- Stymie had killed Lizard so there was a "green light"
- the term for a go-ahead for a revenge killing - shining on the Temple
Street gang when it met that night. But now a different kind of light is
being shone on this meeting four years ago of the young gangsters of Los
Angeles, and it has exposed another slice of the biggest police corruption
scandal in the city's history.
- This week four LAPD officers have been standing trial
in what could be the first of many such cases. And the outcome will have
huge political, social and cultural ramifications.
- Stymie is Anthony Adams, a member of the Temple Street
gang who had killed Lizard, a leading member of the Mexican Mafia - a fearsome
prison based gang strong enough to order killings from behind bars.
- Lizard had been collecting "taxes" on his gang's
behalf and Stymie had shot him "as a 'we're not going to pay' kind
of thing". The MM could not let this go unpunished and had demanded
thousands of dollars as a "fine" before removing the "green
- The meeting that was due to take place at the corner
of Temple Street and Coronado, a patch known to the police as the Snakepit,
was for gang members to discuss how they were going to pay this fine. The
police planned to be there, too, and pick up Stymie and his pals.
- The person explaining all this to fascinated jurors in
the city's courtroom 109 is Brian Liddy, one of the accused. He looks like
a bull in a sports jacket and is sitting in the witness box on this balmy
November day being questioned by his attorney, Paul DePasquale.
- What happened after Liddy and his colleagues arrived
at the Snakepit that night is what the jurors have to decide.
- Did he and his fellow officer, Michael Buchanan, really
get hit by a pick-up truck driven by a getaway gangster or did they make
the whole thing up, and frame and beat up the gang member? And are the
officers part of a vast scandal that has led to killings, beatings, framings
and drug dealing - all carried out by the men who should be enforcing the
- That story starts with Rafael Perez, a policeman caught
stealing 2.7kg (6lb) of cocaine from a police locker room in 1998. In a
plea bargain deal, he was given a five-year jail sentence in exchange for
information about corruption among his fellow officers.
- What Perez told investigators has now led to more than
100 people having their convictions overturned and left the city facing
bills for an estimated $135m (£93m) in law suits from ex-gang members
who were framed, beaten and, in one case, paralysed. One victim will not
be suing personally: Juan Saldana, 21, was shot and left to bleed to death
with a gun planted beside him.
- Every week over recent months it has seemed that a gang
member, usually Latino, has emerged from prison with tales of beatings
- One of the very worst cases was that of Javier Ovando,
who was allegedly shot and paralysed by Perez and his fellow officer, Nino
Durden. The officers then accused Ovando of attempted murder and he was
jailed for 23 years, with the judge chiding him for his lack of remorse.
Ovando is out now and will be compensated but will not walk again.
- The police union, the Police Protection League, has claimed
that Perez was a rogue cop and was only implicating his colleagues to save
his own skin. But morale among officers has slumped. They say they are
now so concerned about being accused of framing or beating gang members
that they spend their hours on duty avoiding trouble. This may be the reason
for the recent rise in gang shootings, and the renewed activity among the
more than 400 gangs and 60,000 gang members in the city.
- There is a heavy political undertow in LA to accusations
that the police have abused their power. In 1992, 54 people died after
the riots that followed the acquittal of officers caught on video beating
Rodney King. In 1965, in the Watts section of LA, it was police action
against an alleged drink driver that led to the riots in which 34 died.
This time the city wants to show that it is acting properly, and hence
the Los Angeles district attorney, Gil Garcetti, has initiated the prosecutions.
- Liddy, Buchanan and two other officers, Paul Harper and
Edward Ortiz, accused of conspiring to pervert or obstruct justice, are
the first fruits of Mr Garcetti's labours. And as their trial comes to
its conclusion, there is a political dimension: Mr Garcetti is running
for re-election next Tuesday. A conviction would help his credibility and
an acquittal would pose questions about his judgment.
- This week has come a new twist: Perez is not giving evidence
as planned because his ex-girlfriend has now claimed that he and a fellow
rogue officer, David Mack, had killed a drug dealer and his mother and
had buried their bodies in a rubbish tip in Tijuana, Mexico. The Mexican
police found no remains.
- Perez is duly "pleading the fifth" - refusing
to give evidence in case he incriminates himself in a double murder. But
whatever happens in this case, the ramifications are already being felt
throughout the city.
- A few miles from the downtown courthouse, in Boyle Heights
in the Latino area of the city, sits Frank, as he suggests we call him.
Frank, a good-looking, shaven-headed 20-year-old in a Nike jacket and jeans,
has cut his teeth with the Playboys gang. He says that the framing of young
gang members is routine and is himself suing the LAPD for planting marijuana
and crack on him, which led him to a year in jail.
- Different rules
- "Rafael Perez was known to us more as a businessman
than a policeman. He was one of the big dealers. Have things changed because
of what happened? The police just play by different rules now."
- He said that instead of planting drugs on gang members,
the police now arrest them for petty offences. "They do it with righteous
excuses now but they're still there."
- Frank is sitting in a room at the back of the centre
where Father Greg Boyle - "G-Dog" as the young gang members call
him - runs a programme that helps them find work and tries to get them
out of the gang cycle.
- Father Greg, who probably knows as many gang members
as anyone in California, has noticed a dramatic change in policing since
the scandal broke, but it is not a change he welcomes.
- "What we have now is police abuse that takes the
form of absence," he says. "There is an over-cautious tentativeness,
a reluctance to stop the people that they should. They want to get to the
ends of their shift not just without being shot but without having a grievance
filed or a complaint levelled. Either they're violating human rights in
the name of law enforcement or they have a hands-off policy. Both are wrong
and both are not helpful.
- "I buried my 85th and 86th kids last week,"
says Father Greg. "One was a 19-year-old gang member and one was a
10-year-old girl caught in the crossfire. A lot of that comes from the
tension that kept mounting that could have been largely remedied by a police
presence but because we didn't have any, that [the shootings] became an
- Back in court, the two young prosecuting attorneys, Laura
Laesecke and Anne Ingalls, cross-examine other officers. Without Perez
their case is weak. It is further weakened by the reluctance of the police
witnesses to remember too clearly what happened on key nights. But Ms
Laesecke has got her teeth into the case. She rides the constant cries
of "objection" from the high-profile all-male defence attorneys
as she tries to construct the case against the four.
- The judge, the elegant Jacqueline Connor, has been attacked
by the local press for being pro-police. She watches as Liddy pauses for
a split second while he answers as to whether he kicked the fleeing gang
member so hard between the legs that he soiled himself.
- The presidential election has taken over the city's front
pages and the taxes being discussed are the ones George W Bush would like
to cut, not the kind imposed by the Mexican Mafia. The circumstances that
created LA's gangs, the drug laws that take them to court and the jails
in which so many languish have not been part of the presidential debate.
Neither of the frontrunners offers much in the way of penal reform or a
shift in the distribution of wealth.
- Amazingly to some outsiders, includ ing New York journalists
covering the case, there has been little public outrage. To many in LA,
it seems, what happens to the young gang members is what they deserve.
- James Ellroy's book LA Confidential told a story of police
corruption in the 1950s, but it was not written until 1990. Perhaps we
will have to wait a while for the full story of the current scandal and
another 40 years to see Rafael Perez and his gang of untouchables on the
big screen in all their terrible glory.
- Crimes and punishments
- July 1996
- Police swoop on Temple Street gang and claim to have
been injured by
- fleeing gang members. Gangsters claim assault
- October 1996
- Officers Rafael Perez and Nino Durden allegedly shoot
and paralyse Javier
- Ovando, plant weapon on him and charge him with attempting
to kill police
- February 1997
- Ovando jailed for 23 years
- March 1999
- Officer David Mack, friend of Perez, jailed for 14 years
for bank robbery
- March 1998
- Perez steals cocaine from police locker
- December 1998
- Perez arrested
- September 1999
- Perez offered deal in exchange for information about
- naming officers. Total of 51 officers now under investigation,
- 200 leave while under investigation. Ovando freed
- October 2000
- First corruption trial starts, involving sergeants Brian
Liddy and Edward
- Ortiz, and officers Michael Buchanan and Paul Harper
- November 2000
- LA city council agrees to allow sweeping reforms of
LAPD and future
- monitoring by independent observers. US attorney general,
- hails agreement as offering "extraordinary challenge"
to LAPD. Perez takes
- the fifth amendment.
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