Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Ex-Rampart Officer Pleads Not Guilty to Beating Gang Member
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Former Rampart Officer Ethan Cohan pled not guilty yesterday to five criminal counts of beating up an 18th Street gang member and conspiring to cover it up.
Cohan, 31, is accused of using a flashlight to beat 18th Street gang member Gabriel Aguirre during an arrest on March 26, 1998, then filing a false police report stating Aguirre was injured while fleeing from police and resisting arrest.
Cohan is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, perjury, filing a false police report, assault under the color of authority, and conspiracy. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of five years and two months in state prison.
Trial is set for May 6.
During the preliminary hearing, Aguirre testified he was kicked in the legs, back, elbow and groin between “20 and 30” times by five officers, with most of the blows being delivered by Cohan. Officers Rafael Perez, Shawn Gomez, Manuel Chavez and Camerino Mesina were also on the scene that night.
The City Council on Wednesday approved a $590,000 to settle Aguirre’s lawsuit against the city over the beating. Mayor James Hahn still must sign off on the settlement before it can be finalized.
In his suit, Aguirre maintains that the officers “conspired to tamper with evidence, falsify evidence and cover up the false arrest and excessive use of force.”
He claims he suffered a sprained arm, broken nose, several bruises and head injuries as a result of the officers’ abuse.
Aguirre also alleges that the supervisor on the scene, Sgt. Paul Byrnes, and the jailhouse medical examiner, Dr. Rashmi J. Singh, conspired to cover up the beating by the officers and the injuries Aguirre suffered.
Mesina, one of five officers on the scene at the apartment on S. Witmer Street, testified at the preliminary hearing that he saw Perez kick Aguirre as he lay on the ground and he saw Cohan strike him in the back “either with a flashlight or his fist.”
Mesina was the third officer witness to contradict official reports filed by Cohan that asserted Aguirre resisted arrest and was hurt when he fell while running down a fire escape in an attempt to escape.
Gomez and Chavez, Cohan’s partner that night, both testified earlier in the hearing that they signed the false police reports, written by Cohan, that said Aguirre punched them and kicked Mesina, Cohan and Perez in an effort to escape.
In deals with the District Attorney’s Office, Mesina received immunity, Chavez pled no contest to assault under color of authority, and Gomez pled no contest to filing a false police report.
The case surfaced as part of the Rampart scandal, which came to light when former officer Rafael Perez revealed widespread corruption in the LAPD’s anti-gang CRASH unit as part of his plea bargain on drug charges.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley yesterday denied a request by Cohan’s attorney Harland Braun to delay the arraignment until Cohan could work out his financial issues.
Braun said the Los Angeles Police Protective League, of which Cohan is a member, has refused to back him for reasons they would not disclose, but that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has expressed interest in financing Cohan’s defense.
League officials did not return calls for comment.
Wesley declined to delay the nearly year-old case any longer and threatened to appoint bar panel representation for Cohan if Braun was not available for the arraignment.
The Teamsters have been actively seeking to replace the PPL and become the official union of LAPD rank-and-file. Braun said paying for Cohan’s defense would be a good way to show LAPD officers the Teamsters union is willing to back its members.
Ed Rendon, director of public affairs for Teamsters Joint Council 42, said the union is not paying for Cohan’s legal representation, but added that the union would back its members.
At a press conference last month Teamsters officials said they hoped to have enough signatures by the first week of March hold an election as early as April. But Rendon said the campaign is ongoing and no dates have been set.
Braun also said he will most likely request that the trial be moved out of the county because of what he called the high level of bias against Rampart officers in and around Los Angeles.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company