A veteran Rampart Division officer was charged Friday with making false arrests, culminating an elaborate sting operation by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Authorities allege that Edward Beltran Zamora arrested two undercover officers -- who were posing as suspects -- on suspicion of possessing drugs, when surveillance video showed that they did not.
The six-month operation by the LAPD’s Ethics Enforcement Section began after officials noticed an unusual pattern to Zamora’s arrests, they said.
The team was created in 2001 as part of the reforms instituted to help ferret out corruption after the Rampart scandal. Chief William J. Bratton has cited the Zamora case as an example of how the department is trying to tackle such problems.
Zamora, 44, could not be reached for comment Friday. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted of the felony of filing a false police report and two misdemeanor counts each of false arrest and false imprisonment.
Several times during his 16-year tenure, suspects have accused Zamora of planting evidence. The city has paid $520,000 to settle two civil lawsuits filed against him.
In December, the City Council approved a $300,000 settlement of a lawsuit by a 42-year-old man whom Zamora and a partner had arrested on suspicion of possessing a rifle.
A year before, the council approved a $220,000 settlement with a South Los Angeles man who alleged that Zamora and other officers had planted a rifle and a bag of drugs on him after they searched his home in November 1998.
In 2003, Zamora was accused in an internal LAPD report of dishonesty, making false statements and falsifying his daily activity field report. Few details of the accusations are available. But an LAPD Board of Rights found him guilty of having a report log that did not match information on radio frequencies and a computer system, according to court records.
Zamora was arrested at the LAPD’s Parker Center headquarters Friday morning and released on $20,000 bail. His arraignment will be Sept. 8.
Prosecutors said Friday that the detectives actually conducted two stings against Zamora. The first occurred in January.
But Zamora did not file a police report on that case, so the internal investigation continued.
Then on May 9 in the MacArthur Park area, Zamora arrested a person who he did not realize was an undercover detective.
Prosecutors say Zamora falsely claimed in a police report that he found a baggie of cocaine directly next to “the suspect.” But videotape reportedly shows that the baggie was more than 15 feet away and that no drugs were on the undercover detective, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.
The Zamora case has gained attention because he worked out of a station that in the late 1990s became a symbol of corruption.
Rampart Officer Rafael Perez, after being caught stealing narcotics, told authorities that he and other officers had routinely falsified evidence, framed suspects and covered up unjustified shootings.
After an investigation, the U.S. Justice Department accused the city and the LAPD of civil rights violations. The city agreed to a five-year consent decree under which the Police Department would make a series of reforms with scrutiny from a federal judge and a court-appointed monitor.
A blue-ribbon report released last month found that although the LAPD has made improvements since the consent decree was imposed, the department is still at risk of officer misconduct and corruption.
Internal stings like the one targeting Zamora were among the measures instituted after the Rampart scandal.
In 2004, the Ethics Enforcement Section conducted 127 internal investigations. Of them, 18 led to administrative discipline cases and six were referred to the district attorney for possible criminal prosecution. Last year, there were 204 investigations, with 15 administrative discipline actions and one criminal referral.