Thursday, November 8, 2001
Cooley Says Rampart Probe to End Without More Charges
District Attorney, Sheriff, Police Chiefs Join on ‘Protocols’ for Pursuing Criminal Misconduct
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
District Attorney Steve Cooley yesterday disclosed that his criminal probe into the Rampart police corruption case will conclude by the end of the year with no new charges being filed against police officers.
Cooley said he would close 50 matters and release reports detailing why they did not become full-scale criminal prosecutions. But he added that his department’s Justice System Integrity Division remains “open for business for any allegations of criminal misconduct by any law enforcement officer from whatever source, Rampart or otherwise.”
The statement came as Cooley unveiled his office’s first-ever written guidelines for investigating suspected criminal acts by officers and others in the justice system.
Marking a new level of cooperation between the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies, Cooley was joined by Sheriff Lee Baca, Police Chief Bernard Parks and the leader of a county police chiefs group to help promote the three “protocols” detailing how, when, and under what circumstances prosecutors will probe allegations of misconduct against officers.
“These protocols will help restore public confidence and accountability to our criminal justice system,” Cooley said at a news conference in his 18th-floor office in the Criminal Courts Building. He added that “having this in place earlier would have probably led to the early detection of Rafael Perez.”
Critics have long argued that the lack of such guidelines contributed to the spread of corruption at the Los Angeles Police Department. Cooley noted that a deputy district attorney wrote a memo questioning the truthfulness of testimony from Perez, then an LAPD officer, two years before Perez was caught stealing cocaine and began to detail stories of corruption that became the focus of the Rampart scandal.
Without protocols for handling the allegation, district attorney supervisors did not act on the memo. That left Parks, who was supervising internal police investigations, with a great deal of discretion over what cases to refer for prosecution. Differences over how to handle Rampart led him into a bitter, and very public, dispute with then-District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who was then locked in a fierce election battle with Cooley.
Cooley campaigned in part on adopting a clear set of guidelines for police agencies and prosecutors who uncover officer misconduct to report and investigate the charges.
After his election he quickly mended fences with Parks on the issue. But he soon found himself in a dispute with Baca, who was promoting an Office of Independent Review in the Sheriff’s Department to probe allegations of deputy wrongdoing and to decide when to refer them to prosecutors.
Office of Independent Review Chief Attorney Michael Gennaco said yesterday that “we are working within the construct to assure the appropriate referrals are made” to the District Attorney’s Office. He added that there was no conflict between the two operations.
The new rules call for prompt investigation and referral to special units any time an officer—or a judge, court clerk, or any other official in the justice system, for that matter—is suspected of misconduct.
The standard for referral to the Judicial System Integrity Division is probable cause to believe a crime was committed.
One set of procedures for referral to JSID applies to law enforcement agencies of other outside organizations. A second applies to internal referrals.
Cooley said that in some rare cases the department would also launch an investigation based on a public complaint, but he noted that under law the law enforcement agencies themselves conduct the initial probes.
A third protocol unveiled yesterday merely formalizes one already in place since February 2000—the rollout of the District Attorney Response Team to the scene of any officer-involved shooting. The roll-out team also responds when someone has died or has been injured in custody, but only at the request of the law enforcement agency in question.
The protocols cover every law enforcement agency in the county—except the Culver City Police Department. Cooley said the Culver City chief, Ted Cook, believes he has an ethical department and can oversee any problems himself. But Cooley added that Cook will eventually realize “his department is not an island.”
Meanwhile, he said, the District Attorney’s Office will remain on top of allegations of wrongdoing in Culver City, if any, through grand jury proceedings.
Cooley has assigned 12 attorneys to the Judicial System Integrity Division, but said yesterday he would now add four more to support what he suspected would be an increase in referrals.
“I will tell you they are very busy,” Cooley said of the unit.
The division is currently headed by Acting Head Deputy James Cosper.
As for the Rampart probes, Cooley said he has signed off on 15 “declinations to file” and probably will do the same with another 30 cases that remain to be resolved.
The Rampart scandal, unmasked by a plea bargain for which Perez detailed stories of perjured testimony, falsified police reports, and planted evidence, sent the LAPD into turmoil, spurred the dismissal of more than 100 tainted prosecutions, and led to a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice for reform of the LAPD.
The city has paid millions of dollars to settle dozens of lawsuits, 65 officers have faced or will face administrative action, and the department is operating under a consent decree with the federal government.
Of nine officers criminally charged, seven were convicted, but three convictions were overturned by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor.
Cooley’s office is appealing that decision.
The case against the last of the nine officers is pending.
But the Rampart prosecutions are not likely to end with the decision in Cooley’s office not to file further charges. A federal grand jury is reportedly probing allegations as well, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office is mulling the filing of criminal charges.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company