March 18, 1997 - Road Rage Shootout
Undercover L.A.P.D. officer Frank Lyga shot and killed off-duty L.A.P.D.
officer Kevin Gaines in a case of apparent road rage. The shooting of a black
officer -- Gaines -- by a white cop -- Lyga -- created a highly publicized police
controversy. Lyga told FRONTLINE that Gaines threatened him with a gun and
that he responded in self-defense, adding, "In my training experience this guy
had 'I'm a gang member' written all over him." Investigators on the case
discovered that Gaines had allegedly been involved in similar road rage
incidents, threatening drivers and brandishing his gun. They also discovered
troubling connections between Gaines and Death Row Records, a rap
recording label owned by Marion "Suge" Knight that, investigators came to find,
was hiring off-duty police officers as security guards.
Lyga, who had been reassigned to desk duty while the L.A.P.D. reviewed the
circumstances of the shooting, including whether his actions had been racially
motivated, was ultimately exonerated a year later. Three separate internal
investigations determined that the shooting was "in policy."
After the shooting, the Gaines family, represented by attorney Johnnie Cochran,
filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for $25 million.
The city later settled the suit for $250,000.
November 6, 1997 - Bank Robbery
Robbers targeted a Los Angeles branch of Bank of America, making off with
$722,000. Investigating officers were immediately suspicious of assistant bank
manager Errolyn Romero, who had had more cash than was necessary delivered just
ten minutes before the robbery. One month later Romero confessed to her role
in the crime and implicated her boyfriend, L.A.P.D. officer David Mack, as the
mastermind. A former track star, Mack was arrested and later convicted of the
bank robbery. He was sentenced to 14 years and three months in federal prison.
He has refused to reveal the whereabouts of the money, and while in prison has
reportedly associated himself with the Mob Piru Bloods, a gang with ties to
Death Row Records.
Detectives investigating Mack discovered that two days after the robbery, Mack
and two other police officers -- including a former partner, Rafael Perez --
spent the weekend gambling in Las Vegas, spending thousands of dollars.
February 26, 1998 -- Station-House Beating
L.A.P.D. Officer Brian Hewitt, a member of L.A.P.D.'s elite anti--gang unit
CRASH [Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums] in the Rampart
division, brought 18th Street gang member Ismael Jimenez to the Rampart police
station for questioning. Hewitt allegedly beat the hand-cuffed Jimenez in the
chest and stomach, causing him to vomit blood. After being released, Jimenez
went to the hospital, where officials notified the L.A.P.D. of his injuries and
complaints. Subsequent internal investigations resulted in the firing of
Hewitt and another officer, Ethan Cohan, who, the Department determined, knew
about but failed to report the beating.
Jimenez, who was awarded $231,000 in a civil settlement with the city, is
currently in federal custody pending a multiple count indictment for the
distribution of drugs and conspiracy to commit murder.
March 27, 1998 -- Missing Cocaine
Officials in the L.A.P.D. property room discovered that six pounds of cocaine
evidence are missing. Within a week, detectives focused their investigation on
L.A.P.D. officer Rafael Perez, a member of the Rampart CRASH unit.
May 1998 -- Task Force Created
Concerned about a possible clique of officers involved in criminal misconduct --
working off-duty for Death Row Records, robbing banks and stealing
cocaine -- L.A.P.D. Chief Bernard Parks established an internal
investigative task force. The investigative team, later named the Rampart
Corruption Task Force, focused primarily on the prosecution of Rafael
Perez. Further audit of the L.A.P.D. property room identified another
pound of missing cocaine -- evidence that had been booked on a prior arrest made
by Det. Frank Lyga, the officer who had shot Kevin Gaines. At the time,
investigators speculated that Perez may have stolen the cocaine booked by Lyga
in retaliation for the shooting of Gaines.
August 25, 1998 -- Perez Arrested
When first stopped and arrested by detectives, Perez asked, "Is this about the
bank robbery?" It wasn't. It was about the 6 pounds of missing cocaine, which
investigators believed had been checked out by Perez, under another officer's
name, and sold on the streets of Rampart through a girlfriend.
In December, Perez was brought to trial on charges of possession of cocaine
with intent to sell, grand theft and forgery. After five days of
deliberations, the jury announced that it was hopelessly deadlocked, with a
final vote of 8-4 favoring conviction.
In preparing to bolster their case for a retrial, investigators discovered an
additional eleven instances of suspicious cocaine transfers. Detectives were
able to identify dope "switches," where Perez had ordered the cocaine evidence
out of property and replaced it with Bisquick.
September 8, 1999 -- Perez Cuts a Deal
Rafael Perez made a deal with prosecutors under which he pled guilty to
cocaine theft and agreed to provide prosecutors with information about two
"bad" shootings and three other Rampart CRASH officers involved in illegal
activity. In exchange, Perez received a five-year prison sentence and immunity
from further prosecution of misconduct short of murder.
Among his first revelations, Perez told investigators of how he and his
partner Nino Durden had shot, framed, and testified against Javier
Ovando, an unarmed gang member who was left paralyzed as a result of the
incident. At the time of Perez's admission, Ovando was in jail, serving the 23
year sentence he had received for allegedly assaulting the two officers.
Thus began a nine-month confessional during which time Perez met with
investigators more than 50 times and provided more than 4,000 pages in sworn
testimony. Before he was done, Perez implicated about 70 officers in
misconduct, from bad shootings to drinking beer on the job.
September 16, 1999 -- Ovando Released
With Perez recanting his 1996 testimony about the shooting of Javier Ovando,
the District Attorney's Office filed a writ of habeus corpus seeking to
overturn his conviction. Ovando was released from prison after serving two and a
Based upon Perez's allegations of wrongful arrests, and investigations by the
Task Force, nearly 100 more convictions were eventually overturned.
September 21, 1999 -- Board of Inquiry
L.A.P.D. chief Bernard Parks formed a Board of Inquiry comprised of
L.A.P.D. command staff to analyze management failures and investigate the depth
of the corruption scandal. The Board's report, released in March 2000,
blames, in large measure, lax departmental management for allowing misconduct
within the Rampart Division to occur. The report offers 108 recommendations,
including the improvement of hiring practices, supervisory oversight and police
March 3, 2000 -- CRASH Disbanded
L.A.P.D. chief Bernard Parks announced that he was disbanding the department's
CRASH units and creating new anti-gang details that that would include more rigorous
requirements for membership, stressing the officers' level of experience.
April 2000 -- Police Commission Review
The Police Commission formed the Rampart Independent Review Panel, comprised of citizens including
attorneys, educators, and business executives. The panel issued a report in November 2000 with 72 findings
and 86 recommendations. It concluded that officers need better and more
supervision; that the department compromises criminal investigations of
officer-involved shootings and major use-of-force incidents; and that the
L.A.P.D. is viewed by the community as excessively hostile and confrontational.
July 28, 2000 -- Perez's Partner Arrested for Ovando Shooting
Perez's partner Nino Durden was arrested and charged with attempted murder for
the shooting of Javier Ovando. He was also charged with perjury, filing false
police reports and robbery. He pleaded innocent to all charges in November
September 11, 2000 -- Independent Report Critical of L.A.P.D.'s Handling of
Professor Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of Southern California, released
an analysis of the L.A.P.D.'s Board of Inquiry report which he prepared
at the request of the Police Protective League. He concluded that the L.A.P.D.
minimized the magnitude of the Rampart scandal and failed to acknowledge the
extent to which its internal culture allowed corruption to fester.
Chemerinsky's report recommends more aggressive independent reviews and a
permanent special prosecutor to investigate police misconduct.
September 19, 2000 -- Feds Take Over L.A.P.D.
The Los Angeles City Council voted 10 to 2 to accept a consent decree allowing
a federal judge acting on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee
and monitor reforms within the L.A.P.D. for a period of five years. In
agreeing to the consent decree, the Justice Department -- which had been
investigating the L.A.P.D. since 1996 for excessive force violations -- agreed
not to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city. Los Angeles Mayor
Richard Riordan and L.A.P.D. Chief Bernard Parks initially opposed the consent
decree, but backed down when it became clear that it was supported by the city
council. Riordan signed the consent decree in November 2000.
September 26, 2000 -- Whistleblower Files Lawsuit Charging Cover Up
Former L.A.P.D. detective Russell Poole filed a federal civil rights
lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and L.A.P.D. Chief Bernard Parks.
Poole, a detective with the Robbery/Homicide Division, was a lead investigator
on the Lyga-Gaines shooting and was later assigned to the Rampart Corruption
Task Force, where he investigated the station-house beating of Ismael Jimenez.
Poole resigned from the Department after 18 years and claims in his civil suit
that Chief Parks shut down his efforts to fully investigate the extent of
corruption within the Department, including possible criminal activities of
Kevin Gaines and David Mack, as well as the breadth of officer misconduct
within Rampart. Chief Parks has denied Poole's allegations in the lawsuit,
calling them "totally false."
October 4, 2000 -- Three CRASH Cops Convicted
In the first criminal case stemming from Perez's allegations, Sgt. Edward
Ortiz, Brian Liddy, Paul Harper and Michael Buchanan, all of the Rampart CRASH
unit, were tried on charges of perjury, fabricating arrests and filing false
police reports. Perez did not testify at the trial, due to concerns about his
credibility. All four officers pleaded not guilty. On November 15, 2000,
Ortiz, Liddy and Buchanan were convicted of conspiracy to obstruct
justice and filing false police reports, while Harper was acquitted of all
November 21, 2000 -- Record Settlement Reached
In the largest police misconduct settlement in city history, Javier Ovando was
awarded $15 million. An additional 29 civil suits were settled for nearly $11
million. The city, faced with more than 140 civil suits stemming from the
corruption scandal, estimates that total settlement costs will be about $125
Four months after his settlement, Ovando was arrested in Nevada and
charged with the possession and trafficking of drugs.
December 22, 2000 -- CRASH Cop Convictions Overturned
After a series of hearings investigating allegations of juror misconduct,
Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor overturned the convictions of
Rampart CRASH cops Ortiz, Liddy and Buchanan. Judge Connor called the verdict
unfair because in post-trial interviews the jurors disclosed that they had
determined guilt based on a reporting issue not raised in the trial. In
January 2001, the new D.A., Steve Cooley, announced that he would appeal Judge
March 23, 2001 -- Three More CRASH Cops Indicted; Two Plead Out
The District Attorney's office brought felony indictments against three former
Rampart CRASH officers: Ethan Cohan, Manuel Chavez and Shawn Gomez. The
complaints charge the officers with assaulting two gang members and filing
false police reports. Chavez and Gomez have reached plea agreements, including
cooperation with prosecutors. Cohan has pleaded innocent and awaits trial.
March 30, 2001 -- Perez's Partner Pleads Guilty
Perez's former partner Nino Durden cut a deal with state and federal
prosecutors in which he agreed to plead guilty to ten state and federal
charges, including fabricating evidence, false arrest and presenting false
testimony. Durden is expected to receive a prison sentence of 7-8 years, and
the deal requires that he fully cooperate with federal prosecutors, who, using
Durden's testimony, may bring additional indictments against Rafael Perez.
July 24, 2001 -- Perez Released
After serving three years of his five-year sentence, Rafael Perez was released from prison and placed on parole. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry ruled that due to safety concerns, Perez could serve his parole outside the state of California.
December 17, 2001 -- Perez Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges
Perez pled guilty to federal civil rights and firearms violations resulting from the shooting of Javier Ovando. He admitted to one count of conspiracy to violate Ovando's civil rights, and one count of possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number. He is scheduled for sentencing in March 2002, and is expected to serve two years in federal prison under the plea agreement.
home · rampart scandal · "bad cops" · race & policing · aftermath · connecting the dots
discussion · interviews · video · synopsis · tapes & transcripts · press · credits
FRONTLINE · pbs online · wgbh
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation