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LAPD BLUES
Program #1915
Original airdate: May 15, 2001

Produced & Directed by
Michael Kirk

Co-Produced by
Rick Young

Written by
Michael Kirk &
Peter J. Boyer

Correspondent
Peter J. Boyer

PETER BOYER, Correspondent: [voice-over] This is a story about LA and what's been happening on these streets. This is a story about crimes and cops and what happened to what was once called the best police force in America.

    SERGEANT: [roll call] Suspect one's a male black. He was the one armed with a possible submachine gun.

PETER BOYER: The LAPD is now considered so corrupt and brutal it requires supervision by a federal court.

    SERGEANT: [roll call] Suspect two, male Hispanic-

PETER BOYER: How did LA's finest fall so hard so fast?

If there's one recent event that illuminates the predicament of the LAPD, it's a road rage incident that happened to one of its own.

FRANK LYGA, Detective, LAPD: My forte is in narcotics. I'm a born-and-raised dope cop. I mean, that's all I ever want to do. And in LA, that's pretty easy to do. And we went out and rock and rolled. We did our job. We had a lot of fun.

PETER BOYER: One day in the spring of 1997, Detective Frank Lyga was in plainclothes, driving back to the stationhouse.

Det. FRANK LYGA: I was stopped at a light, number one car, sitting there minding my own business. And then I heard rap music, and I looked over to my left and saw a green Montero with a male black in the driver's seat.

And then our eyes met. You know, he threatened me, "Punk, I'll put a cap in your ass." And I said, "Excuse me?" And then- then the hand motions. You know, he starts doing this. He said, "Yeah, well I'll kick your motherfuckin' ass, punk," you know? And I'm going- he goes, "Pull over. Let's"- you know, he wants to fight. He was a stone-cold gangsta. In my training and experience, this guy had "I'm a gang member" written all over him.

So at that point, the light turned green. I pulled forward, and we went through the intersection. And I'm watching him in the mirror. I look forward, and I'm now going to be stopped in traffic. And he's coming. And I remember going, "Shit!"

I got on my radio and I announced, "Hey, I got a problem. I got a black guy in a green Montero, and he may have a gun, and I need help. Get up here." And then I unbuckle my seatbelt, and I take my gun out and put it on my waist, just right against the door and on my lap.

He pulls up alongside of me. He stops, and he comes across and he leans over the passenger seat and extends his arm and points the gun at me and yells, "I'll cap you, mother!" I bring my right arm over my left shoulder. I fire a round at him. I look back at him, and he's- the gun is still pointing at me. And I fired a second round.

And after I fired the second round, I almost could hear the impact, the thud of the round hitting him. But I definitely saw it in his face. We were only nine feet away, nine feet apart. And his eyes got really big, and he got this grimace on his face. And his arm went from this position here, right straight to the steering wheel. It didn't do one of these deals, it went right to the steering wheel, and he accelerated.

I could tell by the look in his eyes that I hit him, and I hit him hard. And as he pulls into the gas station, the car just- the momentum just stopped. It went "Vhhhum."

PETER BOYER: The driver was dead.

Det. FRANK LYGA: You know, not to be callous or cold or anything, but I kind of thought, "Good." I mean, you know, that's the nature of the beast.

PETER BOYER: Three hours later, Detective Lyga's superior officers told him who he'd shot.

Det. FRANK LYGA: And they got this stupid look on their face. And Dennis walks up to me and puts his arm around me, and says, "You're going to have to suck this one up. The guy was a policeman." I says, "What?" He says, "The guy was a policeman." I says, "From where?" "One of ours. Worked Pacific." I says, "You're kidding me." At that point, now- now the world was crashing down.

    NEWSCASTER: LAPD officer Kevin Gaines was gunned down by one of his own, killed on Tuesday afternoon in North Hollywood by an undercover officer.

Det. FRANK LYGA: "This- this is it." I says, "They're going to kill me now. They're going to destroy me."

NEWSCASTER: In a murder mystery pitting cop versus cop-

    Det. FRANK LYGA: All I knew was that I just shot a black police officer, and that was going to cause a lot of problems.

PETER BOYER: [on-camera] How'd you know that?

Det. FRANK LYGA: The history of the LAPD- Rodney King, '92 riots, O.J. Simpson trial, Mark Fuhrman issue, Johnny Cochran. Now me.

PETER BOYER: [voice-over] In this city so deeply conflicted about its police force, almost any event with racial overtones could touch off a raging political controversy.

It wasn't always so complicated. Once the image of Los Angeles projected on TV was a kind of Pleasantville-

    JACK WEBB: I'm a cop.

PETER BOYER: -policed by a force of calm professionals.

    JACK WEBB: My name's Friday.

BRIAN LIDDY, Patrolman, LAPD: One of the things that always impressed me about LAPD was you never saw a sloppy cop. Never. You know, boots were spit- shined, hair was cut.

PETER BOYER: When Brian Liddy was growing up on the East Coast, all he ever wanted to be was a cop. And to him, the best cops were in the LAPD.

BRIAN LIDDY: It was something you wanted to belong to. It was a professional police department.

PETER BOYER: The LAPD inspired a number of officially endorsed cop shows, like Adam-12. This was a force honed to a military edge. The city of New York needed more than 28,000 cops. The LAPD covered more territory with less than 7,000. What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in mobility, speed and attitude.

DARYL GATES, Fmr. Police Chief, LAPD: We were the finest. We were the best in the world. I will admit, we were a very aggressive police department. We went after crime before it occurred.

PETER BOYER: There had always been critics of the LAPD's martial style.

GREGORY MORENO, Plaintiff's Attorney: The LAPD became an army- an equipped army, an organized army. And with the blessing of society.

PETER BOYER: But such voices were scarcely heard over the violent din rising from the streets by the 1980s. Gangs - the Bloods, the Crips, the 18th Streeters - battled over turf and the rich drug market. Gangstas were dying, and civilians were getting caught in the crossfire as the drive-by shooting became a familiar feature.

DARYL GATES: I finally said, "Enough is enough," and I put a thousand police officers in what we called Operation Hammer. And it was very, very effective, tremendously effective.

PETER BOYER: But there was something in the gangsta culture that was more than raw criminality and random violence. There was a message from that portion of the city that saw the LAPD as an occupying army. Gangsta rap was the political poetry of the street.

    RAPPER: Fucking police coming straight from the underground. A young nigger got it back because I'm brown. And that's the other color, so police think they have the authority to kill a minority. Fuck that dick 'cause I ain't the one [unintelligible] a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun [unintelligible] jail we can go toe to toe in the middle of a sail. Fuckin' with me 'cause I'm a teenager with a little bit of goat and a pager stuck to my car, lookin' for the product, thinking every nigger is selling narcotics!

PETER BOYER: Just how fractured the city was became clear in this crystallizing moment -Rodney King.

    RAPPER: Not guilty verdicts for Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno, the four officers of beating motorist Rodney King.

PETER BOYER: And then the white officers were acquitted.

    RAPPER: Not guilty, not guilty. That was [unintelligible] when the news gets to the hood, they'll make a [unintelligible] out of them [unintelligible] Fuck! Fuck! Kicking up dust [unintelligible]

PETER BOYER: By now, that young officer, Brian Liddy, had joined the ranks of the LAPD. He answered a call near the intersection of Florence and Normandie.

BRIAN LIDDY: When we arrived, there was a large group of people, a lot of yelling and screaming, a lot of taunting. Some people were throwing rocks and bottles at the cops. And there was a fairly significant disturbance taking place.

RAPPER: -in a blue uniform, taking niggers like a unicorn-

PETER BOYER: It was at such moments that the LAPD's take-charge reflex usually kicked in. Officer Liddy plunged into the crowd after a suspect.

BRIAN LIDDY: He was putting on a show for the crowd. But at the same time, you're sending a message to that crowd that you're taking action, and if you're going to throw something at the cops, you're going to go to jail. And the police are in control here, not you.

    RAPPER: Pretty soon we'll get Sergeant Koon. Then boom! Make [unintelligible] modern-day [unintelligible] Now he's just [unintelligible] like leather [unintelligible]

PETER BOYER: It was the first eventful arrest of the afternoon. Mark Jackson resisted. Officer Liddy slammed him against the patrol car and twisted his arm behind his back. Jackson would be charged and later acquitted, but on that day the crowd saw only police brutality. Mark Jackson's brother - everybody called him Football - was especially angry. A truck driver named Reginald Denny would pay the price as Football took his revenge with a concrete block, flashing gang signs and dancing for the TV news copters.

    HELICOPTER REPORTER: This is attempted murder!

PETER BOYER: Then for three days, hell broke loose.

    HELICOPTER REPORTER: Well- unbelievable!

    RAPPER: We had to tear this motherfucker up, so what the fuck?

    1st REPORTER: Where are all the police that Chief Gates said would be ready for this?

    2nd REPORTER: How much worse does it have to get?

    3rd REPORTER: We see no officers anywhere.

    4th REPORTER: That is a fire right on Hollywood Boulevard!

    5th REPORTER: Look at how far north this has come!

PETER BOYER: Inside the LAPD, the word was gangstas were hunting for cops to kill.

BRIAN LIDDY: I was driving down the off-ramp. There was a white Cutlass pulling right alongside of me. There was three young black kids. They were yelling at me. That drew my attention to look directly at them. And I had some guns pointed at me.

I ducked, and a round went across the back of my head. I immediately returned fire. There was a gun battle that ensued. The car eventually crashed into the freeway overpass underneath, crashed into the cement wall and went on fire. And two of the suspects fled out of the car. And there was one guy laying dead in the car.

    POLICE OFFICIAL: [awards ceremony] For his bravery and coolness under fire while engaging three gunmen in a life-and-death duel, this department's highest honor, the Medal of Valor, is now awarded to Officer Brian Liddy.

PETER BOYER: Eventually, order returned. But long after the fires were put out, the embers of racial passion still burned.

    F. LEE BAILEY, Simpson Attorney: [O.J. Simpson trial] Do you use the word "nigger" in describing people?

    Det. MARK FUHRMAN, LAPD: No, sir.

    F. LEE BAILEY: Have you used that word in the past year?

PETER BOYER: Even a celebrity murder case became a courtroom conflict about race.

    Det. MARK FUHRMAN: Not that I recall, no.

F. LEE BAILEY: And you say on your oath that you have not addressed any black person as a nigger, or spoken about black people-

PETER BOYER: And the bitterness some in the jury felt towards the LAPD could even be used to help beat a murder rap.

    JOHNNIE COCHRAN, Simpson Attorney: Fuhrman- Fuhrman wants to take all black people, now, and burn them or bomb them. That's genocidal racism!

PETER BOYER: The echoes of the O.J. trial were still in the air when Johnnie Cochran took up the case of that road rage incident. To Cochran, it was as clear as black and white: a black man killed by a white cop. He filed a $25 million lawsuit against the LAPD.

Det. FRANK LYGA: Johnnie Cochran was retained by the family, the ex-wife, and immediately- I mean, you immediately saw in the media the race card being flashed up. I mean, right off the bat. I was- I was labeled an out-of-control racist white cop with a history.

PETER BOYER: At police headquarters, the brass ordered Lyga off the street.

Det. FRANK LYGA: They don't want me anywhere near any suspects, any citizens, any arrestees, nothing. I am to sit in an office and sit there by myself. So the lieutenant goes, "For how long? What's going on?" "Till I tell him otherwise." He tells me three to five years. So I'm devastated.

PETER BOYER: But facts began to emerge about Kevin Gaines, that black officer who Lyga took to be a menacing gangster.

RUSS POOLE, Detective, LAPD: After the shooting, there was four or five other witnesses that had called LAPD to report that this same Officer Gaines had either badged or brandished his gun in similar road-rage type incidents.

PETER BOYER: The investigation took detectives into Gaines's off-duty life.

Det. RUSS POOLE: While we're at the scene, we received a clue that Gaines had a girlfriend that lived in Hollywood Hills. And when we got there, it turned out that his girlfriend was Sharitha Knight, who was the estranged wife of the owner of Death Row Records. And that's when I felt that we had something that is different from your ordinary investigation.

[clip from music video, Dr. Dre, "Fuck Wit Dre Day," Death Row Records]

PETER BOYER: Death Row Records. In their own videos, they celebrate guns and violence. From the perspective of your average LA cop, the gangsta rap scene was, on the face of it, a crime scene.

Det. RUSS POOLE: Just the mere fact that Gaines was associated with that company- to me, it was an organized crime group. Having experience and knowledge of Death Row and Blood gang members being involved in the drug trade, it warranted further investigation.

[www.pbs.org: More on Death Row Records]

PETER BOYER: Detectives discovered that Gaines was, as they say, "living large" for a guy on a policeman's salary. He had nine credit cards in his wallet and a bill for $952 at Monty's Steakhouse, a preferred Death Row hangout. Kevin Gaines was beginning to look like a bad apple.

BERNARD PARKS, Chief of Police, LAPD: I think it raises flags to us, and me personally, when we realized, in looking at his background, that he had some very interesting relationships with what we consider some of the criminal element in our city.

PETER BOYER: Then investigators discovered that Kevin Gaines wasn't the only officer with ties to Death Row. Off-duty cops could make good money working security for Death Row Records.

Chief BERNARD PARKS: Some of our officers, in working off-duty, begin- they were heavily involved in the whole hip-hop culture, providing security for many of the rappers that were involved with other kinds of crimes. These things began to reflect a completely different view of some of our personnel than we had before.

PETER BOYER: That view was about to get a lot cloudier. On November 6th, 1997, near downtown, two gunmen boldly entered this Bank of America. Security cameras took these photographs of the robbers with two bags containing $722,000. Detectives from the robbery/homicide division were called.

BRIAN TYNDALL, Detective, LAPD: A large amount of money had been taken from the bank by one suspect who entered the vault, who was armed. And there was a- what we refer to as a "layoff man" inside the bank, who had approached a security guard and told him not to get involved. That particular security guard followed the suspects outside and saw them enter a white van and drive away.

PETER BOYER: Detective Tyndall began to work a hunch.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: We started piecing together that the assistant manager had ordered approximately $722,000, which wasn't called for, wasn't needed at that time. It was- they had sufficient amount of money inside for the weekend.

PETER BOYER: The assistant manager was Erolyn Romero. It was she who had requested the delivery of the extra money.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: We also found it curious that the money that she had ordered was delivered approximately 10 minutes before the robbery actually occurred, so when the suspect came in, all he had to do was walk up and grab these two bags and walk right out with it.

PETER BOYER: Detective Tyndall employed one of his favorite tricks. To heighten Ms. Romero's anxiety, he'd stop by the bank and plant himself in a spot where he couldn't be missed as employees left work. Tyndall's tactic worked. Five weeks later, when he finally called Ms. Romero into headquarters for questioning, she was a bundle of nerves.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: And she thought we already knew who the suspect was. And she said, "You guys have been following me. You know who it is." So she thinks that we know something that we don't know. But we continue questioning her. And she wants to tell us who the suspect is, but she just has a very difficult time. When she tried to pronounce the name, to say it, she stuttered and she stammered, really had a difficult time.

At this point, we had shown her bank surveillance photographs of the suspect. She reached into her purse and withdrew a business card. She placed the business card down next to one of the surveillance photographs depicting the suspect. And she pointed to both. At which time, I picked it up, and it was a Los Angeles Police Department business card. I saw that it was a person by the name of David Mack, which, needless to say, shocked us. It literally- it took our breath away. I excused myself and took the business card and exited the interview room.

PETER BOYER: David Mack was arrested. He refused to cooperate with the police.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: We didn't know until later that he had made a trip to Las Vegas two days after the bank robbery.

PETER BOYER: [on-camera] How'd you find out about that?

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL:: We were talking to his wife, who had mentioned that he had said he had gone to Las Vegas. She said he had won a substantial amount of money in Las Vegas at that time. We were able to determine that two of the people he had gone to Las Vegas with were also Los Angeles police officers.

PETER BOYER: [on-camera] The other two checked out clean. David Mack was convicted, and in jail underwent a particular kind of transformation.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: He's in custody, Los Angeles County Jail. And we're getting reports back that he is attiring himself with red socks, red items that distinguish the association with the Blood gang. And we'd also received word from some- from jailers that he had said he is a Blood gang member.

PETER BOYER: Now a disturbing pattern had begun to present itself. Officer Kevin Gaines tied to Death Row, off-duty cops involved in the gangsta rap scene, David Mack renouncing the LAPD and coming out as a Blood gang member.

Det. RUSS POOLE: Through interviews of former police officers that worked in the Death Row organization, Mack and Gaines were identified as confidants of Suge Knight, the owner of Death Row Records. They were present during private Death Row parties. And that's where, first time that we were able to really make the connection between those two.

PETER BOYER: And when detectives had searched Mack's home, in the garage they'd found a black Chevy Impala SS. And something else.

Det. RUSS POOLE: He also had a shrine of Tupac Shakur, posters and memorabilia of Tupac Shakur all through the garage.

[clip from 2PAC music video, "Holla If Ya Hear Me," Death Row Records]

PETER BOYER: A dark Chevy and Tupac Shakur were, it turns out, part of another mystery. Tupac Shakur was Death Row's biggest star. In 1996 he'd been fatally shot in Las Vegas.

    1st REPORTER: Tupac Shakur was shot at least four times-

PETER BOYER: To many, his death appeared to be part of a rivalry between rap labels.

    2nd REPORTER: And the shots rang out-

PETER BOYER: Death Row records owned the West Coast. The East Coast belonged to Sean Puffy Combs.

Det. RUSS POOLE: There seemed to be a rivalry between Death Row Records and Bad Boy Entertainment, which is owned by Puffy Combs.

PETER BOYER: After Tupac was murdered, the word on the street was that revenge was inevitable. And six months later, one of Puffy's stars, Biggie Smalls, the Notorious B.I.G., was murdered in LA.

Det. RUSS POOLE: And a dark SS Chevy Impala drove by and fired shots into the passenger side of Biggie's vehicle. He was subsequently taken to Cedars Sinai Hospital and was pronounced dead there at the hospital.

PETER BOYER: And once again, the disturbing connection of a police officer to the gangsta rap underworld and possibly a murder.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: The investigation of the murder of the Biggie Smalls murder led us towards a very distinctive vehicle. It was a black Chevrolet SS with chrome wheels. And I believe there was a limited amount of those vehicles sold here in California. And when we searched David Mack's residence, a vehicle similar to that was found in his garage.

PETER BOYER: And then in March, 1998, three months after Mack was arrested for the bank robbery, something new occurred that would make police finally believe there was a real problem inside the force.

MIKE HOHAN, Detective, LAPD: And about 10:00 or 10:30 in the morning, Lieutenant Hernandez approached me and said that we had a call-out, that there appeared to be some narcotics missing from Property Division.

LOU SEGURA, Sergeant, LAPD: Our property evidence system was based on a system of trust. There had never been a problem before.

PETER BOYER: Six pounds of cocaine were missing. Within a week, detectives had a suspect.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: The property officer could remember the transaction where an officer had been rude to her. So with that, we began to focus on an officer who was- had Negro features but spoke Spanish. And so we began to look at officers assigned to Narcotics Division who would have had knowledge that that narcotics was there.

Det. LOU SEGURA: And actually, the lieutenant in Narcotics Division gave us a possible name of Rafael Perez, who fit that description.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: He spoke fluent Spanish, obviously with a Puerto Rican accent, and he had black features.

PETER BOYER: Rafael Perez - on the force he liked to be called "Ray" - was a former partner of David Mack's. He was that friend who earlier had checked out clean.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: They had been partners together in an undercover narcotics assignment. They had been involved in an officer-involved shooting in which Perez had claimed Mack had saved his life.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: And that's when the name of Ray Perez and David Mack was connected, that they were good friends. So now that set off alarm bells everywhere that, you know, "OK, what are these two guys up to?"

PETER BOYER: Investigators discovered that Ray Perez and David Mack were partners in the high life.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: And they were both very outgoing, charismatic-type people that likes the finer things in life, liked to party a lot. Very much, both were womanizers, had a very active social life.

PETER BOYER: They began to tail Perez.

Det. LOU SEGURA: Right away, it's obvious that the manner in which he's driving, he's using some type of countersurveillance-type of driving, making many turns to see if somebody is following him. And it becomes very obvious that he's driving and acting very suspiciously.

PETER BOYER: Once again, detectives found a pattern. Perez seemed to be living beyond his patrolman's salary.

Det. LOU SEGURA: Driving a new Ford Explorer, Eddie Bauer edition. His wife had a BMW. They had a house in Ladera Heights. They had a house in Encino Hills.

PETER BOYER: Detectives subpoenaed Perez's cell phone records. He had called a number in this apartment building right before the theft of the cocaine and right after. And the surveillance detectives had seen him here.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: He was seen to exit that apartment building on an occasion. And on another occasion, he was seen dropping off a young woman at that location.

PETER BOYER: The young woman's name was Veronica Quesada.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: She, instead of going into the apartment building, climbed into a car and drove away. The surveillance team got the license plate of that number. And that became extremely interesting to us because it came back to a Carlos Romero. Mr. Romero had two felony warrants for sales of cocaine outstanding. And so now we had a connection between Rafael Perez and a known drug dealer.

PETER BOYER: One day the cops knocked on Veronica Quesada's door. They found Veronica - her pictures, money, drug paraphernalia, and Veronica's brother, Carlos Romero. And in the course of the search, they found something else.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: In a drawer's a picture of Ray Perez in what we call a "211 suit." And 211 is the section of the California penal code which stands for robbery. And years ago, these running suits would be used by a number of people that would go in and do robberies, and hence the nickname "211 suit." So we see a picture of Rafael Perez in this 211 suit, making hand signs that depicted a specific Blood group of gangs on the West Coast.

PETER BOYER: [on-camera] It was- what color was the suit?

Det. MIKE HOHAN: Red. Red is the color associated with Bloods.

PETER BOYER: [voice-over] Then a new surprise and another puzzle. An additional pound of cocaine that had gone missing from the property room turned out to be part of a case that involved a familiar name.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: The officers that were involved in the case, one of whom was Detective Frank Lyga- Frank Lyga was the detective that was involved in the shooting of Officer Kevin Gaines.

Det. FRANK LYGA: His intent was to retaliate against killing his friend, Kevin Gaines, which is no secret now. Those guys were all associates. There's no question about that.

PETER BOYER: Just one month earlier, Frank Lyga had been cleared of any wrongdoing in that road rage shooting.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: There was supposition that Perez purposely took this narcotic to embarrass or have Lyga go through a criminal investigation himself and potentially end up in jail.

PETER BOYER: The LAPD was coming to believe it had a group of gangsta cops inside its ranks. The chief formed a task force to find out.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: We thought that inside the police department were a criminal gang in uniform.

Chief BERNARD PARKS: Perez is a good friend of David Mack's, who both were good friends of Gaines. And I think the picture reflected that we had some people on this department that were, in a coordinated effort, involved in some very serious criminal misconduct.

[www.pbs.org: Explore the trail of evidence]

PETER BOYER: Rafael Perez was arrested and brought to trial. But district attorney Gil Garcetti knew it wouldn't be easy to get a jury to convict him. When he'd been on their side, Rafael Perez had always been a convincing witness.

GIL GARCETTI, L.A. District Attorney: I talked to a couple of our prosecutors who had him as witnesses. They said, "Gil, he was the best witness I ever had." He was always friendly to everyone. He came across as relaxed. He was an awesome witness.

PETER BOYER: And sure enough, in his trial on the cocaine theft, Ray Perez beat the rap.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: He seemed very sure of himself. He made a lot of eye contact with the female jurors during the trial and also during the jury selection process itself. Interestingly, one female juror during the process of selection stood up when the judge asked if anybody had any problems continuing with this case. And she stood up and identified herself and said that she thought he was too good-looking to be involved in the jury. She couldn't find him guilty.

PETER BOYER: Four female jurors voted to acquit. Perez had a hung jury. But the cops weren't through with him yet.

[on-camera] Why did you keep going after him?

GIL GARCETTI: Because we honestly felt that Perez was involved in greater criminality, and he could be the one who would lead us to even bigger fish, so to speak.

PETER BOYER: Did you- did there come a time where you thought some of those bigger fish might be David Mack, and might be the other-

GIL GARCETTI: Yes.

PETER BOYER: Even into Death Row Records?

GIL GARCETTI: Yes.

PETER BOYER: [on-camera] Now the task force wanted to nail Perez to the wall. Investigators combed through the property room records. They found eleven more packages of suspicious drug evidence.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: We had the chemist at our Scientific Investigation Division open the packages and retest the narcotics.

    POLICE CHEMIST: If it's cocaine, it should turn blue. It doesn't, so this is screening negative for cocaine.

Det. MIKE HOHAN: They found Bisquick.

PETER BOYER: Now they had him nailed.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL, Deputy District Attorney: He knows he's facing more time, and he's had time to sit in custody for a year. He knows that the majority of the jury wanted to convict him the first time. And he also knows that I'm not stopping. And the judge is not releasing him on bond, and the judge seems to be inclined to believe that he's guilty of the charge. So he knows that his chances are less now than they were initially.

PETER BOYER: The DA hoped he could squeeze Perez enough that they could cut a deal that would bring all the pieces together - the road rage event, the bank robbery, the stolen dope, Death Row records, maybe even the murder of Biggie Smalls.

By September, 1999, as the jury was being selected, Perez's lawyer began to bargain.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: Mr. McKesson says, "Would you be willing to take a proffer with use immunity from Mr. Perez?" The feds call it "queen for a day." And what you do is, you take a statement from a defendant or a suspect, and you agree that you cannot use that statement against them in court or anything that you learn from that statement against them in court.

PETER BOYER: Rosenthal agreed. The moment was finally at hand.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: Courtroom is locked. And it's Mr. Perez, Mr. McKesson, myself, and the court reporter.

PETER BOYER: But the story Perez decided to tell was not at all what the investigators expected to hear. He told them nothing about Kevin Gaines or David Mack or Biggie Smalls. Instead, he turned them and their investigation towards a kind of misconduct he knew they could not ignore. It began with a shooting gone bad.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: And he tells me that there was a shooting incident that happened back in October of 1996, where he and his partner overreacted. They shot an unarmed man, and then they planted a gun on him.

PETER BOYER: Perez's partner at the time was Nino Durden. They had shot a 19-year- old gang member named Javier "Sniper" Ovando, framed him and testified against him in court. Now the prosecutors wanted to know every detail.

Perez was brought to this building. Here, inside the task force offices, his account of the Ovando shooting was recorded.

    [police audiotape]

    UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: -a series of interviews with Rafael Antonio Perez-

PETER BOYER: This is the first time it has been played publicly.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: And I turn around, and I see Durden and beyond him another person.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: He saw Durden pull out his gun.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: I'm feeding off of him. This was all split-second timing.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: Durden shot Ovando, so he shot Ovando. Ovando went down. They look. There's no gun.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: Durden disappeared out of my sight for a few minutes.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: Durden goes and gets a weapon that they'd previously seized, obtained from an informant, that Durden had previously taken off the serial number.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: Stands right by him, and boom. He lets it fall. And the gun is there.

PETER BOYER: Ovando, paralyzed by the shooting, was convicted by a jury that was convinced by the false testimony calmly delivered by Ray Perez. Ovando was sentenced to 23 years and had already served two and a half when Perez, cornered and seeing a chance for immunity, finally confessed to the frame-up. Within a week, Judge Larry Fidler signed a writ of habeus corpus releasing Ovando.

LARRY FIDLER, Supervising Superior Court Judge: Well it's- it's horrifying. I mean, the purpose of the criminal justice system is to see that justice is done, to see that the law is followed equally to all people, but especially when you're a criminal judge, is to make sure that you don't put any innocent people in prison.

PETER BOYER: Perez's stories about bogus arrests kept Judge Larry Fidler busy, overturning nearly 100 criminal cases.

Judge LARRY FIDLER: You had somebody who now is saying, "I did all these things wrong. I lied. I planted evidence. I did this. I did that." The prosecution then said, "We've lost confidence in the conviction," not necessarily that they're innocent.

PETER BOYER: Perez's secret revelations had been leaked to the Los Angeles Times.

    1st REPORTER: -and efforts to crack down on corruption are far from over-

    2nd REPORTER: -creating a firestorm of controversy-

    3rd REPORTER: -sweeping changes for the department-

PETER BOYER: The furies in this city were released.

    4th REPORTER: -becoming a key player in LA's biggest police scandal-

GREGORY MORENO, Plaintiff's Attorney: [press conference] He speaks a little English, a little Spanish, and a little French.

PETER BOYER: Police critics, community activists and plaintiffs' lawyers saw their chance.

GREGORY MORENO: When this came out, it was the opportunity that many of us had waited for, and we were blessed to be able to be at the forefront, you know, with Javier's case.

Judge LARRY FIDLER: What this problem did was, it allowed everyone who didn't like the system to say, "Aha! I told you so, and I've been telling you so for years. And now I have proof. It's not my allegation. It's not my word, I have proof. And therefore, everything I've been saying is true."

PETER BOYER: The city decided to award Javier Ovando its biggest police misconduct settlement ever.

GREGORY MORENO: It reflects the substantial injustice that happened to not only Javier, but to our community. It had to be an amount that I think that would bring attention to everyone and compensate Javier reasonably. And there was a record settlement reached by Mr. Hahn- the city attorney, Mr. James Hahn, and myself, for $15 million.

PETER BOYER: [on-camera] Fifteen million?

GREGORY MORENO: Fifteen million.

PETER BOYER: How many are there now that you represent in the Rampart-

GREGORY YATES, Plaintiff's Attorney: Sixty.

PETER BOYER: Sixty? And you've had one huge settlement already, right? How many people?

GREGORY YATES: I settled 29.

PETER BOYER: What amount?

GREGORY YATES: The gross amount was $10.95 million.

PETER BOYER: [voice-over] Some in the city were dismayed to see so many gang members put back on the streets with rich settlements.

Judge LARRY FIDLER: Most of these people are not nice people. They're stone-cold criminals. They're gang members who have killed people, who have committed violent crimes, who you would expect, given any experience in the criminal justice system, will violate the laws once again and end up back in prison again.

PETER BOYER: When Ray Perez spoke of taking on the gang-bangers in an area called Rampart, he was describing about the most densely packed and dangerous piece of Los Angeles. Perez told how he and his partner, Nino Durden, FRAMED gang members and shook them down for drugs and money.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: We take the money, we take the drugs, we leave them in the house.

PETER BOYER: There are sections of Rampart nobody would want to live in. But for an ambitious street cop, it was the precinct of choice. Brian Liddy now worked here.

BRIAN LIDDY, Patrolman, LAPD: The Rampart Division had, you know, in the ballpark of 150 murders a year inside the division, a lot of violence, a lot of narcotics activity, gang activity. Rampart was a supermarket, an open-air supermarket for drugs. Practically every corner.

PETER BOYER: Rampart was ruled by gangs. one of the ways the police responded was to deploy an elite anti-gang unit called CRASH. The CRASH team attracted a certain kind of cop, one determined to seize back the street, defeating gangstas by being a little bit tougher and a little bit smarter.

BRIAN LIDDY, Patrolman, LAPD: You drive down the street, and these guys are just standing out with a bag of dope in their hand, waving at cars. You're sitting at traffic lights, and guys walk across the street in front of you with a rifle in their hands. These people are dumb as a pile of rocks.

PETER BOYER: Brian Liddy was the kind of cop TV shows were made about.

    BRIAN LIDDY: ["LAPD: Life on the Beat," MGM/UA video] Oh, look at this knucklehead! He doesn't even see us. Get your hands up!

As far as common sense goes, when they go out on the street, they're stoned. They're under the influence of God knows what. Every day, you get a surprise as to how stupid these guys are. You know, they go driving down the boulevard at 3:00 o'clock in the morning in a stolen 7-series BMW, and they can't understand how they got caught- with the window smashed out of it.

PETER BOYER: But in his unfolding confession, Ray Perez turned from his own crimes and drew out a story of being ensnared by a sinister police conspiracy embedded in its very culture.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: The Rampart CRASH unit motto was "We intimidate those who intimidate others." That was our- our motto. Bottom line. And that's what they bragged about.

PETER BOYER: Perez said CRASH cops had their own code and their own logo, a skull with what is known as the "dead man's hand," aces and eights, even special plaques for shooting suspects.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: We give plaques out when you get involved in shootings. If the guy dies, the card is a black number two, and if he stays alive, its a red number two.

UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: Is it more prestigious to get one that's black than red?

    RAFAEL PEREZ: I'm assuming so. I mean, yeah. I mean, you know, the black one signifies that the guy died. The red one means that it was a hit, but not fatal.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: And his allegation was that there was a culture within CRASH which involved basically using excessive force against gang members, perjuring themselves against gang members, and covering up their own misconduct.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: There's a thing called "being in the loop," "being involved." I would say that 90 percent of the officers that work CRASH, and not just Rampart CRASH, falsify a lot of information. They put cases on people. And I know that's not a good thing to hear, but there's a lot of crooked stuff going in with LAPD, especially LAPD specialized units.

PETER BOYER: Prosecutors wanted to know everything. Perez was happy to oblige, but he needed a little help. He asked to see the arrest books from his unit. The prosecutors turned them over.

RICHARD ROSENTHAL: He'd go through report by report, and he'd put one in a stack that we need to discuss on the record, and the other in a stack that he was either unaware of any misconduct or the case was fine.

PETER BOYER: It was a role that Perez seemed to take to.

Det. BRIAN TYNDALL: He was eating this up. He knew that he was the star. And he was going to take advantage of it to the utmost.

PETER BOYER: Sometimes his stories would change. There was the time he was asked about one particular cop at Rampart CRASH.

    UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: Officer Brian Liddy?

    RAFAEL PEREZ: Liddy also knew that things were going on. And Liddy also- I categorize him as a very good officer. A lot of good, obs arrests. "Obs" meaning observations arrests.

PETER BOYER: But a couple of months later, Perez remembered that Brian Liddy was really just another corrupt cop.

    RAFAEL PEREZ: -because I had direct knowledge regarding some of the things that were written on that report, things that were fabricated in order to effect an arrest.

PETER BOYER: The arrest took place in this alley. Liddy and the other officers were looking for a murder suspect when two gang members, one of them carrying a gun, sped past them in their truck, trying to flee. Liddy and another officer said they'd been struck by the pick-up. And when the gang members were arrested, the cops charged them with "ADW," assault with a deadly weapon, the pick-up truck. But according to Perez, the charges had been fabricated

    RAFAEL PEREZ: Well, none of that actually occurred. That was- that's what we decided to come up with after they were all taken into custody, in order to arrest them. That's- that's what we came up with.

[www.pbs.org: More from the Perez audiotapes]

PETER BOYER: Before he was done, Perez would directly implicate Liddy in five other cases, from lying about the circumstances of a gun arrest to fabricating evidence in a misdemeanor spray-painting incident. Liddy soon got a call from his commanding officer.

BRIAN LIDDY, Patrolman, LAPD: And he says, "I need you to come to Pacific. Bring your badge, your gun, your I.D. card." And I said, "Sir, I can't come to Pacific. I'm going to the delivery room with my wife. I'll- as soon as I have the baby, I'll call you." And he was like, "No, we have to do this." And I said, "Well," you know, "come to the hospital," never believing in a million years that they would come to the delivery room while my kid was being born. And lo and behold, waiting for me at the hospital. And took my badge, my I.D. card and my gun from me in the delivery room.

PETER BOYER: Among the LAPD'S rank and file, emotions ran high. Perez had implicated 70 officers in misconduct, everything from bad shootings to drinking beer on the job. But how much of it was actually true? Much of the press and some of the public were convinced, and pressure built on the politicians for convictions.

    1st REPORTER: -think that much of what Perez has said about police corruption in L.A. is true-

    2nd REPORTER: Two sergeants and a patrol officer are being charged with framing a gang member-

    3rd REPORTER: At least 70 Los Angeles police officers are under investigation.

GIL GARCETTI: Well, one simply has to look at the LA Times. They set the media agenda for the electronic media every morning. And they go with it.

    UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN: These are the issues that define the future of the LAPD and secure the safety of our city-

GIL GARCETTI: They had big stories constantly. There was that drumbeat. And of course, the pressure was there on all of us. "Let's move right now." The pressure was on the chief. "Get this behind you. Let's get rid of those bad officers, and let's clean up this department." The pressure was on me from the chief and the mayor and others. "Come on, Gil. Let's go. Let's go."

PETER BOYER: The mayor was leaving. The chief pushed the DA relentlessly for prosecutions. The DA himself was facing reelection.

GIL GARCETTI: That pressure continued. And of course, I was facing an election. My position is all we have is Rafael Perez pointing the finger at you. That's all I have- a convicted perjurer, liar, thief. We go into court, it'll never even get to a jury. The judge will have to dismiss the case. And I'm hearing people- "It doesn't make any difference. Just bring the case."

PETER BOYER: Finally, the district attorney acted.

    REPORTER: One by one, the officers faced a judge at their arraignment.

PETER BOYER: It had taken months of investigation, And now it came down to that alley incident involving Brian Liddy, two cops who were also there, and a pick-up Truck.

    REPORTER: -charged with filing a false police report and-

PETER BOYER: In fact, around the courtroom almost no one seemed to believe the cops would be convicted. For one thing, the chief architect of the scandal, Ray Perez, now could not testify, His lawyer having signaled he'd have to take the 5th Amendment. Perez had also failed every question asked in five polygraph exams conducted by the LAPD.

And damaging statements from jailhouse snitches were beginning to surface. This one claimed Perez often bragged that he could put charges on anyone he wanted. And here it says he didn't like Brian Liddy.

Judge LARRY FIDLER: He has allegedly made comments - while a prisoner - that he can take care of any police officer he wants to if he doesn't like them. You'd have to ask, is Perez lying? Basically, Perez's credibility is now turning out to be a very large question.

    1st REPORTER: One by one, the guilty verdicts rang out in the court room-

    2nd REPORTER: All three found guilty of conspiring to-

PETER BOYER: But when the jury spoke, it found Liddy and the others guilty of exaggerating the harm caused by that pick-up truck. A month later, the judge would throw out the conviction.

REPORTER: Judge Connor cited juror errors and insufficient-

PETER BOYER: But Brian Liddy still faces six internal police hearings on Perez's allegations. And despite all the questions about Perez's credibility, investigations of police misconduct in Rampart continues. Of the 70 officers implicated by Perez, five have been terminated, seven more have resigned.

[www.pbs.org: Read "The New Yorker" companion piece]

Chief BERNARD PARKS: When it's all resolved, we'll have one-tenth of 1 percent of our officers involved in this issue. And the serious nature of it is that Rafael Perez, Nino Durden, almost exclusively, were involved in almost all of the false arrests. Also, Rafael Perez and Nino Durden were almost exclusively involved in the theft of the narcotics and the eventual resale of the narcotics.

    UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: Suspended Los Angeles police officer Nino Durden pleaded guilty earlier today to six felony charges.

PETER BOYER: As for Perez's partner, Nino Durden has now cut his own deal with federal prosecutors and has his own story to tell. It is a story, sources say, that the feds will use primarily to prosecute Ray Perez.

Judge LARRY FIDLER: It is not what people I believe thought would happen. Clearly, this was going to mushroom out somewhere. There were going to be a lot of cases. And it hasn't worked out that way, and now his credibility is in question. So if you factor in all those things, it's not necessarily surprising that that's where we are today. It was not what would have been expected again when the case broke.

PETER BOYER: And what about those gangsta cops the police and prosecutors hoped that Rafael Perez would tell them about?

[on-camera] You get him to confess, to plead, and flip him. He is now going to tell you a lot of things.

GIL GARCETTI: Right.

PETER BOYER: Does he tell you about David Mack?

GIL GARCETTI: No.

PETER BOYER: Did he tell you anything about Biggie Small's murder or any of that stuff?

GIL GARCETTI: No.

PETER BOYER: Does he tell you anything at all about any of the other fellows that might be involved in the bank robberies or any of that?

GIL GARCETTI: Nothing.

PETER BOYER: Stays away from that?

GIL GARCETTI: Stays away from it. He seems to be, by other people's accounts, not mine - because I've never met the man - have a very strong relationship- I don't know if that's fear or an affection, towards Mr. Mack.

PETER BOYER: So it must occur to you that he has- he knows something and-

GIL GARCETTI: Oh, I'm absolutely convinced he knows something. He has never told us.

PETER BOYER: We may never know the real dimensions of the Rampart scandal or what parts of Rafael Perez's Testimony were true. We do know this. It has allowed a federal court to step in and oversee reforms, many that had been called for since the Rodney King incident. Morale on the force is low. Cops are leaving. In the streets of the Rampart district, CRASH has been disbanded. Crime is up. In the year that Ray Perez's revelations broke, there were 136 gang-related murders in LA. Last year there were 331, an increase of 143 percent.

Frank Lyga

Exonerated in the shooting of Officer Gaines. City of LA settled the $25 million lawsuit filed by Johnnie Cochran for $250,000.

Chief Bernard Parks

Reappointment in 2001 is uncertain.

DA Gil Garcetti

Lost bid for reelection. Now in private practice.

David Mack

Serving 14 years in federal prison. The stolen $722,000 is still missing.

Javier Ovando

Recently arrested in Nevada. Charged with possession, transporting, and trafficking drugs.

Brian Liddy

On unpaid leave. Faces LAPD administrative charges. Currently a security guard.

Rafael Perez

Due to be released in June, 2001. Federal indictment may be forthcoming.

 

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copyright 2001

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ANNOUNCER: Explore more on this story at FRONTLINE's Web site. Get a closer look at the scandal with the audience of Ray Perez's confession and a report on Death Row Records. Read The New Yorker companion piece on this story by FRONTLINE correspondent and New Yorker writer Peter J. Boyer. Find out more about this story's aftermath, plus interviews and background stories on the LAPD. Then join the discussion. See what others thought about the program and add your own comments at pbs.org, or write us an email at frontline@pbs.org, or write to this address [DEAR FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134].

Next time on FRONTLINE: They're young. They're affluent. And they have secret lives.

    CYNTHIA NOEL, R.N., Rockdale County Public Health Dept.: You don't expect to see a 14-year-old with 40, 50 or 100 sex partners.

    NICOLE: It was everybody just having sex with everybody.

    CYNTHIA NOEL: We saw syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes-

    CYNTHIA NOEL: They wanted to be part of this group so desperately.

    D.J.: Everybody knew it, but the parents never knew.

ANNOUNCER: Has America lost its children? Watch FRONTLINE. The Lost Children of Rockdale County.

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