(photo of a l.a.p.d. marked police car)
photo of a police car at night
rampart scandal
'bad cops'
race & policing

"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.

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