Rafael Perez Eligible for Release, His Attorney Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rafael Perez, the former police officer behind the LAPD's Rampart scandal, has served his sentence and should be set free immediately, his lawyer argued in court Wednesday.

However, the judge in the case declared that Perez's release date must be determined by state correctional officials and after a 30-minute hearing, the matter remained unresolved.

"He's starting to serve extra time at this point," attorney Winston Kevin McKesson said of his client Perez. McKesson said that by one calculation Perez should have been released last week.

The lawyer asked Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry to order the state Department of Corrections to calculate Perez's release date, factoring in "good-time, work-time credits" from the day he was sentenced on Feb. 25, 2000.

McKesson has implied that doing so would result in Perez's immediate release. However, he has refused to say specifically when he believes Perez should be released, citing security concerns. Other estimates have put the release date at late this year or late next year.

McKesson was joined by prosecutors and a lawyer representing the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department at the hearing that Perry termed "a discussion" about Perez's release.

After hearing from all parties, Perry said that it was not within his power to tell the Department of Corrections to calculate Perez's sentence, or how to do so. Rather, the judge said, he would have a transcript of the hearing at which the various parties stated their positions sent to corrections officials for their review.

The confusion surrounding Perez's release centers on the question of whether he began accruing state good-time, work-time credits when he was sentenced in February 2000. Those credits would allow Perez a day off his sentence for every day he served in state prison.

Trouble is, Perez was never sent to state prison. After he entered a plea deal in which he was sentenced to five years for stealing cocaine from LAPD evidence facilities, the district attorney's office requested that he be housed locally so he could more readily fulfill the terms of his deal to finger dirty cops.

Judge Perry, Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Rosenthal and McKesson all said Wednesday that despite the fact that Perez was being housed in a county jail, they were under the impression that he was receiving the same credit any state prisoner is entitled to from the time of his sentencing.

But Margot Bach, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, said later from Sacramento that officials with her agency were never formally notified that Perez had been sentenced to state prison. She said the day-for-day credits are reserved for those prisoners physically housed within the walls of a state facility who are performing work approved by the Department of Corrections.

Therefore, Bach said, it would be illegal to give Perez such credit. She said he would instead be entitled to one day off his sentence for every two served, just like other county jail inmates.

Deputy County Counsel Kevin Brazile, representing the Sheriff's Department, said that the county has received an unofficial estimate from the corrections department indicating that Perez's earliest possible release date is Dec. 26. The latest would be November 2002.

"They really need to calculate his time," Brazile said after the court hearing. "He's a state prisoner."

The county wants a more definitive date in part because the Sheriff's Department has been stung by criticism that it often detains inmates beyond the terms of their sentences. To avoid lawsuits, the department has been forced to make payments to numerous inmates who were held too long.

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Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this story.

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