Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Former Gang Member Testifies He Was Beaten by Several LAPD Officers
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
A former 18th Street Gang member said yesterday that several Los Angeles Police Department officers repeatedly kicked and beat him with a flashlight while he lay on the ground, even after he had been handcuffed.
Gabriel Aguirre testified that on March 26, 1998 he and another man were sleeping on the floor of a vacant apartment when several Rampart CRASH officers, including Ethan Cohan and Rafael Perez, burst in and began beating him.
“They were stomping us,” Gabriel Aguirre said while testifying at a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court in the misconduct case of former LAPD Officer Ethan Cohan. “They were kicking us, hitting us with flashlights.”
Aguirre, known as Spider in the 18th Street Gang, said he was kicked in the legs, back, elbow and groin between “20 and 30” times by the officers, with most of the blows being delivered by Cohan. He is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, filing a false police report, perjury and conspiracy in connection with the arrest and beating of Aguirre.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Chidsey Jr. is set to rule today on whether prosecutors have enough evidence to send the case to trial. Chidsey is also expected to rule on whether the testimony of three officer witnesses has been tainted because they were allowed to repeatedly review a statement that the LAPD compelled Cohan to make about the Aguirre incident.
Aguirre said that in addition to kicking him, it was Cohan who repeatedly beat him on the back with a flashlight while he lay facedown on the floor.
The abuse continued for another 10 to 20 minutes after the officers handcuffed him, Aguirre said.
Aguirre also claimed that Perez kneed him in the groin and slammed his head into the wall after he overheard Cohan and Perez discussing the story they would tell to cover up the beating, including saying that Aguirre fell down the stairs. That blow resulted in a broken nose, he said.
Former LAPD Officer Camerino Mesina testified that Perez had become angry when Aguirre called him on attempting to cover-up the beating and threw a paperback book at him. When the book missed Aguirre when he ducked, Mesina said Perez grabbed Aguirre and threw him into the wall.
Mesina, one of five officers on the scene at the apartment on S. Witmer Street, also said 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 is the third officer witness to contradict official reports filed by Cohan and his partner Shawn Gomez that asserted Aguirre resisted arrest and was hurt when he fell while running down a fire escape in an attempt to escape.
Gomez and Manuel 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.
Mesina stopped short of admitting that he signed a false report naming him as the victim of a battery by Aguirre, saying instead that a signature on the report resembled his, but he does not remember signing the document.
The case arose out of an allegation by Perez, the disgraced former LAPD officer whose arrest and revelations launched the Rampart corruption scandal, said he, Cohan, Gomez, Mesina, and Chavez attacked Aguirre when the arrested him on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
Mesina, the first officer to contact the District Attorney’s Office regarding the incident, said he was urged by deputy district attorneys to encourage Gomez and Chavez, but not Cohan, to also come forward.
Mesina asserted his Fifth Amendment rights when he was called by the District Attorney’s Office to testify in front of the Los Angeles County grand jury and was granted immunity.
Mesina said his decision to come forward with what happened had nothing to do with a deal and everything to do with telling the truth.
“It wasn’t a deal,” Mesina said. “It was coming forward and being forthright.”
Gomez, who plead no contest to filing a false police report, testified as part of a deal with the District Attorney’s Office in which prosecutors agreed not to oppose reducing the charges to a misdemeanor, probation and community service.
Chavez pled no contest to assault under the color of authority and the District Attorney’s Office has agreed not to oppose reducing the charge to a misdemeanor and to recommend that he serve not more than a year in jail.
Aguirre has also sued Cohan, the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company