from gang members.
He has alleged that the Rampart Division’s anti-gang CRASH unit sought to send neighborhood gang members to prison or to have them extradited, whether or not they actually committed crimes. He has said he helped put hundreds of innocent men in jail--innocent, in any event, of the crimes with which they were charged.
Included among these men was one gangster, Javier Ovando, whom Perez said he and his partner framed for allegedly attempting to murder them. In fact, Perez said, when they shot and paralyzed Ovando, he was unarmed. Perez has said he routinely observed police officers beating innocent people. Rampart CRASH became, Perez has said, a “brotherhood,” a gang in its own right.
The scandal Perez unleashed caused the temporary disbanding of all the LAPD’s anti-gang details. The scandal has so far caused more than 30 officers to be disciplined and five to be fired. Nine others resigned. In addition to Perez, three have been convicted of crimes, based in large part on information he provided. Those convictions have since been reversed and the officers await a retrial.
The scope of the scandal has caused millions of dollars to be spent investigating it. It played a key role in the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to force the LAPD to surrender its vaunted independence to the oversight of the federal courts.
Perez has called himself a monster and warned of the dangers of the corruption of power. Others have been harsher. He has been variously called the worst police officer in the history of Los Angeles, lying scum, a traitor, a career drug dealer, a gangster.
He has also, to less notice, been regarded by a few as something of a Los Angeles Serpico, a cop dedicated to rooting out wrongdoing in a department he loves. In return for his confession to drug thefts and cooperation with investigators, Perez was given a five-year sentence and immunity from other charges.
He is currently in County Jail, where he spends most of his time locked down, alone in a cell, reading, and, when able, watching police dramas on television. He also spends a considerable amount of time testifying against his former fellow officers, many of whom now revile him.
Assuming he is not charged with new crimes (not necessarily a safe assumption, given the zeal with which federal investigators are pursuing allegations against him) and with time off for good behavior, Perez will probably walk out of jail a free man early next spring. Given the low regard in which he is held by both outlaw gangsters and his former law enforcement peers, he presumably will resettle with his wife and family in another city.
Wherever he goes, he will spend much of the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. Wherever he goes, he will leave behind a criminal justice system staggering beneath the weight of his allegations.
Perez cooperated to a limited degree in the preparation of this story, participating in slightly more than two hours of interviews by telephone. The interviews are his first extended public comments since his conviction. He speaks forcefully, often eloquently, and with remorse about what he has wrought.
Upon the insistence of his attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, he declined to answer any questions about his own criminal activities. His willingness to speak was often much greater than McKesson’s willingness to let him. Perez has, however, as a condition of his sentence, spoken extensively to investigators about those activities. Transcripts of those interrogations were also used for this story.
Well, sir, make no bones about it, what we did was wrong--planting evidence, evidence on people, fabricating evidence, perjuring ourselves--but our mentality was us against them.
. . . We knew that Rampart’s crime rate, murder rate, was the highest in the city. And people come, lieutenants, captains and everybody else would come to our roll calls and say this has to end and you guys are in charge of gangs. Do something about it. That’s your responsibility.
And the mentality was, it was like a war, us against them, and they didn’t play fair, and we went right along with it and didn’t play fair. If they ran from us and discarded the narcotics in the gutter, it was no big deal to us. We’ll just put dope on you. We know you had it. . . . You run and toss a gun in the gutter or throw it behind a tree and we can’t find it, no big deal. We’ll get you on our own. Didn’t matter what the crime was. We knew that you were getting away with it, either by intimidating witnesses or one way or another.
We’d arrest them for legitimate arrests, legitimate robbery or murder. Two, three days later, couple weeks later, they were out in the street laughing, and we took it upon ourselves, and I think it just, it was the way of Rampart. They were not going to get away with it. We were going to make sure.
--Rafael Perez, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Sept. 21, 2000
A Promising Beginning, Then Disgrace The Preacher
There was a time when people would have expected the opposite of Rafael Perez, who as a boy was so averse to misbehavior that he refused to ride the bus to school because kids on it acted wild.
For most of his 33 years, Perez was the antithesis of a thrill seeker. He was born in Puerto Rico in 1967, the second of three children of Luis and Luz Perez. Perez didn’t know his father, didn’t see so much as a photograph of him until he was 30. The permanence of their separation was assured when Luz moved to Brooklyn, taking the kids with her. Luis stayed on the island. Rafael was 5.
The young family stayed in New York briefly before settling across the river in Paterson, N.J., an industrial town that Perez remembers with affection. While there, his mother attended college, graduated, taught English as a second language, remarried and had a fourth child.
The school the Perez children attended in Paterson was run by a no-bones-about-it disciplinarian principal named Joe Clark, who wielded a baseball bat to enforce points of order and became famous as the subject of the film “Lean on Me.” The strictness was fine with Perez, whose brothers and sister called him The Preacher for his sternness.
“I was very strict,” Perez recalls. “I was the one that would catch my sister or my brother cutting class, and I’d have to sit there and explain to them why they should go to school and if they cut again I’m gonna tell mom so they better go.
“I was protective of my sister, especially protective of her. I was protective of my older brother because I was always worried about him doing something that would hurt my mom. It was strange, because I was not the older one, not the oldest in the family, but I acted like I was.
“By the time I was 13 I was pretty much, I considered myself like the man of the house. I sort of had those growing spurts. I all of a sudden grew a goatee. I was taller than my older brother, more responsible than my older brother, or even my older cousins.
“I sort of just grew up. My mind started telling me what I wanted to do, what I wanted my future to be like. It just didn’t seem I was at the same level as kids my age. Maybe I was a nerd. I don’t know what you want to call it. I was just a lot more responsible than the other kids in my neighborhood.”
He was also shy. He remembers losing his first girlfriend at 13 because he refused to slow-dance with her.
When Perez was about to enter high school, the family moved to Philadelphia, specifically to North Philadelphia, one of the toughest neighborhoods in a tough town. Paterson had been gritty. North Philly was mean. The family stayed initially with Perez’s uncle, who Perez says was a drug dealer.
“That was my first exposure to Philadelphia, waking up one morning and people coming up to his house picking up stuff, hanging out at each corner,” Perez says. “Quickly, I realized what was going on and I had a real passionate disapproval of what was going on and from time to time I’d let him know about it.”
The uncle’s vocation strengthened Perez’s resolve to become a cop.
“As far back as I can remember I knew I wanted to be a police officer; I just didn’t know how I was going to get there,” he says. He watched all the TV shows: “Starsky and Hutch,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Baretta,” even “Adam Twelve,” which eerily used the exterior of Rampart Division headquarters for the show’s weekly opening shot.
Perez worked as a stock boy at a publishing company and played baseball in high school. Otherwise, he kept to himself and bided his time until graduation.
He knew he couldn’t join a police force fresh out of high school, so he did the next best thing. Three days after graduation, he flew off to Marine boot camp. In the Marines, he found an organization whose seriousness of purpose matched his own. He also found, for the first time, the camaraderie he would come to treasure, both there and later in the LAPD.
“The togetherness in the Marine Corps--you’re on the same page. You’re on the same agenda. School was more like just a bunch of scattered kids doing every possible thing, from smoking marijuana, drinking, cutting class, just everything you could think of, and I wanted no part of it,” Perez says.
“In a sense, I always told myself I just grew up too quickly. . . . I didn’t see myself as a kid, you know, 14, 15, 16, running around. I just didn’t see it. I saw my future and that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to risk a chance of messing it up by hanging out with the wrong person or just doing the wrong thing.”
After boot camp, Perez was sent to the Marine barracks at Portsmouth, N.H. Not long after he arrived, he met a young California woman who was stationed at the nearby Air Force base.
Lorri Charles was 21, an Air Force enlisted woman fresh off a failed romance the day she went with a friend to visit the Marine base. They hung out in the rec room, where Lorri dodged inquiring glances from a young Marine wearing a fierce scowl and a red jacket with his name written in script on the front.
Perez has a coffee and cream complexion and Lorri, an L.A. native, assumed that he, like her, was African American. What’s a black man doing with a name like Rafael? she wondered. Before he had a chance to do anything more than sit down next to her, Lorri warned him off.
“Don’t even think about it,” she remembers saying.
“He had that Marine look. He had that look 24 hours a day--in uniform or out.”
Perez, now as then, is a striking figure with near matinee idol handsomeness. He is kept from that mainly by a heavy, dark brow that runs almost uninterrupted across the bridge of his nose. The brow can give Perez a hard look that is difficult to differentiate from anger. You can see, even in photographs from back then, that the look would suit a cop well.
“I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last man on Earth,” Lorri told him. “You look too mean.”
They were married six months later.
When Perez married (in his dress uniform) he was 18, afraid at first even to tell his mother. In other ways, though, Perez was his usual, preternaturally responsible self. He handled all the couple’s finances and knew what every dollar coming in had to do on its way out. It was weird, Lorri said, how he knew in November how much money they had to have for taxes in April.
She was looser, more easygoing. She relaxed him. They did everything together, even wore matching outfits.
When Pease Air Force Base, where Lorri was stationed, was slated to be closed, Rafael and Lorri were offered options on where they wanted to go. To Lorri, it was an easy choice. “I wanted to go home,” she says.
She took a discharge and Rafael was transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station at Tustin in Orange County. They took an apartment in Santa Ana. Lorri’s family loved Rafael. He became the man everybody would go to if they needed help or advice.
At one point Lorri considered enlisting in the Marines, the two of them making it a career. Rafael, a fitness nut, trained her in preparation for Marine boot camp. But Lorri discovered that Rafael had cheated on her; they separated, reconciled, and separated again.
In the meantime, Perez applied and was accepted into the LAPD academy in the class of June 1989. He finished his enlistment and went off to become a policeman.
Lorri filed for divorce, withdrew the petition, then eventually split without formal proceedings. They stayed in touch, even dated some. When her sister’s car was stolen, she called Rafael. He found it, repaired damage to the dash and had it returned within a week.
“He’d drive by my mom’s to make sure she was OK,” Lorri says. “He’d say, ‘If you ever need anything, anything in this world, call me.’ We were his family.”
Eventually, they divorced and each remarried. Lorri is now in the process of divorcing again, in part, she says, because she constantly compared her new husband to Rafael. He didn’t measure up.
To this day, she says, “Rafael was the nicest man I ever met.”
I’ve always been responsible when it came to things. I’ve always had this insatiable appetite of wanting to please the ones I love. If there was something somebody wanted. My mother, my wife or whoever. I knew how to save. I knew how to know I’m not going to get that or I’m not going to do that because I want to save for this. I want to save exactly this amount.
--Rafael Perez, interview, Dec. 18, 2000
Coming to Grips With What He Became The LAPD
The single thing that most distinguishes members of the Los Angeles Police Department from police elsewhere is their relentless sense of mission, an aggressive, proactive style of policing that has more in common with military patrolling than with the archetypal big city cop stuffed in the back booth of the corner doughnut shop.
From the beginning, Perez, the gung-ho Marine, lifelong would-be cop, embraced this aggressive model.
Russ Nasby met Perez on Perez’s first week out of the academy. Both were rookie probationers in Harbor Division. Nasby wasn’t long out of the academy himself when he responded to a call for assistance. Perez was on foot, chasing a suspect in Wilmington, and asked for backup. Nasby responded.
Together, they chased, caught and cuffed the guy. It would be the first of many chases.
“Ray loved it. I loved it,” Nasby says.
“Look, you drive down the street, you’re spit at, you’re [cursed], you get rocks thrown at you. When you finally see that kid two weeks later, the kid who [cursed] you, a 20-year-old dealing crack to some 14-year-old, or using the 14-year-olds to distribute it, that’s what you wait for. You move in and take him. As a rookie, you look at it as, ‘I saved the day.’
“That’s why Ray joined. That’s why I joined,” Nasby says. “I wanted to save the world. It is also an adrenaline rush. It’s dangerous. We liked that, too, the rush. We had guys pull guns on us. It’s not like you’re scared; it’s like, ‘OK . . . me and you.’ ”
Nasby and Perez hit it off. They teased each other about who caught the most bad guys, who ran the farthest, the hardest. Perez taught Nasby to dance. Nasby offered Perez half his apartment. They shared the two-bedroom townhouse in Hawthorne and continued their hard charging around the clock.
“You’re 24 years old. You’re single. You’re living in L.A. You’re making three times as much money as you need. What are you going to be interested in?” Nasby asks. The answer is obvious: women, of whom they met more than their fair share.
“They were wild in those days,” Lorri Perez says. “They ran hard.”
When his probation was up, Perez worked patrol in Wilshire Division. It was everything he imagined, he says, and more.
“One of the first things I learned in the academy. I forgot which instructor told me this, but police work is a lot about acting. . . . Even in the academy I was shy, but when it came down to going to a radio call where it was domestic violence, a business dispute or a family dispute, I found myself being able to stand in front of these people explaining why they shouldn’t be arguing, why they shouldn’t be fighting, how they’re going to settle this dispute.
“I found myself sort of acting. I was telling people, trying to counsel people on their relationships where I didn’t really have the experience to be able to talk about it. But I pretended like I did. I talked to kids, tried to explain to them certain things, even though I had no kids. . . . That acting, that command presence, is what gets you out of your shell. You become two separate persons.”
In some ways, this is true of most people. They adopt different personas, depending on where they are, who they’re with and what they’re doing. It’s exaggerated with cops, because their work life is so unlike usual life. With Perez, it seems to have been exaggerated still more. As a cop, he even took a different name. He’d been known to everyone his whole life as Rafael. In the LAPD, everybody called him Ray.
Until the scandal broke and Perez became a well-known figure, few people in the LAPD even knew Rafael Perez existed.
The simplest of things: Things that you go, “Really, that sounds too idealistic.” But it isn’t. Right down from helping that lady whose child is missing, and finding that child and bringing it back to her and watching her expression. Watching her hug you. Right down from saving someone, right down to all of it. It’s the gratitude that you feel. Sometimes it’s a thankless job. It’s not often someone’s going to come up to you and say, “Thank you so much.” But it’s what you feel inside. At the end of the day, when you did something, you helped somebody and that person walks away and that person is real happy and you sit back and go, “Boy, that felt good. That felt really good.”
. . . When you can meet someone and you’ve made a difference in their life. When you look at their refrigerator and know they have three kids in the house and no food in there, no food in the cabinets, you take yourself after work, buy several bags of groceries and you take it to her and she looks at you, “Why is he doing this?” And you just do it, no explanation. “Just make sure you feed the kids.” And she’ll never see you again, ever. But that feeling can never be replaced by anything, any chase, any foot pursuit--none of that can ever replace it.
--Rafael Perez, interview, Dec. 18, 2000
On the Buy Team
In part because of his age and Spanish fluency, but mainly because he was regarded as a good, aggressive cop, Perez was transferred after a year on patrol to an undercover narcotics assignment, where he spent the next three years making drug buys.
The West Bureau Buy Team was composed of from eight to 10 young cops who could most feasibly pose as drug buyers, a couple of junior detectives and a senior detective. It’s police work as you see it in the movies.
The squad would deploy undercover near the site of a prospective deal. As many as half a dozen uniformed patrolmen--the chase team--would be waiting nearby to swoop in and make the arrest. The man whose turn it was to make the buy would be wired for sound, both for safety and tactical reasons. He would approach a seller, negotiate a purchase, then signal over the wire that the deal was done.
The basic routine seldom varied: Make the buy, chase the guy, fight. In those days, 1991 to 1994, some Los Angeles streets might as well have been drug trade swap meets. It wasn’t a question of whether you could find dealers, but where you chose to find them. Most nights, the team would easily “fill up,” every member making a buy. When they worked certain areas--Hollywood, for example--it was routine for the team to fill up twice.
Street level drug trafficking is, by its nature, more dangerous than major narcotics dealing. With untrained, uncertain, often unstable people selling drugs to other uncertain, often unstable people they often don’t know and don’t trust, every deal has the potential to explode into violence.
The real danger, police say, is not that the dealer will think you’re a cop; it’s that he’ll believe you’re not. If he knew you were a cop, you’d lose the deal and the arrest with it. If he thought you were the wrong somebody else, you could easily lose your life.
For most of the time that Perez was on the team, Det. Bobby Lutz ran it. Lutz took seriously his responsibilities as a supervisor and de facto guardian of his young charges.
“Just by its nature, there is constant danger, a constant go, go, go. A constant rush,” Lutz says. “Those guys were on the edge all the time. It’s a real rush. Every time you make a buy, it’s a rush. They lap it up. They relish it.”
One night, Perez was up to make a buy in a neighborhood off Western Avenue where the team hadn’t worked before. David Mack, a streetwise young cop who had become good friends with Perez, was supposed to drive Perez to the buy site in a ratty Datsun B210. He had a headache and tried to beg off.
“Cops look at work ethic,” Lutz says. “In a unit like that, you can’t afford to have people who don’t work. The requisites for this were that you work hard, that you do what you say you’ll do; the other guy’s safety relies on it.”
He made Mack go, a decision that almost cost Mack his life.
“I went out and scouted the location,” Lutz says. “It was dark down there. I went and got set up and called them in. Before Perez could even get out of the car, the guy came up to the car. Ray, on the wire, said, ‘Bobby, I think he’s got a gun.’ ”
Lutz could hear only bits of conversation, which sounded more like an interrogation by the presumptive drug dealer: “ ‘Where you from? Who are you?’ Like a gang thing,” Lutz says.
“The guy is at the window and two juveniles . . . took up positions behind the car. I hear the conversation sort of intermittently. Ray is wearing the wire and the guy is at the other window talking to Mack.
“ ‘I got mine,’ he says. ‘You got yours?’ ”
Mack and Perez said later the prospective seller had a handgun as he approached the driver’s side of the car. Mack told Lutz that the man put the gun to Mack’s head.
“The guy had the gun right up against his temple,” Lutz says. “Mack turned away so he’d take the bullet in the back of the head, ‘So I’d look pretty in the casket,’ he told Lutz. “ ‘I know I’m dead, but I’m going take him out before he takes out Ray.’ ”
Perez carried his gun behind his back. In the tiny compact car, he couldn’t get at it. Mack carried his under his belt in front. He reached down, pulled the gun and fired from his waist.
On the wire, Lutz heard gunfire. “I had no idea who was firing. Those were the scariest three or four seconds of my life. I came screaming down in my Explorer. I had my lights on and I could see the gun smoke.”
The man died, Mack got a medal, but in the light of later events--Perez stealing the drugs, Mack holding up a Bank of America branch for three-quarters of a million dollars--the event has been regarded suspiciously by some investigators.
Mack is in federal prison and is not talking. Perez swears by the account the two officers gave at the time. So does Lutz, who thinks the significance of the event can’t be seen out of context with the constant danger, and thrill, of day-to-day life on the team. On the rarest of occasions, guns were fired. On every occasion, they might have been.
“You’ve got this power, this authority; you blend it with this youthfulness, it’s powerful stuff,” Lutz says. “You start carrying yourself differently. It’s an exalted status.”
Lutz tried to warn Perez and his other young charges not to concentrate on the physical risks at the exclusion of the psychological.
“I knew Perez was a player. He got married when I was there. That didn’t slow him down. My only way to counteract that was to work them to death. I demanded they make all their court appearances. Work all night, in court all day.
“I told them, ‘You’re going to get in trouble. It’s not worth it. I’ve been divorced and it ain’t worth it.’ ”
“Ray would say, ‘I know, I know, old man, I know.’ ”
“They were probably living the time of their lives,” Lutz says.
They were. So much so that friends worried.
Russ Nasby says: “I used to tell him, ‘Ray, you gotta get out of narcotics.’ He liked it too much.”
Perez during this period met, dated and married his current wife, an LAPD dispatcher named Denise Aubry. They bought a house in Chino Hills and in 1994 he applied for a job with the Chino Police Department.
This was in the aftermath of the Rodney G. King beating; disgruntlement was widespread in the LAPD. Neighboring departments were cherry-picking the best officers. For Perez, the Chino job would have been more like a career change than a job change--more pay, but dramatically less exciting.
So certain was he of getting that job that Perez started giving away his LAPD gear. Perez now, under advice from his lawyer, refuses to discuss what happened in Chino, why he suddenly changed his mind about taking it. Lutz, his boss at the time, was so taken aback that he called Chino to find out what had happened. Administrators there declined to discuss Perez, leading Lutz to surmise that he had failed some test--perhaps a polygraph, or, as others have suggested, a psychological test.
Chino officials decline to comment.
Whatever the reason, Perez finished out his tour of duty on the buy team and waited for reassignment. Lutz says: “The Ray Perez that I knew walked out of the West Bureau buy team into a different world.”
That world was Rampart.
Have you ever watched a documentary of, say, an undercover officer buying some drugs? Have you ever felt your adrenaline pumping up just watching it? Imagine living it every night. Imagine imitating those people who are out there every night for three years. Every night I imitated a drug user or a drug dealer; I’d go out there and walk the worst of the worst alleys. Meet people that were carrying guns or knives and wanting to sell drugs to them. So every day I went out there, I had that adrenaline. They say it’s one of the most dangerous jobs there is. . . . You didn’t live a normal life. I lived in Hermosa Beach at the time. I used to wear a stocking cap and every night on the way home I’d get stopped by another Hermosa Beach officer wondering what I was doing. I’d always explain to them I work undercover. They’d go, “You look dirty, man. You look dirty.”
. . . You never knew when something was going to happen, when somebody was going to pull a gun on you, when people were going to start running. . . . I guess as a police officer you strive for that adrenaline, you feed off of it. There was more than enough adrenaline to go around in that job.
Me and Mack, we were the ones chosen to go into the worst neighborhoods. They’d save the beach and the Rastafarians and the acids for the other kids who worked the unit. But me and Mack would work all the high-profile gang neighborhoods or the projects. We were the ones that had to go in there and walk it.
--Rafael Perez, interview, Dec. 17, 2000
Coming to CRASH
Perez arrived at Rampart Division in 1994 when he was 27, working first in patrol, then narcotics and within a year moving into what amounted to the inner sanctum: the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums team--CRASH.
Los Angeles was in the full bloom of an ethnic gang explosion. That year, the LAPD estimated there were 58,359 people belonging to 403 distinct gangs in the city. They were alleged to have committed almost 11,000 crimes, including an astonishing 408 homicides. About 10% of all gang crimes occurred in Rampart Division.
Rampart is bounded roughly by Sunset Boulevard on the north, the Santa Monica Freeway on the south, Normandie Avenue on the west and the Harbor Freeway on the east. It is the most densely populated portion of Los Angeles and is overwhelmingly Latino and immigrant.
Ethnic gangs have been an everyday part of life there for most of three decades. They sell drugs, and levy and collect rent from neighborhood merchants as if they owned the place, which to a considerable extent they did in the 1980s.
For what is essentially a paramilitary organization, the LAPD is surprisingly decentralized. This is something many of its members say they have liked most about the department. The force is production-oriented. Its essential product is the arrest. Individual officers, or more typically pairs of them, can spend their days doing more or less as they see fit, so long as they produce arrests, which are tracked, charted and analyzed like factory outputs.
Careers are made and assignments earned on the basis of an officer’s arrest numbers. While this seems natural, so-called scientific policing was a revolution when it was introduced in the LAPD in the 1950s. It has since been exported to police departments nationwide, but no other force has been so shaped by the production ethos.
Rafael Perez, wherever he was assigned, was a top producer, and not long after he came to Rampart he was invited into CRASH. Those assignments were highly prized, both for themselves and as a route to Metro Division, the LAPD’s elite special units group.
At Rampart, the gang detail varied seasonally between 12 and 20 members. Its members had their own rituals, slogans, even a logo: Aces and Eights, the so-called dead man’s hand. They eventually had what amounted to their own headquarters, too, when they were moved out of the main division offices to a detective substation a mile southeast.
They worked largely at night and without external supervision. It was, in its way, a logical extension of LAPD supervisory style: Bring in the bodies and nobody will much question how you got them.
Perez was assigned to the Temple Street gang. He worked them hard and came, he said, to “know these guys inside and out. I know where they hang out. I know their parents. I know their girlfriends.”
Perez cultivated sources among them, hassled them, harassed them. Some gangsters say Perez stopped them dozens of times, always threatening, cajoling, looking for information. The most routine lawbreaking within Rampart CRASH, Perez alleges, was to frame gang members for crimes they didn’t commit. It was CRASH’s way of ensuring that gangsters wouldn’t escape punishment because the police couldn’t develop cases against them, or because witnesses refused to testify against gang members for fear of retaliation.
CRASH units were constantly reminded that they were in a war, that it was their job to take back the streets, to reclaim territory. The feeling within Rampart CRASH was that the gangs didn’t play fair. Neither would the police.
“Where are the arrests? The sergeant is asking, the watch commander, even the captain. It’s not bad, but it leads to Rampart-type situations,” says Bayan Lewis, a retired assistant chief of the LAPD. “The commander says, ‘We’re having problems with gangs.’ The captain tells his officers, ‘We’re having gang problems. Do something about it.’ We’re in essence ordering them to deal with the issue. At first, they go out and do everything right, everything legal. Then things get tougher; they start cutting a few corners. There’s not much supervision, so nobody notices, and they start taking more and more shortcuts.”
A former Rampart CRASH officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, vigorously disputes many of Perez’s allegations and condemns Perez in the strongest terms for making them, but then offers this explanation for the things he says never happened:
“The underlying problem of the LAPD is the organization itself. They basically mold you into what they want you to become. I didn’t go out there to harass people, violate their rights. If that happens to somebody like me, how can you expect other guys not to have problems?”
When I get the call of the person--and I’m going to use an example because this one just stands out in my mind--a woman, a 60-year-old woman that was shot through her window, through her barred window, because a gang member was shooting at another gang member; that bullet missed, hit her back and killed her. Now, I am trying to sit there and tell her daughter that it’s going to be all right. And she is screaming, “These gang members, we can’t do anything here.” . . . It only takes a couple, a couple of times for someone to tell you we can’t even walk outside; these gang members are all over the place.
You know, you may think that, well, it’s still not my place. You are probably right, it wasn’t my place, but no one else was doing it. No one else was taking--it may have taken--I am not saying it was right, but it took some men of rough persuasion to handle a problem that there was no cure for. . . . We felt that, in our own way, we saved lives. However it may seem to some people that the ends should have not justified the means, to us it did.
--Rafael Perez, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Sept. 21, 2000
Elite Rampart Squad Made Its Own Rules The Fall
Perez has said he was a by-the-book cop when he arrived at Rampart. Once there, he said, he learned the Rampart Way, which was to get results without being bothered by the constraints of normal police practice. He had no doubt, he said, of the righteousness of the cause. He went along without hesitation.
Perez said the most regrettable thing he did was frame Javier Ovando for the attempted murder of Perez and his partner, Nino Durden. Ovando was shot by the two officers when, they said, he burst into a room in an abandoned apartment house that they were using as a surveillance position. Perez said Durden fired first and he fired to protect his partner.
Ovando turned out to be unarmed, Perez now says, so they planted a weapon on him. Ovando, whose wounds left him paralyzed below the waist, was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 23 years in prison, a particularly harsh sentence that the judge justified by saying Ovando had shown no remorse.
After the Perez revelations, Ovando’s conviction was overturned and he was released. The city recently agreed to pay Ovando $15 million to settle a wrongful-shooting claim.
Perez mastered the Rampart Way, became a model for other officers. He was singled out for praise at CRASH roll calls. Kulin Patel, a young officer who joined CRASH after Perez had established himself, said Perez “had an outstanding reputation.”
Perez, by his own account, went well beyond breaking the law in the pursuit of justice. He became an outright criminal himself, a thief and drug dealer. He stole drugs from users and dealers on the street, stole cash from their homes and pockets, stole guns from wherever he could find them. He stole cocaine from evidence lockers, the crime that eventually caused him to be caught. And if he hadn’t been so inexpert about that, he might still be out there doing the same things.
The decision to sell drugs was made, Perez said, on the fly, almost casually. Consider the moment in mid-1997 when Perez said he and his partner, Durden, crossed the line.
They had just arrested a drug dealer, confiscating cocaine and equipment, including the dealer’s pager. Even before they finished the paperwork on the arrest, the pager went off. Perez returned the call and arranged a drug deal. It looked like the easiest arrest in history, a custom-made sting. Perez and Durden would simply go to the meet, make the sale, arrest the buyer.
Here’s Perez’s description of what happened:
“And right when we park there, when we first got there, Durden said, ‘Screw it. Let’s just sell it to him.’ And I completely agreed. We went over there. And I got out of the car. . . . It was a quarter of, yeah, a quarter of a pound of cocaine. . . . I put it right there in the grassy area. He looks around, opens the bag, tears the plastic and tastes it. And he goes, ‘OK.’ And he gives me a plastic bag and inside was the money. He then tells me, ‘Uh, wait a minute, I also need $500 worth of rock, already rocked-up. OK.’
“We really don’t know exactly how much $500 worth of rock would be, or what he’s accustomed to. You know what I mean. If it’s 15 rocks per hundred, or 20 rocks per hundred. So we gave him, like, ample. In other words, more than enough. Probably like 25 or 30 rocks per hundred, or for what a hundred dollars would be worth.
“So, we meet right back with him. We give it to him. He gives us the money. I get back in the car and we leave. Officer Durden and myself, uh, split up the money. I keep the, or we kept the, the other defendant’s pager. And we tell the guy, uh, you know, whatever you need, just call us.”
I did a lot of gambling. I spent money on just whatever--stupid little things. Nothing--as a matter of fact, the money from the [cocaine] I never even really needed it for anything.
--Rafael Perez, to investigators, Sept. 10, 1999
Get a Cab
The most surprising thing Rampart police did the night they shot Manuel Saldana was not, remarkably enough, shooting Saldana.
Saldana was a street tough, a member of the 18th Street gang. The fact that he was shot and killed by Rampart CRASH was lamentable, but not in and of itself a shock. Saldana was unarmed when he was shot, but he was just one in a long line of unarmed people shot by the LAPD.
What was most remarkable about the night they shot Saldana was how some of the cops arrived at the Shatto Place apartment building where they shot him. They took a cab. Literally. They took a cab. Hijacked it, stole it. They were concerned that gang members would recognize the unmarked police car they would normally have used, so two officers were sent out for a cab.
Said Perez: “We were told, ‘Go get a cab.’ I mean, we’ve done that many times before, by the way. Just go get a cab and use it to do whatever we’re gonna do. Go get a cab. Pick up the cab. Put the guy on ice. . . . You know, one of these illegal bandit cabs. Tell them we’re gonna write them some kind of ticket. Check them for warrants. Take them to the station. Sit them in the front desk, or in an interview room. Tell them to wait there. And then, we go use his car.”
In the movies--supposedly more, not less, sensational than real life--cops borrow civilian cars only in emergencies. In Rampart, it was ordinary. Go get a cab.
Perez and his partner, Raquel Duarte, found one roaming the Pico-Union streets and hauled the driver into Rampart Station. Then they took the cab, picked up their boss and joined the hunting party.
Perez has alleged that this sort of abuse of authority was routine in CRASH. He was asked by investigators once if he allowed a partner to review an arrest report he had fabricated.
“It is my practice,” he said, indicating the habitual nature of it, “to always let my partner read the report prior to submitting it, especially if we’re planting or framing somebody,” he said.
In a recent Rampart trial, Officer Paul Harper, one of the defendants, was asked why he and other officers had detained a group of young men. Harper made clear without actually saying so that his only reason for stopping them was that he knew they were gang members. He said he had no probable cause to think a crime had been committed.
The trial didn’t even pause at this, an admission of making an illegal stop. People can’t be stopped because they belong to organizations, even if the organizations are at war with the police.
There’s a phrase in the law--color of authority--used to describe the use, and often abuse, of position. When a police officer coerces someone, not by threats or abuse but simply by being a cop, he or she is said to have acted under color of authority. The word “color” is the key notion here. It implies, not a singular thing, not a point, but a swath. It’s an assumed force, like gravity. Imagine what would happen if gravity ceased. The world would blow apart.
For a time in Rampart, it was as if this had happened: Gravity was suspended; everything came undone.
When we talk about planting or putting a case on someone, for some reason, some investigators or some attorneys have thought that we actually--I go into the car, take the three bindles [of drugs], lay it next to him and go, “See, that’s what you dropped.”
It’s not the way it works. I take them into custody, put them in the car, do whatever. And you know, when it’s time to book evidence, we go and get the evidence from our car. There’s no need to go and, you know, lay it on the ground next to them or put fingerprints on the baggies or anything like that. That’s just not the way it works.
We get the evidence when it’s needed and move forward. We don’t sit there at the scene and show everybody, “Look what we got. We got three baggies.” No, that’s not how it works.
--Rafael Perez, LAPD Board of Rights hearing, June 3, 2000
The Rampart men developed what amounted to their own police force. They worked nights after everybody else had cleared out. They changed the key code to their office so no one else could get in. They had their own radio frequencies, their own cars, their own motto and methods. They developed their own language: to meet was to snoopy up; a gun was an item, which came in sizes, long for a shotgun or rifle, small for a handgun.
They had standard procedures for covering up mistakes. If something bad went down, they sent out a coded call over their private frequency, calling the CRASH squad to meet. Sentries would be posted to keep inquisitive outsiders--that is, other police or commanding officers--at bay.
After work, they often partied together, going en masse to the benches at the old Police Academy, or to the Short Stop, a cop bar in the division. They gave parties and handed out plaques to celebrate shootings.
The whole thing sounds like nothing so much as “Lord of the Flies,” a group of isolated young men in dangerous circumstances, gone wild, feral. Perez, his friend Sammy Martin, and maybe Mack, would go to dance clubs. They ranged from Malibu out to the San Gabriel Valley. The three of them joined an exclusive cigar club. Martin and Perez constantly complained that Mack never paid his share. Even on a trip they took to Las Vegas the week after Mack robbed the Bank of America, they had to argue to get him to pay for his share of the gas.
Everywhere they went, there were women. Despite his professed shyness, Perez had no problem picking them up.
“For some reason I was--and maybe it has a lot to do with having that uniform--I’ve always been, I’ve always had this thing where it ended up happening that someone actually approached me. Once I was approached, obviously, I didn’t have a problem speaking to you,” he says.
Perez had so many girlfriends that he can’t remember all their names. He met them at clubs, at grocery stores, on the street, on police calls. Martin and another officer rented an apartment near Rampart headquarters where they could party at night or take women.
Perez constantly asked one of Martin’s girlfriends to set him up with her friends. She says that while Mack and Martin often dressed to the nines--silk shirts, fancy loafers--Perez favored jeans and cotton shirts.
“He was very quiet, very reserved. Sam was the life of the party, making all the plans, and Ray would just go along,” she says.
The group drank beer, mostly, moving up to cognac--Hennessey’s was the favored brand--at the fancier clubs. Perez wasn’t a big drinker. He’d nurse two or three beers through a whole night.
Then they started going to Las Vegas. Perez, especially, would head out across the desert every chance he got, every weekend, every day off.
“There’s all kind of addictions and behaviors and impulses. And you do things out of impulse. I started gambling, going to Vegas on the turnarounds; even if it was just for one day, I had to get out there,” he told investigators. “I sat there at that table all day and didn’t get up. I mean, that was enjoyable to me.”
Perez says he started stealing and selling drugs in 1997. Even as he frittered away his ill-gotten drug money, he arranged to have part of his paycheck diverted to a credit union savings account. He kept the account secret from Denise because she might have been tempted to spend it. Denise, an only child of middle-class L.A. parents, had more acquisitive tastes than Perez and he tried his best to control them.
He and Denise rented out their Chino Hills house and moved into a Park La Brea apartment, the idea being to save money and buy a house in the city. They eventually found a place in Ladera Heights.
By then they had a baby girl, and Perez’s mother moved out from Philadelphia to take care of her.
After he was arrested in 1998, detectives recovered from his house and car various knives, ammunition, holsters, body armor, helmets and belts: police gear. They also found things that have nothing to do with police work: house keys, snapshots, credit cards, bank statements, baseball caps and identification cards, including one for Costco warehouse stores.
These latter, more mundane items suggest that Perez, in addition to his law enforcement career and now notorious criminal activities, had some version--at least part time--of a life, like everyone else. You can try, but it is hard to imagine a master criminal in the cereal aisle at Costco.
That’s what I was saying, as far as it’s amazing how much you can, uh, spend on a female on a couple of dates. You know, uh, go get something to eat. Well, it ain’t gonna be, Go get something to eat at Denny’s. It’s going to be, Go get something to eat at, uh, at Gladstone’s, or at, uh, Monty’s, or at, uh, you know, the Shark Bar, or something like that where the drink is $10 a drink. You know what I mean?
And, and then, you know, well, OK, you know, “I got it. Don’t worry about. OK?” Well, we all each just had, you know, uh, seven drinks. Or even five drinks, let’s say. That’s 50 bucks per person, just on the drinks. And then, we had dinner. OK. That’s $350. Yeah, no problem. Here you go.
That’s just one night. $350 just on, uh, dinner and a couple of drinks.
--Rafael Perez, to investigators, Sept. 17, 1999
The particular assignments Rafael Perez received--narcotics and gangs--meant that he lived in a world whose chief organizing principle was deceit. He fit into this world as easily as a manicured hand slips into a kid glove, as if each had always been waiting for the other. Perez thrived. He became a professional liar.
At what point this ceased to be merely craft and became a way of life is debatable. That it did is not.
Perez, by his own account, perjured himself in court several hundred times. He guesses that maybe half the arrest reports he wrote from 1994 to 1998 were utter fabrications and hundreds, if not thousands more, included smaller lies.
Asked once why he had lied about a particular case, he said: “I don’t know. To be quite honest, I really wasn’t aware; I wasn’t sure anyway. But I just said no because it sounds like the best answer, at that point.”
During this same period, he so routinely cheated on his wife that when investigators tried to determine with which women he had assignations, Perez begged off, saying it would be impossible for him to remember them all.
“Geez,” he said, “You know, it’s very difficult for me without a picture. All these names are gonna sound familiar.”
Perez lied on his marriage license, claiming he had no prior marriages. Perez lied to drug dealers, to gangsters, in court, in reports, to his wife, to his girlfriends. Some of these people returned the favor. One woman with whom Perez had a lengthy romantic relationship had, at last count, six aliases. Perez never knew her real name.
Gang members, some perhaps seeking revenge against Perez, have told remarkable stories to investigators. In some cases, the stories change by the day. In some, they change by the minute. One particularly creative gangster changed his story three times within a single interview. One woman has admitted fabricating murder accusations against Perez simply to get even with him for dumping her.
Clearly, many lies are being told.
The extent of Perez’s treachery inescapably raises the question of whether he is telling the truth now. The answers to this question, which will be at the center of dozens of legal proceedings over the next year or so, vary dramatically.
Many of his former fellow officers regard him now as a man without any redeeming virtue, least of all honesty. Their sense of betrayal is palpable, and in many it has transformed into rage. Told that former friends now despise him because they feel betrayed, Perez says simply: “They were betrayed.”
Others whom he betrayed have remained resolutely loyal. His wife, Denise Perez, has remained a fierce ally, as has his ex-wife, Lorri Perez.
Perez, in more than 70 hours of interviews with a special investigative team, has detailed dozens of specific instances of police misconduct. Investigators say they have confirmed three-quarters of what he has said.
Richard Rosenthal, deputy district attorney on the Rampart Special Prosecution Team, says he has yet to receive any convincing evidence that Perez lied to investigators. Rosenthal is the man who negotiated the plea bargain by which Perez pleaded guilty to stealing cocaine from police evidence lockers and received a five-year sentence.
Perez was granted immunity from other prosecutions that might have been brought against him. The structure of the agreement provides him an incentive to tell everything he knows. If he is found to be lying, the deal is off and he can be prosecuted for other crimes.
The deal has been much criticized, but Deputy D.A. Rosenthal says he knows of no reason so far to revoke the immunity. This is despite the fact that Perez failed LAPD lie detector tests. Perez cried when told he had failed the polygraph, and his attorney hired a polygraph expert to review the method by which the tests were administered. The expert found them severely flawed, as did a second expert hired by the district attorney.
Perez insists that he wasn’t lying. He says it wouldn’t make sense for him to lie now and risk more prison time. He says if he planned to lie he would never have taken the deal, or the polygraphs. He had previously been offered a seven-year sentence without cooperation. Practically, this would have amounted to an extra year in jail but would not have left Perez a despised figure on both sides of the law. He could have done his time and walked free.
Perez argues that this would have been by far the easier road. He probably would have served the time at the California Men’s Colony near San Luis Obispo, widely regarded as a good place to do time. “They have flowers around the jail, for God’s sakes,” Perez says. “Flowers around the jail.”
We, we gather our story. We put a story, I mean, not that everything’s completely different about the story. . . . But if we need to add something to the story to make it look a little bit better, that’s what we do. If we need to correct something, it’s corrected right then and there before we have the officer-involved shooting team, lieutenants and captains and everybody showing up, we fix it and correct it right there. And we always say that once we come up with a story, that’s the story. That is it. You never change it. That is it, no matter what.
I mean, because we know that the minute you tell a story, or say something, and someone don’t find it correct, or something just don’t seem right and they come back and ask you again, and you change the story, everything’s out the window. I mean, you, you’re, you’re totally not credible.
--Rafael Perez, to investigators, Sept. 17, 1999
Somehow, the more you know about Perez the less it coheres. He is the kind of man who, at one point in his life, anyway, was willing to shoot a man, paralyze him, then send him to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Yet he is also the kind of man who, when he was arrested for stealing cocaine, was visited in jail by his wife’s parents and family and by his first wife’s parents and family, all wanting to make sure that he was OK and being well treated.
He is the kind of man who railed against an uncle for dealing drugs, then did the same himself. He is a man who punctiliously kept his family financial accounts straight, a saver always thinking ahead, who then took an estimated $80,000 from those drug deals and threw it away.
He is a man who planned his whole life, who preached responsibility, then seemingly without a thought, without anything even resembling a plan, became a criminal.
When you think about the ways in which cops can go bad, you tend to think first--and sometimes last--of the simplest seduction: money. Perez didn’t need or even particularly seem to want the money. Maybe, as he says, he became a compulsive gambler. He certainly wouldn’t be the first. But what gambler sets up a secret savings account to finance a down payment on a house?
Much of the alleged misbehavior at CRASH, while reprehensible, is understandable as a rational response to an impossible situation. Perez, even in apologizing for the people he has harmed, offers a compelling set of reasons why CRASH officers did what they did.
But there is a difference between breaking the law so that you can put more bad guys in jail and becoming a dope dealer, albeit not a very shrewd one.
What happened in that moment when Perez decided selling dope was more important than making arrests, when, according to his account, Durden said, “Screw it, let’s just sell it to him”?
“What is it that makes people go bad?” asks Bobby Lutz, the retired detective. “Ray had so many things going for him. It had to be the dope with him. If you go there, it’s over. Every bit of character goes down the toilet.”
Or maybe, Lutz says, it was as simple as a young man’s inability to deny his base desires. “There’s so many sweet young things out there, and some of them want their rock. And you know how young men are. When a sweet thing wants something, the blood leaves their brain and flows south.”
There’s plenty of evidence to support this notion. The women of Rampart could fill a calendar, a decade’s worth of calendars.
Asked how it is that someone so shy could have so many convivial relationships with so many women, Perez credited, or blamed, his uniform.
“You’ve gotta remember, I’m talking about a situation where I’m at a club and I see someone, I’m not necessarily going to come up to them, but if they talk to me, yes, I’m going to talk to them.”
The best case interpretation of Perez is that of the good cop who went bad, someone whose professional standards and personal ethics eroded, slowly at first, then more quickly, like water working through a leaking dam, until finally there is no dam anymore and no one can even remember where it was.
There’s no big event. The Earth doesn’t move. It simply gives way beneath your feet.
I’ve spent 844 days in here now. Twenty out of 24 hours a day I spend locked down. And that causes a lot of things to happen to a man. I’ve had so much time to think of so many things. I think about how much my life has been wasted in here. I can’t help but think how much time has been wasted by so many others. I’ve had so much time to think about the good and the bad things that I have done. I’ve thought so much about the happiness and the comfort that I have felt and that many others have felt and I also think about the sadness and the pain that many others felt.
But in my thinking process at the end of the day, it’s the pain and the sadness that consumes my mind. . . . The intense guilt that I feel about so many things. That’s something that I could never sit here and explain to you accurately. What goes on is not a thought; it’s an experience. I wish that a pound of my flesh would make everything better, would change everything. Would make everything OK.
I wish I could change many things but I know that I can’t. I’ve asked myself many times how and why did I allow myself to go wrong. I wish I would have known the difference between a patriot and a rebel, but for so long my mind, my eyes, my surroundings did not allow me to grasp that concept, what the difference is. Jail I can tell you is nothing nice. For anyone who has ever known freedom, being in here is the worst case scenario. Not so much the pain that you’re feeling but the pain that you’re causing. . . . The loneliness, the pain, the solitude; it’s horrible. It’s the kind of emotion that every person in position to take freedom away from someone should subject themselves to for just a day or two; it’s the type of emotion that changes lives. It’s the type of emotion that changes mentality. It changes your whole thought process. The positive part about jail is, you’re given the experience, and the experience can change you. The change is something that’s within. It’s impossible to verbally convince someone that you’ve changed. You can’t do that. . . . Your actions will do that for you.
--Rafael Perez, interview, Dec. 18, 2000
It’s hard to imagine what those future actions could be. Perez has thrown away the only career he ever wanted, the job he dreamed about as a kid and remarkably got. How many people can say that? That their dreams came true? And how many of those would know what to say if, after the dreams came true, they threw them all away?
“It hurts,” Perez says. “I have dreams. I wake up. I have dreams about being in uniform. The reality is that will never be my life again. Ever. It’s very difficult. I think about it a lot. . . . I think that’s part of my life that’s over now. I have to move forward. I can’t look back.”
For the time being, Perez’s main activity other than introspection is testifying against his former comrades in arms. He’s an imposing figure on the witness stand. His body has thickened. The litheness is gone. His features, once so light and agile, have coarsened. That stern brow has thickened, become even more imposing. Still, he wears the county blue jail jumpsuit better than some men wear Armani. The chains attaching his wrists to his belt seem more bracelets than shackles. He conveys presence.
Even before all of this came down, Perez was regarded by prosecutors as one of the very best police witnesses they had ever seen. He doesn’t talk like a cop. He conveys an ease, and a mastery of his material. You get the feeling there’s a human being present.
He says he’s unsure what will happen with him. He says, as do many who claim transformation, that he wants to be of use, to work hard and do good. Perhaps he does. He sounds as if he means it. Then again, he’s a liar, an extraordinarily accomplished liar.
He has extracted heavy wages from hundreds of people: those he imprisoned, those he betrayed, those he was supposed to have served. One of the prices he must now pay is the knowledge that people know he’s not to be trusted, that it’s likely no one will ever trust him on anything, ever again. That would be a heavy price for the Little Preacher, The Provider, Mr. Responsibility, for the man who built his whole existence around the idea that he was the one everyone else could count on. *
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Perez: A Biography
Aug. 22, 1967 Born in Puerto Rico.
1972 Moves to Brooklyn, then to Paterson, N.J.
1982 Moves to Philadelphia.
1985 Graduates from Philadelphia’s Olney High School.
1985 Joins Marine Corps.
1986 Assigned to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire. Meets and marries Lorri Charles.
1988 Arrives in California, assigned to Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.
1989 Discharged from Marines. Enters Los Angeles Police Academy.
1989 Separates from wife.
1989 Assigned to LAPD’s Harbor Division.
1990 Assigned to LAPD’s Wilshire Division patrol.
1991 Assigned to West Division undercover narcotics squad.
1992 Buys house in Chino Hills.
1993 Divorced from Charles, marries Denise Aubry.
1994 Assigned to Rampart Division patrol, then Rampart narcotics.
1994 Daughter born.
1995 Assigned to Rampart CRASH.
1996 Moves from Chino Hills to Park La Brea.
1997 Commits first narcotics thefts and transactions.
1997 Fellow Officer David Mack arrested for bank robbery.
1998 Buys house in Ladera Heights.
1998 Arrested for stealing cocaine.
1998 Trial ends in hung jury.
1999 Signs plea agreement for five-year sentence and immunity from further prosecution in exchange for cooperation.
2000 First Rampart trial ends with three convictions, one acquittal; the convictions are overturned a month later.
Rafael Perez worked in the Rampart Division in the 1990s, when it was the city’s most crime-ridden area.