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Cops Are Corrupt LAPD
The Rampart scandal refers to widespread corruption in the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (or CRASH) anti-gang unit of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Rampart Division in the late 1990s. More than 70 police officers either assigned to or associated with the Rampart CRASH unit were implicated in some form of misconduct, making it one of the most widespread cases of documented police misconduct in United States history. The convicted offenses include unprovoked shootings, unprovoked beatings, planting of false evidence, framing of suspects, stealing and dealing narcotics, bank robbery, perjury, and the covering up of evidence of these activities.
The Rampart Scandal is notable in popular culture because at least three LAPD officers implicated in the scandal were found to be on the payroll of hip-hop mogul Marion “Suge” Knight of Death Row Records, a convicted felon with known ties to the Bloods street gang. Moreover, LAPD investigators alleged Rampart CRASH officers Nino Durden, Rafael Pérez and David Mack were involved in the 1997 drive-by murder of recording artist Notorious B.I.G..
The Rampart investigation, based mainly on statements of the admitted corrupt officer (Pérez), initially implicated over 70 officers of wrongdoing. Of those officers, enough evidence was found to bring 58 before an internal administrative board. However, of the officers named by Pérez, only 24 were actually found to have committed any wrongdoing, with 12 given suspensions of various lengths, 7 forced to resign or retire, and 5 fired. As a result of the probe into falsified evidence and police perjury, 106 prior criminal convictions were overturned. The Rampart Scandal resulted in more than 140 civil lawsuits against the city of Los Angeles, costing the city an estimated $125 million in settlements.
Partly as a result of the scandal, Police Chief Bernard Parks was not rehired by Mayor James K. Hahn in 2001. Both the scandal and the de facto firing of Parks are believed to have precipitated Mayor Hahn’s defeat by Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2005 election.
As of 2013 the full extent of Rampart corruption is not known, with several rape, murder and robbery investigations involving Rampart officers remaining unsolved.
March 18, 1997 – Officer Kevin Gaines road rage shootout
Around 4:00 pm on March 18, 1997, undercover LAPD officer Frank Lyga shot and killed Rampart CRASH officer Kevin Gaines in self-defense following a case of apparent road rage. According to Lyga’s and other witnesses’ testimony, Gaines pulled his green Mitsubishi Montero up to Lyga’s Buick. A confrontation ensued, with Gaines flashing gang signs at Officer Lyga. Gaines followed Lyga, brandishing a .45 ACP handgun. Lyga took out his gun and called for backup using a hidden radio activated by a foot pedal. Lyga’s voice can be heard on police recordings, “Hey, I got a problem. I’ve got a black guy in a green Jeep coming up here! He’s got a gun!”
Pulling up at a stop light, Lyga later testified that he heard Gaines shout, “I’ll cap you.” Lyga fired his 9mm Beretta 92 into the SUV, lodging one bullet in Gaines’s heart. Lyga radioed one final transmission: “I just shot this guy! I need help! Get up here!”
The killing of a black officer by a white officer was highly controversial and prompted allegations that Lyga’s actions were racially motivated. Lyga reported that Gaines was the first to pull a gun and that he responded in self-defense. Lyga told Frontline, “In my training experience this guy had ‘I’m a gang member’ written all over him.”
In the ensuing investigation, the LAPD discovered that Gaines had apparently been involved in similar road rage incidents, threatening drivers by brandishing his gun. The investigation also revealed that Gaines was associated with both the Death Row Records rap recording label and its controversial owner and CEO, Suge Knight. Investigators learned that Death Row Records, which was alleged to be associated with the Bloods street gang, was hiring off-duty LAPD police officers to serve as security guards.
Lyga served desk duty for one year while the LAPD reviewed the details of the shooting. Following three separate internal investigations, Lyga was exonerated of any wrongdoing. The LAPD concluded that Lyga’s shooting was “in policy” and not racially or improperly motivated.
Within three days of the incident, the Gaines family had retained attorney Johnnie Cochran and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for $25 million. The city eventually settled with Cochran for $250,000. Lyga was angry the city settled, denying him the chance to fully clear his name. Judge Schoettler wrote a letter to Chief Bernard Parks stating, “Had the matter been submitted to me for a determination, I would have found in favor of the City of Los Angeles.” Schoettler’s letter alleged political reasons for settling the case, namely, City Attorney James Hahn was preparing to run for mayor and black voters were his primary demographic.
November 6, 1997 – Officer David Mack bank robbery
On November 6, 1997, $722,000 was stolen in an armed robbery of a Los Angeles branch of Bank of America. After one month of investigation, assistant bank manager Errolyn Romero confessed to her role in the crime and implicated her boyfriend, LAPD officer David Mack, as the mastermind. Mack was sentenced to 14 years and three months in federal prison. He has never revealed the whereabouts of the money and while incarcerated bragged to fellow inmates that he will have become a millionaire by the time of his release.
February 26, 1998 – Rampart Station beating
Rampart CRASH officer Brian Hewitt brought Ismael Jimenez, a member of the 18th Street Gang, into the Rampart police station for questioning. According to Officer Pérez’s recorded testimony, Hewitt “got off” on beating suspects. In the course of questioning, Hewitt beat the handcuffed Jimenez in the chest and stomach until he vomited blood. After his release, Jimenez went to the emergency room and told doctors he had been beaten by Hewitt and his partner Daniel Lujan while in police custody. Following an investigation, Hewitt was eventually fired from the LAPD. Jimenez was awarded $231,000 in a civil settlement with the city of Los Angeles. Jimenez served time in federal prison for the distribution of drugs and conspiracy to commit murder but has since been released.
May, 1998 – Investigative task force created
On March 27, 1998, LAPD officials discovered that 8 pounds of cocaine were missing from an evidence room. Within a week, detectives focused their investigation on LAPD Rampart CRASH officer Rafael Pérez. Concerned with a CRASH unit that had officers working off-duty for Death Row Records, robbing banks, and stealing cocaine, Chief Bernard Parks established an internal investigative task force in May 1998.
The task force, later named the Rampart Corruption Task Force, focused on the prosecution of Rafael Pérez. Completing an audit of the LAPD property room revealed another pound of missing cocaine. The cocaine had been booked following a prior arrest by Detective Frank Lyga, the officer who shot and killed Rampart officer Kevin Gaines. Investigators speculated Rafael Pérez may have stolen the cocaine booked by Lyga in retaliation for Gaines’s shooting.
August 25, 1998 – Pérez arrested
Officer Rafael Pérez, at age 31 and a nine-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, was arrested on August 25, 1998, for stealing six pounds of cocaine from a department property room. The cocaine was estimated to be worth $80,000 on the street. As he was arrested, Pérez reportedly asked, “Is this about the bank robbery?” Pérez would later deny that he had any knowledge of David Mack’s bank robbery and never testified against Mack. Investigators would later discover eleven additional instances of suspicious cocaine transfers. Pérez eventually admitted to ordering cocaine evidence out of property and replacing it with Bisquick.
On September 8, 1999, following a mistrial, Pérez agreed to cut a deal with investigators. He pled guilty to cocaine theft in exchange for providing prosecutors information about two “bad” shootings and three other Rampart CRASH officers engaged in illegal activity. For this deal, Pérez received a five-year prison sentence as well as immunity from further prosecution of misconduct short of murder. Over the next nine months, Pérez met with investigators more than 50 times and provided more than 4,000 pages in sworn testimony. Pérez’s testimony implicated about 70 officers in misconduct.
Pérez framed four members of the Temple Street gang as being associated with killing Mexican Mafia member Miguel “Lizard” Malfavon. This whole incident happened at a McDonalds on Alvarado street, where four supposed members all planned to kill him while he tried to collect “taxes” from the gang. Pérez found a material witness who had blood on her dress and she named four gang members all from Temple Street. He repeatedly changed the main killer and ended up framing Anthony “Stymie” Adams as the one who fatally shot Malfavon in the head with a rifle in the neighboring apartment.
In extensive testimony to investigators, Pérez provided a detailed portrait of the culture of the elite CRASH unit. Pérez insisted that 90% of CRASH officers were “in the loop,” knowingly framing innocent suspects and perjuring themselves on the witness stand. Pérez claims his superiors were aware of and encouraged CRASH officers to engage in misconduct; the goal of the unit was to arrest gang members by any means necessary. Pérez described how CRASH officers were awarded plaques for shooting suspects, with extra honors if suspects were killed. Pérez alleges that CRASH officers carried spare guns in their “war bags” to plant on suspects. In recorded testimony, Pérez revealed the CRASH motto: “We intimidate those who intimidate others.”
CRASH officers would get together at a bar near Dodger Stadium in Echo Park to drink and celebrate shootings. Supervisors handed out plaques to shooters, containing red or black playing cards. A red card indicated a wounding and a black card indicated a killing, which was considered more prestigious. Pérez testified that at least one Rampart lieutenant attended these celebrations.
Rampart officers wore tattoos of the CRASH logo, a skull with a cowboy hat encircled with poker cards depicting the “dead man’s hand,” aces and eights.
Rampart ties to Death Row Records
The Rampart Corruption Task Force investigators discovered that hip-hop mogul Suge Knight, owner of Death Row Records, had several of the corrupt Rampart officers on his payroll, including Kevin Gaines, Nino Durden, Rafael Pérez, and David Mack. Knight was hiring off-duty Rampart police to work for Death Row as security guards for substantial[quantify] amounts of money. For instance, after Gaines’ shooting, investigators discovered Gaines drove a Mercedes, wore designer suits, and found a receipt in his apartment for a $952 restaurant tab at the Los Angeles hangout, Monty’s Steakhouse.
Ties to the Bloods
Knight, a native of Compton, has known ties to the Piru Bloods, a criminal street gang.
Following the arrest of Rafael Pérez, investigators discovered photos in his apartment depicting him dressed in red and flashing Blood gang signs.
While in prison, David Mack has openly joined the Bloods, renouncing his affiliation with the LAPD and wearing as much red clothing as can be obtained in prison.
According to Frank Lyga who shot him, Kevin Gaines was flashing gang signs and waving a gun.
Ties to the murder of Notorious B.I.G.
In April 16, 2007, the Estate of Christopher George Latore Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G., filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, which also named Rampart officers Durden, Pérez and Mack defendants. The lawsuit alleges that Pérez, Durden, and Mack conspired to murder Christopher Wallace. The lawsuit alleged that Pérez and Mack were present the night of the murder outside the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard on March 9, 1997. In 2010, the Wallace family voluntarily dismissed this lawsuit and the claims against the City and the Rampart officers.
LAPD investigators Brian Tyndall and Russell Poole also believe Mack and other Rampart police were involved in a conspiracy to kill Wallace. Poole claims that LAPD Chief Bernard Parks refused to investigate their claims of Mack’s involvement, suppressing their 40 page report, and instructing investigators not to pursue their inquiry. Detective Poole, an 18 year veteran of the force, quit the LAPD in protest and filed a lawsuit against the LAPD for violating his First Amendment rights in preventing him from going to the public with his information.
The city of Los Angeles faced more than 140 civil suits resulting from the Rampart scandal, with total estimated settlement costs around $125 million.
Javier Ovando was awarded a $15 million settlement on November 21, 2000, the largest police misconduct settlement in Los Angeles history. Twenty-nine other civil suits were settled for nearly $11 million.
Rampart investigation cover up
There have been multiple allegations that Chief Parks and members of the LAPD were actively involved in obstructing the Rampart Investigation. Parks was in charge of Internal Affairs when Gaines and other Rampart officers were first discovered to have ties to the Bloods and Death Row Records. Parks is said to have protected these officers from investigation. According to Rampart Corruption Task Force Detective Poole, Chief Parks failed to pursue the Hewitt Investigation for a full six months. When Poole presented Chief Parks with a 40 page report detailing the connection between Mack and the murder of Notorious B.I.G., the report was suppressed.
On September 26, 2000, Detective Poole, an 18 year veteran of the force, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and Chief Parks. Poole, lead investigator on the Lyga-Gaines shooting and member of the Rampart Corruption Task Force, resigned from the Department and claimed in his civil suit that Chief Parks shut down his efforts to fully investigate the extent of corruption within the Department. Poole specifies conversations and direct orders in which Chief Parks prevented him from pursuing his investigation into the criminal activities of David Mack and Kevin Gaines, notably involving the investigation of the murder of Christopher Wallace.
Many city officials, including Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, expressed a lack of confidence with Chief Parks’ handling of the investigation. On September 19, 2000, the Los Angeles City Council voted 10 to 2 to accept a consent decree allowing the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee and monitor reforms within the LAPD for a period of five years. The Justice Department, which had been investigating the LAPD since 1996, agreed not to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Bernard Parks opposed the consent decree, but were forced to back down in the face of overwhelming support by the city council.
The “L.A.P.D. Board of Inquiry into the Rampart Area Corruption Incident” was released in March 2000. The report made 108 recommendations for changes in LAPD policies and procedures. The Board of Inquiry report, sanctioned by Bernard Parks, was widely criticized for not addressing structural problems within the LAPD.
“An Independent Analysis of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Board of Inquiry Report on the Rampart Scandal” was published in September 2000, by University of California, Irvine School of Law Dean, Erwin Chemerinsky at the request of the Police Protective League. Chemerinsky outlined six specific criticisms of the Board of Inquiry report, namely that the LAPD minimized the scope and nature of the corruption; and abetted the corruption through its own internal negligence or corrupt policies. Chemerinsky called for an independent commission to investigate corruption; and a consent decree between the City of Los Angeles and the Justice Department to monitor effective reform.
The “Report of the Rampart Independent Review Panel”, published in November 2000, was created by a panel of over 190 community members. Its report issued 72 findings and 86 recommendations. The report noted the Police Commission had been “undermined by the Mayor’s Office” and that the Inspector General’s Office had been “hindered by … lack of cooperation by the (LAPD) in responding to requests for information.”
Political and cultural aftermath
Police Chief Bernard Parks was not rehired by newly elected Mayor James K. Hahn in 2001. This arguably caused Hahn to lose the support of South Los Angeles‘s black community, leading to his defeat by Antonio Villaraigosa in the 2005 election.
The ensuing elimination of the Rampart CRASH division following the scandal is believed to have enabled the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang to grow its already substantial power among the Rampart district’s Salvadoran population. The rival 18th Street Gang continues to thrive in Rampart as well, with as many as 20,000 members in Los Angeles county.
In 2002, the television series The Shield premiered, depicting a band of rogue Los Angeles police officers. The program was so directly inspired by the Rampart Scandal that “Rampart” was nearly used as the series title. The title was presumably changed in order to avoid potential production issues and conflicts with the LAPD.
In 2003, the Blue Ribbon Rampart Review Panel, chaired by Constance L. Rice of the Advancement Project, was convened by the Los Angeles Police Commission and Chief William J. Bratton. The panel’s report was made public in 2006.
The action thriller movie Cellular featured a plot involving corrupt LAPD cops. Though it was not a serious crime drama, it used the Rampart Scandal to lend some credibility to the plot, showing a documentary segment of the Rampart Scandal in the bonus features of the movie DVD.
The plot of Rockstar Games‘ controversial game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, set in 1992, involves three corrupt CRASH officers. The CRASH motto, “intimidate those who intimidate others,” is earlier spoken directly by one of these characters.
In 2010, the crime drama movie Faster featured a police officer played by Billy Bob Thornton who is revealed to be a corrupt former Rampart CRASH officer.
The 2011 film Rampart takes place during the Rampart scandal as the main character Dave Brown faces the consequences of his career.
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