Friday, February 8, 2002
Ex-Rampart Officers Testify They Signed False Reports to Cover Up Beating
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Two former Rampart police officers testified yesterday that they knowingly signed false reports prepared by fellow CRASH unit member Ethan Cohan to cover up their beating of a reputed gang member and that Cohan also authored a false police report that described the incident.
The testimony came in a preliminary hearing for Cohan, who is charged with five counts in connection with the March 26, 1998 beating of Gabriel Aguirre–-including assault with a deadly weapon, perjury, filing a false police report and conspiracy. He pled not guilty in March 2001.
The Aguirre incident first came to light when now-disgraced ex-Officer Rafael Perez told LAPD investigators that, unprovoked, he and Cohan, Manuel Chavez, and Shawn Gomez beat Aguirre on March 26, 1998, and then conspired to cover it up. A fifth officer, Camerino Mesina, was also named by Perez as a participant in the beating and entered into a plea bargain with the District Attorney’s Office in February 2000.
Perez accused Cohan of kicking Aguirre repeatedly and Chavez of beating him with a flashlight and kicking him in the groin.
Chavez and Gomez, who have since resigned from the department, said that Cohan wrote the narrative paragraph that accompanied battery reports that named the officers and fellow officer Rafael Perez as victims and Aguirre as the suspect. In his narrative, Cohan detailed how Aguirre hit and kicked the officers, something Chavez and Gomez said never happened.
Chavez and Gomez signed their own battery reports. Gomez also said he signed the report for Rafael Perez, along with his own initials.
Gomez said that he signed the false battery report to cover-up for himself and his fellow officers.
“As a police officer you depend on your fellow officers, especially in a tight unit like CRASH,” Gomez said. “You’re afraid of retaliation, afraid of being snubbed by your co-workers.”
He also testified he was afraid if he didn’t sign it the other officers would retaliate by not responding to his requests for back-up, putting him in a potentially life-threatening situation.
“They can make your life miserable,” Gomez said.
In his arrest report Cohan wrote that Aguirre hit and kicked the officers while attempting to escape. Both Gomez and Gavez, testified that never happened.
Cohan also wrote that officers used a “swarm” technique to stop Aguirre from escaping in the hallway. Gomez and Chavez said that they did not participate in such a technique or see that technique used by other officers.
Aguirre was guided to the wall in an attempt to control him, Cohan wrote, but he lowered his head, causing him to collide with the wall and causing damage to the wall.
Gomez said that Aguirre was not guided to the wall, but pushed into the wall from behind by Perez.
“It had force behind it,” Gomez said.
Cohan, Chavez, and Gomez were all charged in the incident, but in a deal with the District Attorney’s Office Chavez pled no contest to assault under the color of authority and Gomez pled no contest to filing a false police report. Cohan rejected a deal and chose to proceed to trial.
Chavez is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 25 and Gomez, who said he expects to receive community service and probation, is awaiting sentencing pending the completion of Cohan’s case.
Several police officers were present in the courtroom to show support for Cohan, defense investigator Doyle Stepp said. Detective Michael Hansen said that some of those officers were actually on-duty at the time and a lieutenant from the department’s Northeast division contacted the officers and told them to leave the courtroom and return to duty. Stepp said he believed that all the officers, including those off-duty, left because of the lieutenant’s order.
Cohan was fired from the LAPD in 1999 in connection with the alleged beating of another gang member. LAPD officials said that gang member was beaten by another officer, but they believed Cohan lied about his knowledge of that incident. Cohan denies any wrongdoing in that case.
Testimony will continue in Cohan’s preliminary hearing on Feb. 19, when Deputy District Attorney Ron Goudy said he expects to call Aguirre to testify.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company