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Sheriff’s detective lied under oath and on reports, D.A. says

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Video footage from a reality television program shows that a Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective lied in court testimony and in arrest reports involving two car theft cases, the district attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors concluded that Det. Anthony Shapiro “willfully, knowingly and intentionally” made false statements when he claimed to have fully read suspects their Miranda rights, according to a memo obtained by The Times. Footage shot by television cameras for the TruTV program “Bait Car” shows that Shapiro never fully read the suspects their constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and have an attorney present during questioning, prosecutors said.

Despite the findings, the district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges against Shapiro. The office concluded that Shapiro’s false statements did not amount to perjury because they did not play a key role in the decision to arrest the men or in the outcome of the preliminary hearing where Shapiro testified, according to the memo.

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“There’s no question that he lied. It’s just, can we prosecute it?” said district attorney’s spokeswoman Jane Robison.

The attorney for one of the men charged with car theft decried the decision not to file charges. Deputy Public Defender Priya Bala noted that a prosecutor ultimately agreed to the dismissal of the case against her client after concluding that Shapiro had lied and violated her client’s Miranda rights.

“It’s so outrageous,” Bala said. “It’s far more egregious when a police officer lies … because they are held to a higher standard.... They shouldn’t be breaking the law themselves.”

Shapiro’s attorney, Richard A. Shinee, said criminal charges were not justified.

“The investigation … didn’t capture all of the information, and we quarrel with their conclusion that it was a deliberate misrepresentation,” he said. He declined to elaborate.

Shapiro has been relieved of duty with pay as the department conducts separate criminal and internal investigations, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. He said the internal affairs probe, which could result in discipline, is expected to be completed soon.

The use of the show’s unaired footage to catch a detective allegedly committing misconduct marked an unexpected twist for “Bait Car,” which captures car thieves in law enforcement stings. During filming, the production crew watches as undercover cops park a rigged car on the side of the road, leaving the keys inside, and wait for unsuspecting passersby who take the bait and steal the car.

Shapiro was part of a group conducting a sting near Glendora on June 25, 2011, when Daniel Mezaponse and Jorge Ponce jumped into a “bait car” truck and drove away, according to the district attorney’s memo written by Deputy Dist. Atty. Deborah A. Delport.

In his arrest report, Shapiro wrote that he fully informed the men of their Miranda rights. Delport said in her memo that the video footage contradicted Shapiro’s claim that he fully read Ponce his rights. In addition, Mezaponse was never read his rights, but Shapiro and other detectives continued to talk to him, the prosecutor wrote.

The men pleaded no contest to car theft. Ponce was sentenced to 90 days in jail; Mezaponse to 180 days.

Two weeks later, Keenan Alex, who was represented by Bala the deputy public defender, was arrested after driving away in a Cadillac Escalade used as a “bait car” in Compton. Shapiro wrote in his arrest report that he had read Alex his Miranda rights. The suspect admitted taking the vehicle because he was tired of walking. At a preliminary hearing, the detective testified that he read Alex his rights using a card he took from his notebook. After listening to Shapiro, a judge ordered that Alex stand trial. The case was eventually dismissed.

The footage, Delport wrote, showed that Shapiro did not read Alex his full Miranda rights but instead asked him: “You watch TV, you know your rights and all that?”

Delport noted that Shapiro wrote his reports within a day of each arrest and that Alex’s preliminary hearing took place just 18 days after his arrest. “It is unlikely that the false statements and testimony … were due to Shapiro’s failure to recall the events accurately,” she wrote.

Delport wrote that she would have to show that the false statements would probably have had an influence on the outcome of the proceedings in order to prove a perjury case against Shapiro. In both cases, there was video and other evidence beyond the incriminating statements to justify arresting and prosecuting the suspects for car theft, she said in the memo.

Norman M. Garland, a professor at Southwestern Law School, said evidence against the men accused of theft would have made it difficult for the district attorney’s office to convince a jury that Shapiro’s allegedly false statements rose to the level of perjury. But Shapiro’s conduct could be used by defense attorneys to raise doubts about his credibility in future cases he investigates, Garland said.

“The prosecution of perjury aside, I would hope that he’d be off the job,” he said.

jack.leonard@latimes.com


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