Thursday, July 18, 2002
Council Agrees to $165,000 Settlement of Rampart-Related Suit Brought by Brother of Perez’s Former Girlfriend
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The City Council has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the brother of disgraced LAPD Officer Rafael Perez’s former girlfriend, adding to the millions of dollars that have already been paid out over the fallout of the Rampart police corruption scandal.
Carlos Romero, the brother of Veronica Quesada, was awarded $165,000 by the city Tuesday. Romero was arrested in Oct. 1995 by Perez and several other officers who claimed they caught him in the act of a drug deal.
Investigators turned up money, drug paraphernalia and a photo of Perez dressed like a Blood gang member and throwing gang signs during a search of Quesada’s apartment. The photo proved to be instrumental in solidifying a criminal case against Perez.
It was also later revealed that Quesada had traveled to Las Vegas in 1997 for a spending spree with Perez and another officer, David Mack, just two days after Mack robbed a Los Angeles Bank of America and stole over $700,000.
On April 20, 2000 Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler granted Romero a writ of habeas corpus that unconditionally overturned his felony conviction for possession of illegal drugs.
More than 100 criminal convictions have been overturned and over $35 million has been paid out in settlements in the fallout over Rampart.
Perez wrote in his arrest report that he and his partners saw Romero dealing drugs and, when the officers approached him, he stuffed a bundle full of cocaine under the tire of a catering truck, according to Romero’s complaint.
Romero argued that the cocaine appeared and was booked into evidence only after he was taken to Rampart station and failed tell the officers the names of people involved in drug trafficking in the area. He claimed he did not know drug dealers. The cocaine was carried by Perez to plant it on suspects, according to the complaint.
Perez and other officers then wrote “false and misleading police reports” about the incident, Romero said. Those same reports eventually forced Romero to accept a plea bargain from the District Attorney’s Office and plead guilty to the drug charges out of fear a jury would believe the officers’ accounts of the incident over his own, resulting in a longer prison term, according to court documents.
The complaint claims Romero suffered personal and bodily injuries during the time he was in prison and that he suffered, and still suffers, “severe emotional and psychological pain and suffering, anxiety, depression, anguish, shock and fear” because of his wrongful conviction and subsequent imprisonment.
Romero originally sued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, but that claim was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess because it did not allege injury to “business or property” within the meaning of RICO.
Under RICO, plaintiffs have to show that they have been injured in their “business or property,” unlike cases involving traditional charges of excessive force in which damages can be awarded for brutality or mental distress. The damages proved in a RICO suit can be tripled.
The City Council on Tuesday also approved a $850,000 payment to Miguel Angel Hernandez, who claimed he was framed on a firearms charge when Perez’s former partner, Nino Durden, planted a gun on him during an Oct. 1996 confrontation with police officers in an alley.
Durden, in a plea bargain with prosecutors, was sentenced last month to three years in federal prison for violating the federal civil rights of an unarmed gang member and possessing an illegal firearm that was used to frame an innocent man. He also is awaiting sentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court on his guilty pleas to six Rampart-related charges.
In May, Perez was sentenced to two years in federal prison violating the civil rights of gang member Javier Ovando. Ovando, who was paralyzed when he was shot by Durden and Perez, was convicted on trumped up charges after the two officers planted a gun on him. His conviction was ultimately overturned and he was awarded a $15 million settlement by the city.
Perez has already served three years in state prison for stealing cocaine from a LAPD evidence locker.
Mayor James Hahn also has 10 days from the City Council’s vote to approve the settlement.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company