Two Los Angeles Police Department officers lied under oath during a drug possession case four years ago, a Los Angeles County jury decided Tuesday.
The trial revolved around competing interpretations of a grainy, black and white video that the prosecution argued sharply contradicted sworn testimony from three officers regarding the discovery of cocaine. The video, the prosecution argued, showed the officers conspired to convict Guillermo Alarcon Jr. on drug charges.
"It's always tragic when police officers throw away their freedom and careers." LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said after the jury's verdict. "They lost sight of the fact that the ends never justify the means and that they must always police constitutionally… That is the great slippery slope of policing. It always has been and likely always will be."
As the verdict was read, former Officer Evan Samuel and suspended Officer Richard Amio showed no reaction. After the jury left the downtown Los Angeles courtroom, Samuel's mother blew her nose into a white tissue, her eyes filled with tears.
The jury found the two officers guilty on one count of conspiracy each and multiple counts of perjury. Samuel faces a maximum prison sentence of more than five years, while Amio faces more than four years.
Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12.
The jury deadlocked on conspiracy and perjury charges against a third officer, Manuel Ortiz, voting 11 to 1 for a guilty verdict. Judge Kathleen A. Kennedy declared a mistrial on those charges. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to retry Ortiz, who has also been suspended.
Amio and Samuel testified in 2008 that while on patrol the previous year, they recognized Alarcon, a suspected gang member, in front of his East Hollywood apartment. The two officers said they chased him into the building's carport, where he threw a small black box against a trash bin. When it hit the ground, they said, the object cracked open and Samuel picked it up. Inside, they testified, they found rock and powder cocaine.
But in the video — which begins after Alarcon is in custody — officers search for more than 20 minutes before finding an object that prosecutors contended held the cocaine.
After the prolonged search, officers also appear to discuss opening the object and later say it contains cocaine.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Geoffrey Rendon told jurors during closing arguments that the officers conspired to deliver Alarcon to the court system "based on a set of lies."
The prosecution's key evidence was the video. At one point in the video, an officer tells another to "be creative in your writing," after the box was recovered, apparently alluding to an arrest report that would be written.
"Oh yeah, don't worry, sin duda ('no doubt')," comes the reply from another officer.
"The video," Rendon said, "doesn't lie."
Defense attorneys for the officers disputed that notion, saying the video didn't capture the entire story.
Attorney Ira Salzman, who represents Samuel, told jurors last week that the officers had already recovered the drugs when the video begins. The tape came from a security camera at the building managed by Alarcon's mother.
In the video, the officers were simply looking for additional evidence and the object recovered in the video was a piece broken off the black box that was recovered earlier, the defense argued.
Outside court Tuesday, Salzman said the video was either started too late or intentionally edited to obscure the portion where he said his client recovered the drugs.
But jurors rejected that argument.
"It just shows the power of video," Salzman said.
Outside of court, Alarcon's civil attorney Luis Carrillo hailed the verdict and said his client was not a gang member.
"It's a good day for justice all around the country," he said. "This verdict upholds the principle of equal justice under the law for everybody."
Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.