The Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-gang division has been exposed as an essentially criminal organization with its own gang-like structure, which for years has perpetrated violent crimes, perjury and other criminal acts against the communities which they are sworn to protect.
A cancerous corruption
In 1998, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Officer Rafael Perez was charged with stealing six pounds of cocaine from the police property room. Prosecutors also alleged that he had robbed drug dealers and sold stolen cocaine through his girlfriend, but he was charged only with the cocaine theft. Perez plead “categorically not guilty,” but the judge disagreed and sentenced him to prison.
At the time, police officials claimed that Perez was a “rogue cop” and that his actions were an “anomaly” within an otherwise honest police force.
But after a year behind bars, Perez changed his story. In return for a greatly reduced sentence and immunity to future prosecution, he revealed to prosecutors a wide array of criminal acts committed by himself and other LAPD officers, including routine theft and sale of drugs, as well as rampant perjury, violent beatings, unlawful shootings and murder.
In a lengthy interview with the Los Angeles Times, Perez explained the police mentality, how officers were “trying to impress supervisors … and stopping at nothing to do that.” He described police corruption as “a cancer that has gone on a long time without being treated.”
Crash course in death
Officer Perez had been stationed at Los Angeles’ Rampart Division, policing an area with a heavy concentration of transient immigrants and poor families crammed into one of America’s greatest population densities. A former Marine, Perez was a member of a supposedly elite anti-gang team called CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums).
Formed in the early 80s, CRASH officers habitually roust suspected gang members on street corners, searching and interrogating them, adminstering beatings, seizing drugs and money. The LA Times quoted one former CRASH officer describing their attitude: “You go in there and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a group think. It’s a kick-ass think.”
Perez’s confessions of police misconduct have al-ready resulted in the release of one person from prison, and have shed doubt upon over 200 convictions from cases in which he was involved.
At one time Perez was partnered with Officer Nino Durden, whose description of their October 1996 encounter with a supposedly crazed gang member was heavily quoted in the media at the time, and used to justify a legal injunction and extreme crackdown on the “18th Street Gang.”
“He failed to comply with my commands and pointed the guns toward my partner and I in a threatening manner…” reads Durden’s sworn deposition from the shooting. Yet Perez now claims that the shooting victim, Javier Ovando, was actually unarmed and handcuffed when he was shot.
Orvando was released from prison after Perez’s confession, and provided further details of how he was shot and framed. Orvando explained that he had been handcuffed when Durden shot him in the chest, and that Perez then held him upright by the front of his shirt and shot him in the head. The officers then planted an assault rifle on him, which they had seized from another gang a few days earlier.
Ovando miraculously survived the shootings, but was permanently confined to a wheelchair. Because of Durden and Perez’s false courtroom testimony, Ovando was convicted of assaulting an officer and sentenced to 23 years in prison, by a judge who chastized him for showing no remorse! Ovando’s girlfriend and mother said police laughed and mocked them during the trial.
Ovando’s lawyers said they would sue on behalf of his 2-year-old daughter, Destiny, claiming she was deprived of her father due to the police’s violation of his right to due process.
In August, a month before Perez made his revelations, officer Durden was relieved of duty on separate allegations of planting drugs and framing suspects.
Perez also confessed that a number of other police shootings were not the way police had described them, and that planting weapons and lying in court were commonplace.
Beating and shooting
In a September opinion piece in the LA Times, Father Gregory Boyle, Jesuit Priest and Director of Jobs for the Future, described how many gang members had told him of abuse at the hands of the police. “All shared firsthand accounts of gun and ‘dope’ plantings, prolonged beatings and being deposited by officers in the heart of rival gang territory,” explained Boyle. “One young man’s interrogation consisted of being lifted off the ground and having his head rammed repeatedly into a target drawn on the wall by the inquiring CRASH officer. He showed me the scars.”
CRASH teams mimic street gang behaviour in a number of ways, one being their habit of “jumping in” new members through a ritualized group beating. In 1988, officers in the South Bureau CRASH unit jumped a new member in a LAPD locker room, and beat him so severely he was permanently injured. The officer sued and received a $215,000 settlement from the city.
The police violence and criminality goes to even more absurd lengths. Officer Perez was also partnered with officer David Mack, and their partnership included a legendary 1993 gunbattle in which Mack supposedly saved Perez’s life. Yet now that case has been reopened, and civilian eyewitnesses claim that Mack actually shot alleged drug dealer Jesse Vicencio without provocation, and that Vicencio was unarmed.
Further, in early September, officer Mack was convicted of robbing a Bank of America branch in 1997 for over $740,000, and sentenced to 14 years in prison. During the trial, his mistress and accomplice Errolyn Romero testified that Mack had told her of several illegal police shootings, and had said that killing is sometimes necessary, “because you don’t want to leave witnesses around.”
Like characters in some TV narc show, Mack and Perez were known to take Caribbean cruises, dress in designer suits, drive expensive cars and smoke fancy cigars.
At least one officer complained to his superiors that Perez and other CRASH officers were “conducting narcotics searches without concern for proper LAPD procedure,” yet Perez’s superiors and co-workers all claimed they had no idea what Perez and his cohorts were up to.
Prohibition breeds corruption
Although senior police and political officials continually tried to describe Perez and his partners as renegade cops, the truth is that officers like Perez survive and thrive in the corrupting environment of prohibition. Although many newspaper accounts commented that this level of corruption had not been witnessed since the alcohol prohibition of the 1930s, not a single one mentioned that the drug prohibition of the ’90s is undoubtedly why such flagrant police corruption exists not only in LA, but in every large American city.
New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington and New Orleans have all had major drug-related police corruption scandals in recent years. This trend has also been repeated in many smaller communities as well.
A recent report by the FBI and police officials from 15 cities gives numerous statistics and examples of rampant nationwide police corruption. The report, called “Misconduct to Corruption”, cites a myriad of cases of police robbing drug dealers, including a notorious case where two Indianapolis officers charged with murdering a dealer admitted they had been robbing drug dealers regularly for over four years.
According to the report, a typical big American city “can expect, on average, to have ten officers charged per year with abuse of police authority, five arrested for a felony, seven for a misdemeanor, three for theft and four for domestic violence.” This means that police are far more likely to be charged with a crime than the general population they are supposed to protect!
Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara is an outspoken critic of the drug-war which ultimately fuels such police violence. “The sheer hopelessness of the task has led many officers to rationalize their own corruption,” explains McNamara in the LA Times. “They say: ‘Why should the enemy get to keep all the profits?’ Guys with modest salaries are suddenly looking at $10,000 or more, and they go for it.”
“It’s going on all over the country,” continues McNamara, “and corruption ranges from chiefs and sheriffs on down to officers.”
Government corruption is also on the rise. The number of federal, state and municipal officials in federal prisons has increased five-fold since 1995, with almost 550 apparently corrupt officials behind bars. The vast majority of all government corruption is also directly related to current drug prohibition.
During alcohol prohibition at the early part of the century, the Los Angeles City Hall and police department were reknowned for blatantly accepting payoffs from speakeasies, gambling dens and brothels.
This entrenched corruption persisted after the end of prohibition, and the response of William Parker, who became Chief of the LAPD in 1950, was to adopt a paramilitary attitude which continues to this day.
Daryl Gates became Chief in 1978, and his rise to power overlapped the rise of the Reagan drug war. Gates adapted the paramilitary style to fighting the drug war, and led the LAPD into a new era of violence and extreme tactics.
Daryl Gates developed two of the most vicious aspects of modern drug war policing, both of which have become very popular with other police forces across the US. First, Gates created the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which brings police officers into schools to misinform children about drug use and encourage them to rat on their friends and family. Second, Gates pioneered the aggressive use of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams, whose high-powered and militaristic tactics have become the favoured home-invasion weapon of modern drug war police squads.
Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, Gates’ son Scott was arrested several times for drug possession, and in 1985 was sentenced to a year in jail for robbing a pharmacy. In this Gates shares a common link with his successor, current LAPD Chief Bernard Parks, whose daughter was charged in September 1998 with selling 20 grams of cocaine to an undercover officer in Las Vegas.
A 1998 audit of drugs, money and property seized by the LAPD claimed that the LAPD were “sloppy” and “don’t have good inventory control.”
Each year the LAPD seizes about 13,000 guns, $5 million in cash and what they claim is $2 billion worth of drugs. According to the audit, the seized goods are poorly tracked and treated haphazardly. The audit describes one case in which a “high-value” of drugs and money were stored next to employee snack foods. In other instances items were missing without explanation. Firearms are poorly monitored and no records at all are kept for the inventory of weapons parts.
Despite all these glaring security problems, the audit claimed that this situation was actually a dramatic improvement over the last audit in 1992!
Since the reign of Gates and the increased deployment of police officers and resources towards anti-drug efforts, there has been increasing LAPD scandals involving police corruption and violence.
? In the late 1980s, three officers were convicted in a murder-for-hire operation.
? In 1992 the infamous beating of Rodney King was caught on videotape.
? In 1994, after a 6 year investigation, 26 former narcotics deputies were convicted of skimming seized drug money.
? In February 1996, Rampart LAPD officers beat a suspect so severely he vomited blood. Another officer claims that when he told Captain Richard Meraz about the beating, Meraz said he “didn’t want to hear details.”
? In 1994. and again in 1998, LAPD narcotics officers were found to be tapping the phones of everyone who bought a cell-phone from certain storefront companies. Many hundreds of cell-phones were being monitored for over four years. Critics allege police misled judges to receive broadly-worded warrants against the phone companies themselves, although they were never charged. Most defence lawyers were never notified of that there had been taps.
? Since 1990, the LA Times has reported on 14 cases where LAPD officers were found to have falsified testimony or withheld information from prosecutors.
? On September 30, 1999, a 35-year LAPD veteran was caught stealing seized heroin in a sting by fellow officers.
Brit cop corruption
Drug war cop corruption is not isolated to the US. In October, a British court heard evidence that London Police Detective Robert Clark was stealing drugs from dealers and giving them to his dealer/informant girlfriend Evelyn Fleckney to sell on the street.
Fleckney was convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to supply ecstasy, pot and cocaine, and sentenced to 15 years. After her conviction she gave details of her relationship with Clark, which included him using her tips to make busts and then giving her the seized drugs to sell. They used their profits to buy expensive jewelry, sculptures and furniture, as well as staying in extravagant hotels.
Prosecutors explained that another officer, Neil Putnam, has admitted to “involvement in a large number of offences” and awaits sentencing in November. Two other officers are also accused of being in on the operation.