Police Corruption Probe Spreads to Other Divisions
The Los Angeles Police Department’s corruption probe has spread beyond the boundaries of the gritty Rampart Division and now includes alleged crimes or misconduct in at least three other areas of the city, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Times.
Internal LAPD and district attorney’s documents show for the first time that authorities are exploring allegations that police crimes or misconduct occurred in the department’s Central, 77th and Southeast divisions.
As in Rampart, the allegations include officers planting drugs, making false arrests and covering up at least one unjustified shooting.
Although LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks and Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti have said they will follow the worst police corruption scandal in city history wherever it leads, neither official has yet publicly acknowledged that the allegations under investigation extend beyond Rampart.
On Thursday Cmdr. David J. Kalish, the department’s spokesman, confirmed that the alleged corruption was more widespread.
“Apparently we had two officers assigned to Rampart who transferred to another division and took their bad habits with them,” he said. “There are other serious acts of misconduct that we have uncovered . . . in various parts of the department, but they are isolated and there is no nexus to the Rampart corruption.”
One indication that the probe has moved beyond Rampart was hinted at in letters that prosecutors sent to the LAPD earlier this month during the high-profile squabble between the two agencies over access to investigative material. Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Rosenthal--a key member of the prosecution’s anti-corruption team--wrote to the LAPD on March 16 requesting internal affairs files on Southeast Division Officers Jeffrey Robb and William Ferguson and Central Division Officers Christopher Coppock and David Cochrane. The letter did not provide details about the files being sought.
But according to other documents obtained by The Times, Robb and Ferguson, who transferred to Southeast from Rampart, are under investigation for a variety of alleged crimes and misconduct.
Ferguson is facing internal discipline in connection with a Feb. 15, 1999, incident in which he allegedly entered a residence without probable cause, searched it without a warrant, threatened to plant crack cocaine on a suspect, intimidated a witness and falsely arrested a man whom he had challenged to a fight, documents show.
In a separate charge, Ferguson is accused of keeping a handgun replica in his LAPD duffel bag. Investigators on the corruption task force suspect that officers kept such items on hand to plant in the event they shot an unarmed suspect.
Ferguson has been relieved of duty, pending a hearing--in essence an LAPD trial--before a so-called board of rights. He could not be reached for comment.
Robb resigned from the department amid allegations that he submitted a false arrest report Jan. 22, 1999, and then made false and misleading statements to a supervisor on the same day, documents show. Before that, Robb was suspended as the result of an excessive force violation in 1998 in which he allegedly kicked a suspect several times. Robb could not be reached for comment.
In his letter, Deputy Dist. Atty. Rosenthal also requested Internal Affairs Division files on former Officers Coppock and Cochrane.
Those officers were sued in federal court in December by a 33-year-old man who alleges that they beat him and framed him during a 1997 arrest in the Central Division.
In the suit, Jimmy Lee Render said he was standing with a group of people near East 5th Street and South Crocker Avenue when the two officers ordered them up against a wall. Render said he ran because he thought he had an outstanding warrant for drinking in public and did not want to be arrested.
He said that the officers caught him, that Coppock put him on the ground and that Cochrane hit him several times in the head. After taking him to their patrol car, Render said, the officers asked him if he had any drugs or weapons.
“When he replied, ‘Nothing,’ the officers stated that when he got to the station he was going to have some drugs,” according to a writ filed by Deputy Public Defender Dennis Plourd.
Coppock and Cochrane denied any wrongdoing in the Render arrest. Both have since left the LAPD amid serious, but unrelated, misconduct complaints. Coppock resigned after he was accused of a false arrest in another case. Cochrane was fired for making false and misleading statements during an internal LAPD investigation, officials said. At the time, he was also facing internal allegations of planting cocaine on another arrestee.
Neither of the ex-officers could be reached for comment.
Potentially the most troubling allegation of misconduct outside the Rampart area involves a rumored bad shooting by anti-gang officers in the 77th Street Division.
Prosecutors recently requested investigative documents from the LAPD pertaining to that shooting, which ex-Officer Rafael Perez, who is now acting as an informant as part of a plea bargain, claims was widely known in CRASH circles to be unjustified. Although Perez could not recall details of the shooting, documents obtained by The Times show that it occurred Feb. 21, 1998, and involved a suspected gang member named Anthony Dickson.
According to an internal report on the shooting, two officers from the CRASH anti-gang unit in the 77th Division were attempting to stop and question Dickson, who allegedly ignored their demands and tried to flee. One officer reportedly saw that Dickson was armed with an assault rifle and believed he had a handgun in his waistband. At some point, Dickson turned toward one officer, took a semi-crouched position and pointed the barrel of the assault rifle at him, the report alleges. The officer fired two rounds at Dickson, striking him in the leg. Though he was hit, Dickson continued to flee, but collapsed a short distance later and was arrested.
The report states that a magazine with live ammunition was recovered but that the rifle was never found. Chief Parks, in the report, was highly critical of the officers’ tactics, but found the shooting to be within departmental policy.
According to the report, Sgt. Edward Ortiz responded to the scene of the shooting and helped officers recover evidence. Ortiz is a key figure in the corruption investigation who, according to Perez, helped cover up unjustified shootings in Rampart.
As investigators attempt to define the limits of the corruption within the LAPD, prosecutors were back in court Thursday seeking to undo wrongs that already have been detected.
In what has become a near routine occurrence, Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler threw out the cases of four more people wrongly convicted because of alleged police misconduct. That action brought to 50 the number of cases set aside since the scandal broke in September.
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Investigators probing the worst police corruption scandal in Los Angeles history have widened their inquiry to include allegations of crimes and misconduct in three more divisions of the LAPD.
Some 1998 statistics:
* Incidents of homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and larceny per 1,000 residents.
Source: Los Angeles Police Department Statistical Digest, 1998