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Los Angeles Judge Overturns Convic…

1/13/2009 Los Angeles Judge Overturns Convic… December 24, 2000 Los Angeles Judge Overturns Convictions of Police

December 24, 2000

Los Angeles Judge Overturns Convictions of Police in Scandal


The judge who presided over a major police corruption case here has overturned convictions against three officers at the center of the scandal who had been accused of framing gang members and planting evidence.

In a decision issued Friday night, Judge Jacqueline Connor of Los Angeles Superior Court granted the men -- Sgt. Edward Ortiz, Sgt. Brian Liddy and Officer Michael Buchanan -- the right to a new trial. The judge ruled that prosecutors had not presented enough evidence and that jury members had misunderstood their instructions.

The ruling represented a stinging blow to prosecutors in the first case to grow out of the city's worst police corruption scandal in years. An investigation into the Police Department's Rampart Division has led to the dismissal of about 100 criminal cases, the suspension of dozens of officers and the rekindling of pubic distrust of the police.

''We're deeply disappointed,'' Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, said today. ''Since it involves highly complex legal issues, we're going to have to study the judge's ruling and also review the evidence in the case to determine our next step.''

The convictions, delivered on Nov. 15, seemed a first step toward restoring public confidence in the department. District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who was voted out of office a week before the guilty verdicts, had characterized the verdicts as a triumph for the community over the closed-mouth culture of a police department and the criminal actions of bad officers.

But Judge Connor found that a lack of evidence against the officers and confusion on the part of some jurors were grounds to overturn the verdicts, which could have brought prison terms of four or more years.

Mr. Garcetti's successor, Steve Cooley, has until Jan. 16 to decide whether to prosecute the officers again.

Lawyers for the defendants welcomed the ruling.

''We were not surprised by this,'' said Harland W. Braun, who represents Officer Buchanan. ''The problems with the case were always pretty clear to us, and they were bad enough. But they also created the public impression that the police department was totally corrupt.''

The charges against the officers evolved from an investigation into Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums, or Crash, a unit of the Rampart Division that was formed to use aggressive tactics against street gangs.

The central witness in the investigation was former Officer Rafael Perez, who has confessed to corrupt activities. Mr. Perez testified that members of the unit were operating outside the law, routinely lying about its tactics and framing suspects.

The three officers in the case, plus one other who was acquitted, were the first to be prosecuted in the scandal. They were found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice by framing gang members. The two sergeants were also convicted of filing a false report.

Defense lawyers said Judge Connor's ruling could make any future prosecution of their clients more difficult.

In her decision, the judge wrote: ''This court cannot and should not consider the political ramifications of future lawsuits or future prosecutions. The defense in this case has presented compelling arguments to support their argument that the defendants did not receive a fair trial.''


Los Angeles Judge Overturns Convic…

support their argument that the defendants did not receive a fair trial.''

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


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