"L.A.P.D. Blues" explores what is reportedly the worst corruption scandal in
the history of the Los Angeles Police Department. With unprecedented access to
police documents, photographs, audiotapes, and startling footage of murders and
mayhem, FRONTLINE correspondent and New Yorker writer Peter J. Boyer
examines the trail of evidence that in 1999 brought the corruption
scandal to light and rocked the once great L.A.P.D.
"In the wake of Rodney King, the O.J. Simpson acquittal, and widespread
charges of racism, allegations have surfaced about a gang of rogue L.A.P.D.
cops who robbed banks, dealt drugs, and ran with rappers," says Boyer, who has
written a companion article on this story in The New
Yorker. "And as if that wasn't bad enough, one of those cops has even made
allegations that some members of his elite anti-gang unit participated in
dozens of false arrests and systematic corruption."
But while this report reveals a police force disgraced and demoralized by
scandal, FRONTLINE's investigation also questions the scale of the corruption.
The program draws on interviews with numerous police department
officers--many speaking for the first time--including Detective Frank Lyga,
involved in a road-rage incident that ended in the death of a fellow black
police officer. The case immediately became a racial incident, pitting the
department's black officers against the white ones, and ultimately led to
investigations and allegations that are at the heart of the scandal.
Detectives assigned to the Lyga case discovered that the slain officer, Kevin
Gaines, was living with the estranged wife of Suge Knight, president of the
notorious rap music company Death Row Records.
Investigators soon heard allegations that other L.A.P.D. officers were part of
Death Row's "gangsta rap" scene; some may have been working there
part-time. And one officer linked to Death Row, David Mack--later convicted
of bank robbery--was at one time a suspect in the murder of rapper Christopher
Wallace, known as "Biggie Smalls."
The death of one officer. The arrest of another. It caused some within the
L.A.P.D. to wonder whether the force had a group of rogue cops.
Then came the arrest of officer Rafael Perez for the theft of nearly
eight pounds of cocaine from a police evidence room. Perez, it turned out,
was a good friend and former partner of the bank robber, officer David Mack.
Facing a lengthy prison term on the cocaine theft charge, Perez cut a deal
and started talking. He admitted to far worse than simple drug dealing
or the existence of a gang of rogue cops. Perez claimed he and some of his
mostly-white fellow officers in the elite anti-gang unit known as CRASH
ran roughshod over the tough, gang-filled area they monitored, the Rampart
district. Perez's allegations, which came to be called the "Rampart
scandal" implicated about 70 of his fellow officers in bogus arrests,
falsified evidence and the imprisonment of dozens of innocent men.
The Rampart Scandal caused a firestorm in Los Angeles. Nearly one hundred
criminal convictions were overturned and millions in cash settlements were
offered by the city. Within the L.A.P.D., the once-elite CRASH unit was
disbanded, five police officers were fired, seven more resigned, and more are
still under investigation. And the streets of Rampart today are more
dangerous than ever.
But Rafael Perez, the officer at the center of the scandal, has failed five
lie detector tests about his allegations, making it more difficult for L.A.'s
district attorney's office to file criminal cases against the officers he
accused. And the large questions concerning Perez's credibility have
now caused some in Los Angeles to wonder whether the true scope of the Rampart
Scandal will ever be known.
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