Judge Overturns LAPD Convictions
Dec. 23, 2000
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Saying the courts shouldn't remedy the worst scandal in Los Angeles Police Department history with an unfair verdict, a judge overturned the convictions of three police officers convicted last month of conspiracy and other charges involving framing gang members.
District attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said Saturday that prosecutors were deeply disappointed but had not yet had a chance to analyze Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor's ruling and decide their next step.
In the ruling issued late Friday, Connor said jurors disclosed in post-trial statements that they had focused on an issue which was never raised in the trial.
She threw out the convictions of Los Angeles Police Department Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy, and Officer Michael Buchanan, who were convicted last month of conspiracy and other charges involving framing gang members.
``While recognizing the enormous pressure on the community, on the police force, on the district attorney's office, and on the courts to 'fix' the Rampart scandal, this court is only interested in evaluating the fairness of the proceedings and determining whether justice was done in this case,'' Connor said in her 18-page ruling.
The officers were the first members of the now-defunct Rampart station anti-gang unit to be tried on charges based on the allegations of ex-officer Rafael Perez, who said police beat, robbed, framed and sometimes shot innocent people in the city's tough Rampart neighborhood near downtown.
The ruling reversed the convictions on the basis of jurors discussing the wrong issue and failing to decide a key question _ whether two policemen were struck by a vehicle driven by a gang member.
Instead of discussing whether the accident occurred, Connor said the jurors focused on whether any of the injuries rose to the level of ``great bodily injury.''
Defense attorneys said they were elated and hoped the reversals would be the end of the case. The next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 16, at which time a new trial could be scheduled.
Lead defense attorney Barry Levin told reporters Saturday that the officers feel vindicated.
``I'm thankful that we have a system of checks and balances so that when there is a mistake it can be rectified,'' he said.
Harland Braun, who represented Buchanan, said it was ``a relief to have this decision before Christmas. It had been surreal for the officers to stand there and have the jury convict them of something that didn't happen.''
But an attorney for the two men who allegedly ran into the officers with their truck criticed the decision, saying it was ``politically motivated.''
``She couldn't hide it,'' said Gregory W. Moreno, attorney for Cesar Natividad and Raul Munoz. ``She wanted these ex-officers, rogue cops exonerated.''
The Rampart area is one of the city's most crime-ridden sections, where aging stucco buildings sprout barred windows or imposing steel fences. On the street, some residents were skeptical about the judge's ruling.
``I don't think it should have been overturned. They should have some kind of punishment,'' said Albert Jonke, 23. ``Even if you're getting the bad guys, you can't frame 'em.''
Maria Gonzales, a mother of four, said: ``It's about time they're realizing that they're just as human as we are, and they can be just as corrupt.''
At the Rampart police station, Sgt. Paul Torrence was succinct about the impact of the ruling on day-to-day police work in the community: ``None.''
``We go out and do our job. That's our daily mission. That's what we're focused on,'' he said.
Associated Press writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.
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