Federal authorities have launched a civil rights investigation into several Los Angeles police officers accused of lying under oath in a drug possession case that was dismissed last year when a videotape sharply contradicted their testimony.
An FBI agent and a federal prosecutor last week surveyed a Hollywood apartment complex where a security camera documented the 2007 arrest of Guillermo Alarcon Jr. by LAPD officers, according to an attorney who represents Alarcon in a civil claim against the Police Department.
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the probe and said that Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C., would ultimately weigh in on whether federal charges would be filed against the officers.
“We’re investigating allegations that the defendant’s civil rights may have been violated,” said spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. She declined to provide further details.
Deputy Public Defender Victor Acevedo, Alarcon’s defense attorney during last year’s trial, said the FBI interviewed him about the case in December. He said that his client had been framed and that the officers deserved to face criminal charges.
“They have no business being police officers,” Acevedo said. “Because they were willing to send an innocent man to prison, for what they did they should go to prison.”
The officers have denied wrongdoing.
The federal investigation is but one of several probes into accusations that the officers committed perjury. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has launched its own criminal investigation and the LAPD is conducting an internal affairs review of the case.
Luis Carrillo, Alarcon’s civil attorney, said the FBI had yet to interview his client but that two district attorney’s investigators and a prosecutor interviewed Alarcon about the case in August.
At Alarcon’s trial in June, Officers Richard Amio and Evan Samuel testified that they were on patrol in Los Angeles when they chased Alarcon, 29, into his Hollywood apartment building. The officers told jurors that they saw him throw away a black object. They testified that Samuel quickly picked up the object and found about $260 worth of powder and crack cocaine inside.
But footage from a security camera at the apartment building, which is managed by Alarcon’s mother, showed that officers searched for more than 20 minutes before an object allegedly containing cocaine was found.
They were aided by other officers, including Manuel Ortiz, who testified about the case at a preliminary hearing in January.
The quality of the tape, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, is poor and it is difficult to clearly hear what is being said.
But at one point, soon after the drugs were found, an officer seems to make a reference to the arrest report that needed to be filled out.
“Be creative in your writing,” the officer appears to tell another after the discovery.
Acevedo argued at trial that his client was innocent and that the officers had planted evidence and then lied about it.
After viewing the videotape, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Monica Bachner dismissed the charges at the request of prosecutors. The judge also declared Alarcon factually innocent.
Ira Salzman, an attorney representing Samuel and Ortiz, said his clients testified truthfully in the case.
He said prosecutors had concluded that the tape was edited in two places to remove about 13 seconds of sound.
Salzman cautioned that he had yet to view a complete version of the video but said that he believed that the officers did pick up an object containing drugs but continued to search for more.
“They testified truthfully to the best of their ability,” he said. “I believe that they’re good officers and good men.”
The video begins after Alarcon already had been taken into custody. But in the police report and during their testimony, the officers mentioned finding only one object containing drugs.
LAPD Cmdr. Rick Webb, who oversees the department’s internal affairs group, said the agency’s probe is continuing.
He declined to comment further, citing state laws that protect the privacy of police officers accused of misconduct.
Samuel, who left the LAPD and joined the Chino Police Department in February, was fired while on probation in Chino two weeks after The Times reported on Alarcon’s case, a Chino spokeswoman said.