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ruben rojas

A leader in the Temple Street Gang, Rojas was arrested by Perez and other CRASH cops in March, 1997 for possession of cocaine. Rojas, who had previously served prison time for robbery, was returned to prison on the drug charge. Later, Perez confessed that the cocaine charge had been fabricated and Rojas was released from prison. He has settled his civil suit against the city for $1 million. FRONTLINE interviewed Rojas on February 6, 2001.
. . . How did you get involved in gang activity?

. . .Well, wanting to be part a group, I guess. You meet friends and they're from a gang. You don't know that, and you meet them and they become your friends. And next thing, you're hanging around with them and you feel that you're part of it. Next thing, you're one of them. . . .

What does joining the gang involve?

Having a good time. Maybe a lot of people have misconceptions on gangs, but my friends, all we'd ever do was just have a good time. Party and stay to ourselves. And that was it. Of course, we did other things which was stupid, but it wasn't about hurting people. It was more about just enjoying our life. We were young. We never planned on hurting anybody. In the course of time, of course, it happened, but it was never our intention to harm anyone. . . .

What was the L.A.P.D.'s presence in your daily life?

Well, I can say that L.A.P.D. Rampart was always coming after me, even at a young age. I think I was probably eleven, eleven going on twelve years old, when I first got my arm broken by them, but--

Your arm broken?

Yes.

How?

I think I was eleven, and I was already going in and out of juvenile hall in between those times. I guess the division just got fed up, and they said that I was wanted for a kidnap that never occurred. So when they cornered me in the alley, they had their opportunity to really hurt me. And they did. They broke my arm, and then they released me the same hour. . . .

What was CRASH?

CRASH was basically an organization that was created like a gang. Their method was to get us off the street, to arrest as many gang members as possible and lock them up. That's what the CRASH unit was based on. But their theory on the street was more like they're just making money off them. The corruption in Rampart has always been going on, [but] it's just [that] someone just got caught. But even back in my days, when I was hanging around in Rampart area, it was always going on. . . .

You wake up in the morning and you're a young man, and you know that at any moment a police can just come up to you and just shoot you, man. Because that's what Rampart was really based on anyway. They would either put a bullet in you, even back in 1982, 1981, 1980, 1982, 1983, all the way on up. Rampart has been known to have more shootings than any other division in the West L.A. area. So it was exciting.

At what point did it go beyond just doing good police work?

I can say that LAPD Rampart was always coming after me,  even at a young age.  I think I was probably eleven when I first got my arm broken by themA lot of times the CRASH unit would observe our houses. They would have surveillance. I guess they became interested in what we were doing. I guess they became kind of a child inside of them, because they would see us fight, and they liked it. They liked it very much. They would drive up into a neighborhood and snatch one of the guys that know how to fight real well. And they'll take them to another neighborhood just to see them fight.

So that's what I'm saying. It was exciting. Their job was to keep us off the street. . . . But they just forgot that, you know? You just don't put cops in neighborhoods like that, because there is a lot of temptation, and the temptation will get you. You will bite into it-- especially in West L.A.

Because these guys would go native?

Oh, yes, man, all the time. They would sometimes even buy us beer, man. It was a very exciting life. It was knowing that these are cops. I would tell my mom a lot. "Mom, you know what? You're a taxpayer, you put money in those cops' pockets. You feed their families. But do you know that they're committing more crimes than what I have done?" It was an everyday thing.

Are you talking about committing crime in the sense of making bad arrests, or are you talking about committing crimes like doing things like real gangsters are doing--peddling dope, that sort of thing?

You know what I can say about that? They were a wannabe mafia. There were other incidents, back in the 1980s, with police officers besides just Perez and all them. But I don't think they had the plan that Perez had, and it never worked out. They didn't have the courage, I guess, that Perez did, to infiltrate the gang, to manipulate the gang members. It's hard to manipulate someone from the street. And he did it.

Why was Rafael Perez able to manipulate?

Well, you've taken psychology, right? To be able to get into a criminal's mind, you have to be a criminal, correct? So for Perez to get into my mind, he would have had to be a criminal. He would have had to do something in his life where he knew what breaking the law is. But I guess he wanted better, because his intentions were to join the police force and start being something that he could never be--which was, how can I say it, a gang member, but with a badge.

It's like giving a gang member a badge and telling them, "You know what, you're a police officer now. Go and battle crime." Sure, I mean, I'm a gang member. Hell, yes. I'll battle crime for you, no problem. Next time I pull over somebody and they have two, three kilos of cocaine, damn right I'm going to feed my family with that. He was just like us. . . .

Perez was in, essence, a gangster with a badge. You assert that you had heard and seen that he was out on the street getting people to push his dope. Did he ever approach you?

Yes. He approached us before he was involved in the CRASH. He was just a regular officer. We were approached in our neighborhood by Perez, and he had [asked] us to sell for him. . . . He studied every single one of us. He knew everything about us. He had a whole profile on every gang member. He knew you by your first, last name, your nickname. He knew your family. He knew your home. He knew exactly where to enter.

Where did this information come from? From working the street?

He probably got his information from our files, like, who's a member of Temple Street here? Who are the ones that are most important to the people here? So he picked certain ones.

You had heard just from your friends on the street, just the word on the street was that Rafael Perez was losing control. What does that mean?

He was doing things to where he was making himself very obvious. Before, he would have other people do his work, other officers. But now he was doing everything himself. He wasn't caring about what he was doing.

Like what?

Taking money from people right in the middle of the street, I'm saying, stopping you, taking your money, letting you know where he was from. Arrest you in the clear blue, in front of people, like he did to me. Like I said, he was just losing it. He wasn't the same Perez that he was with the self-confidence that he had. He couldn't take it anymore. And then what David Mack did was put him in a spotlight. And I guess he's seeing that everything was coming down on him. He didn't care anymore. It got until he finally got arrested, and he turned over.

Do you have any idea how he tried to move the stolen cocaine?

He had a lot of women doing it for him.

How would that work?

I'm not going to say a lot of women that he had messed around with were in trouble by the law or anything like that, but he did know women that were on parole, probation. And he would tell them, "Here's an ounce, sell it for me. Don't worry, I will protect you." That's how he would work his ways. He did pretty good.

Was Rafael Perez ever an actual competitor in the drug market?

He didn't need to compete against anyone. He's a cop. You compete against him, he just locks you up. You know what I'm saying? So there was no competition for Perez. Perez had the streets. That's what a lot of people don't understand. He had the streets. No one is going to mess around with Rampart CRASH. Nobody. I don't care how many gangs you have in L.A., they're not. And he knew he had it. . . . I guess it overwhelmed him, so he started losing it. He just started going in there, signing other officers' names for the evidence. Just really, I guess, losing it. That's the only word I can say. And he got arrested. . . .

Of the LA CRASH unit, were there cops who were straight cops, good cops, clean cops?

Yes. Yes.

How could they have allowed Rafael Perez and his cronies to continue to--

Because a lot of the officers are not working in that division any longer. The ones that are working now in this division are kids, 21-year-old kids, 24-year-old kids, who look up to their senior officers. If you really want to put the blame on someone, the only ones to blame is not Perez, Durden, David Mack, or none of them. It's their supervisor. It's the division itself. . . .


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