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detective mike hohan

On the final day of a special assignment to the Internal Affairs Division, Hohan was tasked with investigating the disappearance of six pounds of cocaine evidence from the L.A.P.D. property room. Hohan and his partner, Sgt. Lou Segura, quickly developed a trail leading to Officer Raphael Perez as the primary suspect. As their case unfolded, Hohan and Segura became principal investigators in the Rampart Corruption Task Force. FRONTLINE interviewed Hohan on January 23, 2001.
Perez's Allegations

Ray Perez struck a deal, an immunity deal, a plea bargain. What were you expecting him to say? What were you hoping for?

I don't think we were hoping, but I think we were expecting, something far different than what we got. We expected him to talk to us about the bank robbery, if he had any knowledge of that, about thefts of narcotics, narcotics dealing, and that type of criminal activity by police officers.

What we got instead was the shooting of Mr. Ovando, and a number of other officer-involved shootings that may or may not be in policy or proper. . . . Perez said that they hadn't gone properly. We did not get a larger significant number of officers involved in any large-scale corruption per se, stealing of narcotics, taking narcotics payoffs, or anything like that. We didn't get any of that.

Then we had a number of officers that he gave us that were involved in, for I think better terms, stretching the circumstances of arrests. And the last grouping of officers we got from him were officers that were involved in administrative violations, breaking the rules--having a drink on duty, going home early, falsifying their work logs or things like that.

At what point are you able to, if you will, give a measure, a value, to the nature of the information you're getting? In other words, at what point are you able to realize we're not quite getting what we thought we might be getting from this guy?

I think after probably the second or third interview of him, when several things happened. They were highly structured interviews, a little bit different than we're used to doing in dealing with a person who agrees to cooperate with us. The interviews were very structured, and we, at times, weren't allowed to go into areas and explore more that we wanted to go to. So, probably after the second or third interview, we began to make an assessment that we had a serious problem. But we did not have the problem that we originally assumed would be the problem, which was a widespread narcotics corruption type of problem.

. . . On some level, wasn't it better to be finding about this--about wrongdoing of this nature--rather than widespread corruption of a sort that David Mack had been convicted of and Rafael Perez had been convicted of?

Yes, it's kind of bittersweet, I think. You're finding out that the problem, the initial corruption problem, is not as serious as you had [thought]. You had this corruption by this small group of officers. In essence, I don't even think it's corruption, in the sense that they're not taking payoffs or looking the other way. They are stealing narcotics and they're dealing narcotics and they're robbing banks, but these are small activities.

When they found a gang member that they wanted to go to prison or wanted to go to jail, they would plant one of these guns on him.The other group, the secondary group, were the guys who are basically stretching the probable cause to make arrests, putting the cases over the top type of thing. Stretching the truth. And, yes, that is a serious problem for us, because that's not tolerated on the Los Angeles Police Department. But I don't think we found very much in the sense of a community in outrage.

If you look at what these guys were dealing with, we didn't have the Vienna Choirboys over here. These were some of the most violent, predatory people in the city of Los Angeles. The community in general really didn't care how they got rid of them. If they stretched the truth on an arrest to get rid of them, to get them out of the community, people were happy, because crime was going down, people could walk the streets again. So you didn't find a lot of community outrage about all this.

Isn't it the case that you might, in fact, reasonably expect to find a certain amount of what you refer to as "stretching it" in a unit that is literally at war with street gangs?

Yes, I think that somewhere along the line, they became misdirected. They lost their sense of focus. When I came on the department 26 years ago, my training officer would always tell me, "If you don't get him today, you'll get him tomorrow or next week. Don't worry about it." I think that here, these guys in this unit began to focus on, "We need to do it here and now." And so they stepped over the line to do it.

But in a sense, what Rafael Perez was revealing to you, what he was choosing to reveal to you, was this: that the worst of it, in terms of corruption in the most generally understood sense, was that which had been committed by David Mack and by Rafael Perez himself.

Yes.

As he began to talk, was he in any way useful as regards the bank robbery?

No.

Was he to any degree useful as regards to his own cocaine-selling operation?

Yes, he was.

How?

He was able to verify, number one, the six switches that we said fit the pattern but had already been destroyed. He admitted to those. He admitted that he had done the switches, and they were done in the same manner. He also told us how it evolved. In the beginning, he was very, very careful in doing the switches. He would literally weigh out the Bisquick to try to get the same amount and weight of narcotics. He would make sure that the packages were returned, so that the courier would take them back to Property Division.

In the end, he was guesstimating. He just took a handful of Bisquick, threw it in a plastic baggy, put it back in the envelope and resealed it. At the very end, he didn't even return the couriered envelopes. He just stole the narcotics and didn't return it. And of course, then he moved up to walking into Property Division and walking out with six pounds of cocaine.

Detective, how did he explain to you all how he came to be a bad cop, his descent into crime?

His story was that it started when he went to Rampart CRASH, and that it started with the falsification of police reports, stretching the truth on an arrest. It gave him a feeling of power. "I can get away with anything. I can do anything. I can say anything." And that, coupled with a love of gambling, of risk-taking, sort of meshed together to create Rafael Perez....

What did Perez say about the first time he went bad inside CRASH?

I believe the first time that he went bad inside CRASH is when he was partnered up with Nino Durden. It involved a narcotics arrest. They arrested the dealer. There was a substantial amount of money, according to Perez, if my memory serves me correctly. Durden looked at him and said, "Are we going to book all this money?" And Perez said, "Well, yes." Then there was some sort of discussion, and they decided only to book a portion of it and to steal a portion of it. They subsequently kept a portion of the narcotics and the dealer's pager. Their plan was to do a reverse sting on buyers. Then they went out to do the reverse sting and said, "The heck with it, why don't we make some money?" And they sold the narcotics. That's basically how they went into the narcotics business.

So his story is that he was basically a good cop, a Boy Scout cop, until he arrives at Rampart CRASH and, under the influence of his partner, Durden, he suddenly turns.

Yes.

Do you believe that?

Not totally. But what I do believe is there's nothing significant in the career of Rafael Perez as a police officer from the time he came on the department until the time he went to Rampart CRASH that shows any propensity towards criminal activity. Definitely, after he's in CRASH, we see a change in his pattern of conduct, in the things that he did.

What did he say about how widespread this putting cases on people was within CRASH?

He said it went throughout the city; that based on his comments, I believe it was something like 95 percent of all the specialized CRASH units or specialized units in the city did this type of activity.

Has that borne out, by the way?

No.

What has borne out?

What has borne out is that there are a number of irregularities in cases that developed out of Rampart CRASH. Some of them may rise to the level of criminal conduct. Others arise to the level of administrative misconduct. And others appear to be completely correct.

Is it 20 percent, 30 percent, 60 percent?

I couldn't say precisely. What I can say is that we reviewed approximately 2500 arrest reports. And I believe that, out of those, we found approximately 100 that were questionable.

How did you choose the arrests that you reviewed?

The Narcotics unit and the CRASH unit there keep an arrest book. In it, they log every person that they arrest, the report number to charge that they arrest the person for. We went back and we pulled all of those arrests and reviewed them.

Every one, whether they related to Perez or not?

Correct.

And then you went through the process of investigating in some cases when it involved what he told you. You had to corroborate what he had told you.

Yes, sir.

And of those cases in which you found wrongdoing of some degree or another--ranging from absolute certainty to suspicion resulting in a range of results from disciplinary action to dismissal--of those cases, how many involved Ray Perez? The majority of them?

I would say a large portion of them, yes, were Ray Perez's cases.

So even in that context, what you find is that Ray Perez was sort of at the center of the wrongdoing.

Yes.

What did he say? What was his comment? I never quite got what he meant by being "in the loop." He begins to describe to you all, "Well, there were some cops who were actually out there involved, and then there were others who were in the loop." What does he mean by that?

. . . You might say it's the classic tale of corruption, in the sense that an officer that was in the loop was somebody that knew about the activity that was going on, had participated in some level of the activity, and, because of that, they had him. They had something on him, so the officer couldn't tell anybody about what happened. So you had this. And within this group of people in the loop, you had some people that were proactive. They went out and they did these things. And you had other people that acquiesced. They knew what happened, but because they were either there or witnessed it, they couldn't do anything about it.

How wide was this loop as Perez described it?

When he described it, he named quite a few CRASH officers and former CRASH officers that he alleged were in the loop.

And what did you find?

We found that officers were involved in misconduct, but again, not to the level I think that Rafael Perez has indicated.

What is "take it to the box?"

"Take it to the box" refers to the witness stand [the box]. And Ray Perez explained to us in the interviews we did with him was it meant that, when an officer was charged with misconduct or criminal activity or whatever, he would go into court, commit perjury, and lie for that officer. If there was an administrative hearing, which we call a board of rights, you would go into that, lie under oath for the officer, and perjure yourself.

What did you find about that?

We really didn't find that that had happened very often.

How about Ray Perez himself?

Yes.

Tell me what Perez told you about the CRASH unit's sort of ethos. He talked about a motto at one point that the CRASH unit had.

Something like, "We intimidate those who intimidate," or something to that effect. I believe that had to deal with that they created such fear in the gang members, because no matter what had to be done, again, stretching whatever had to be stretched, you would go to jail if you were a gang member. He told us that officers in the CRASH unit carried what we call our drop guns, which are guns that they recover on the street, but they don't recover them from anybody. The policy would be to book them as evidence. And what these CRASH officers would do, including Perez, is keep them. When they found a gang member that they wanted to go to prison or wanted to go to jail, they would plant one of these guns on him. They would do a similar thing with rock cocaine.

Did he tell him about what he and other officers did when they would find dope on the street?

Yes. They would hold back some of the narcotics. They would use it to give to informants. They would use it to plant on people that they couldn't get a case on any other way.

So as he was describing it, this was a police gang.

Yes.

Within this sort of secret club within the CRASH unit, there was actually a kind of system of reward and recognition, wasn't there?

Yes. They would give plaques. And they had tattoos and patches that they wore on jackets, sort of like bomber jackets that they had. And the tattoo and the patch had a cowboy hat with a skull, and then aces and eights on it. The aces and eights, of course, stood for the dead man's hand that Wild Bill Hickock had. When an officer was involved in a shooting and the officer had a hit, he would get a plaque that had the aces and eights in it, a patch, and some other memorabilia. And allegedly, they would put a couple of shell casings for the number of times that the officer hit the person he was shooting at. There were two types of plaques. One was for a fatal shooting, and one was for when they wounded somebody.

So that was the culture that Perez described to you all. What did you find? Were you able to verify that? How widespread was it?

It did exist within the unit. It had existed for a period of time. Not every officer was involved in that. Officers came into the unit, saw that mentality, and left the unit. But it definitely did exist.

Where would you place Perez within this subculture, if you will, we'll call it the bad subculture? Was he toward the leadership, on that end of the ladder? Or was he a hanger-on or what?

I think that Rafael Perez was a duck to water. Whatever personal character flaws he had came out when he came into this CRASH unit. And he excelled at the activity, and, yes, he became a leader. He was definitely an alpha personality. He was a leader in this thing.

Let me ask you about, again, about an area of the subculture. Did they have their own places that they would congregate? They kept to themselves, as you described to us earlier. They liked to really only respond to their own, even in terms of the hierarchy of authority. Did they have coffee shops or bars where they would hang out?

Yes, sir.The Short Stop Bar on Sunset Boulevard, which is a long-time police bar. It's no longer open, but at the time, it was. And because it was in Rampart Division, it was a very big hangout for Rampart officers. But even inside of there, these guys were very cliquish. They all stuck together.

Over this course of time that Perez is talking, how many cases were actually mentioned? How many cases were reviewed?

We reviewed all of the arrests from June 1995 until the time that Rafael Perez was taken into custody of August 1998: approximately 1,503 arrests.

So, 1,503 arrests. Were that many arrests brought before Rafael Perez?

Yes, sir.

And he sat there and reflected on them and made comment on them?

Yes.

And did he remember as it turned out specifically, specific information about each arrest? Some of them? Most of them?

He had a very good memory about most of them. As he read through the ones that he participated in, he had an excellent memory of the events.

And this isn't a fellow whose word you're taking on its face because he's a police officer?

No.

So you do what? You go corroborate?

Yes, sir.

And as you go through that process, what are you finding about Perez's veracity?

I believe Perez's veracity is the same as any other informant's. You have to look at him like that. A portion of it's going to be the truth, a portion of it is just going to be faulty memory. He's going to make mistakes, just because of the lapse of time and the sheer volume of cases he's looking at. He may hold back some information for a rainy day. And there may be something that, for personal reasons, he's not going to be completely truthful.

[Do you think that] Rafael Perez knows something about the Mack bank robbery that he's not telling you?

I believe he does, yes.

It might that be one of the things he's saving for a rainy day?

Yes.

Of the 1,503 cases, you all pursue them. How many proved out to be bad arrests?

Ninety-one.

Ninety-one.

Yes, sir.

So, 1,400, and whatever that is, pardon my arithmetic, turned out what? To be completely square, or just slightly bad, or what?

No--honest, good arrests. They actually happened. There were independent witnesses that could corroborate the officers' actions, and they did their job properly.

OK. Yet the picture that Rafael Perez is presenting to you, and which sort of filtered out into the larger community, is that this thing was just widespread, that 90 percent of cops were doing this sort of thing. Wouldn't you expect to see more than 90-some cases out of the 1,503, if that were the case?

If it was as widespread and as pervasive as he said it was, you would expect to see a lot more. But we just have not. . . .

You were a police officer of long standing who found himself in this situation--brought in temporarily to assignment at Internal Affairs where you're going to be looking at potential wrongdoing of other officers; and then this task force, where that was specifically your commission. As you sat there across from and listening to Rafael Perez, this cop, this brother officer who is telling you these things, what's your response? What's that like for a police officer?

It made me sick. It was the ultimate betrayal. When I sat there and listened to Rafael Perez . . . it was a betrayal of his oath, a betrayal of his duty to the people of this city, a betrayal of his wife and his family to have affairs. He was the ultimate traitor, in a sense. He betrayed everything that I believe in and feel that's sacred.

And you can't show it when you're interviewing him, because the point is you have to listen to him and try to evaluate what he's saying. But inside, my stomach would churn. I'd go out, I'd go home in the evening and . . . it's very depressing. It's not something you want to hear. It's very, very unsettling.

Do you feel that you all have finished your task?

No, I think we still have work to do. There are ongoing investigations, and we have to see where those investigations take us. Will there be more? I can't honestly tell you. I think the department is a very clean department. I think that this whole thing was essentially blown way out of proportion, and that we deal in facts. You can hear a lot of theory and a lot of supposition, but we have to deal with the facts and present those facts to a prosecutor, and see if they amount to criminal activity. And based on what I know to be the criminal facts of this case, I don't think it is as severe as has been reported.

Perez has been in jail now for a while, in fact, he may be getting close to getting out. There have been those who say that some of the people who knew him, talked to him, and heard him in jail say that he would take to bragging about his role in all of this, about what sort of a kingpin he has been, that he's directed the investigation and how, more significantly, he can cause anybody to get investigated or arrested at his choosing. What do you make of that?

Well, I think that if you're anybody in my line of work where you have dealt with jailhouse informants and prisoners and people that are in the jail system, for want of a better term, I think it's jailhouse braggadocio. He's trying to put himself in the pecking order, or trying to establish for himself a position in the hierarchy of the pecking order of the jail system. He is no longer a police officer. He's an inmate. He has to survive in that system. . . . That has a lot to do with what Rafael Perez is doing here. . . .

When you look back now and think about Rafael Perez and your experience with him and this investigation--when you're reflective about Rafael Perez, the man--how do you characterize him? What adjectives come to mind?

Well, I think I would think of him as a chameleon. He can be whatever he wanted to be for the specific group he's with. He can be charming. He can be very hard-nosed. When he's on the street working as or was working as an undercover police officer, he fit right into the culture that he was dealing with then. As an inmate, as a prisoner inside the jail system, he's assimilated into that. He's just a chameleon. He's whatever he needs to be in whatever position in life he's in at that time.

Looking back, do you think that the department is better off or worse off for Rafael Perez and what he has done?

It's better off. And I think that because there was a problem at Rampart CRASH--not as extensive or pervasive as people want you to believe it is--but there was a problem. He brought that to the attention of the police department, and that problem has been corrected.


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