Captain Disciplined for Comment About Perez

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Fernando Valley captain who served on a Los Angeles Police Department disciplinary board as an impartial member faces a suspension for questioning the credibility of former Rampart Division gang officer Rafael Perez, according to sources and documents obtained by The Times.

Capt. Joseph Curreri has appealed the 10-day suspension and continues to command the Devonshire Division, pending an Aug. 6 hearing before the same disciplinary panel on which he served.

According to LAPD sources, while hearing departmental charges against an officer accused last year by the disgraced Perez, Curreri said that corroborating witnesses were needed because Perez was a known liar.

At the hearing, before Perez testified, Curreri said he "wouldn't believe Rafael Perez if he said the officer was guilty and . . . wouldn't believe him if he said he was not guilty," one source recounted.

The unidentified officer in the case was accused of failing to report misconduct by his partner, but was found not guilty despite Perez's testimony.

Last week, Curreri received a complaint, signed by Police Chief Bernard C. Parks, accusing him of having made an "improper remark" and advising him of the suspension. The June 19 complaint did not elaborate on why the remark warranted disciplinary action.

A spokesperson for Parks said the chief would not comment on the matter.

Curreri, who has an unblemished record in 27 years with the LAPD, appealed, and the suspension was delayed until his public hearing. He declined to comment Thursday.

By appealing, Curreri opens himself to a broader range of discipline--including firing--if the three-member Board of Rights rules against him.

The captain's trouble with the board is a reminder of how devastating the Rampart police corruption scandal has been for the LAPD. Parks himself has had difficulty vouching for Perez as a witness against other officers. Last year, after three Rampart officers' criminal convictions were overturned by a Superior Court judge, the chief suggested testimony by Perez required corroboration.

"We've said all along that Perez has to be corroborated by physical evidence," Parks said at the time.

LAPD Lt. Don Mulrenin, who is representing Curreri before the panel, said, "It's unfortunate that someone makes a comment on a Board of Rights and he gets punished for it. I don't think it's something the citizens would want. Curreri's one of the real leaders of our department."

Barry Levin, who represents the LAPD Command Officers Assn., of which Curreri is a member, would not comment directly on the case.

Levin said the hearing "would be the first time in the 70-something years of LAPD board history a captain is being disciplined for a comment made on a Board of Rights."

"Joe Curreri is probably the most respected captain on the Los Angeles Police Department," added Levin. "He's a street cop's commander. He has had the highest performance evaluations."

The Board of Rights, similar to a military court-martial, is made up of two officers of at least captain's rank and one civilian. A different board is impaneled for each case. The police chief has the power to sustain or lower any punishment the board imposes.

Officers who face disciplinary action are represented before the panel by a lawyer, a police union representative, or both. The department is represented by a police advocate from the Internal Affairs Division, which investigates alleged misconduct and brings charges.

Curreri served on three boards before which Perez testified. One of those cases resulted in a departmental conviction after Perez's testimony was corroborated by another witness. The other two cases ended in acquittals.

In one of the biggest corruption scandals in LAPD history, more than 100 people convicted of crimes have been freed as the Rampart revelations unfolded. Prosecutors, with LAPD backing, asked judges to throw out charges because of misconduct by Perez and other officers.

Perez has admitted to lying, stealing, dealing drugs, committing perjury, arresting innocent people and, in one case, shooting and framing an innocent man. That man, Javier Francisco Ovando, now uses a wheelchair.

Perez was sentenced to five years for stealing cocaine from LAPD evidence. He began cooperating with authorities in 1999 to identify corrupt colleagues in exchange for a lighter prison sentence.

The chairman of the June 22, 2000, Board of Rights hearing, Capt. Jim Tatreau, commander of the Robbery-Homicide Division, also refused to comment on the Curreri case, other than to describe Curreri as an outstanding leader.

Tatreau's wife, Capt. Tammy Tatreau, was selected in a random process to sit on the panel for Curreri's hearing along with Capt. Vance Proctor and civilian David Shapiro, an attorney.

The vice president of the police union said the action against Curreri shows that Parks has lost touch with prevailing sentiments in the LAPD.

"Curreri is an outstanding captain, one of the best, and a good leader," said Robert Baker of the Police Protective League, which represents lieutenants and lesser-ranking officers. "That he might be suspended shows the leadership is out of touch."

Jeffrey Eglash, inspector general for the Police Commission, would not comment on the details of Curreri's case. Eglash is an independent monitor of the department.

"We are aware of the investigation and the upcoming Board of Rights [hearing], but it would be premature to say anything about it before all the evidence and facts are in," he said. "It would be like suggesting you have an opinion of guilt or innocence before a trial."

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