LOS ANGELES - Declaring the end to a dark chapter in Los Angeles history, officials on Thursday announced the city would pay an estimated $70 million to settle lawsuits stemming from the Rampart corruption scandal that shook the Police Department.
Since the scandal broke more than five years ago, 214 lawsuits have been brought by plaintiffs, many with criminal backgrounds, who accused renegade officers in the Rampart division's anti-gang unit of falsifying evidence, framing suspects and covering up unjustified shootings.
"Today is a good day for the city of Los Angeles," police Chief William Bratton said at a news conference with city leaders. "Ultimately we got to close the book on the sordid chapters of the Rampart scandal."
So far, the city has paid out more than $66 million to settle the lawsuits, with 27 claims dismissed. It was unclear when the last eight lawsuits still pending would be settled, though their estimated amounts were calculated in the $70 million total, according to the city attorney's office.
The payout was considerably less than the $125 million projected by then-City Attorney James Hahn in the early stages of the scandal. Hahn is now mayor of the city.
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said the settlements turned out lower than expected partly because city lawyers were willing to offer settlements up front.
"I'm confident that people who were wronged by these rogue officers were justly compensated and those who were seeking to exploit the situation were not enriched," he said.
The scandal included the investigation of 82 incidents involving 50 officers and the reversal of more than 100 convictions tainted by police misconduct. Racial profiling, excessive force and the Rampart scandal caused the federal government in 2001 to impose a consent decree on the department mandating reforms.
Additionally, a policy was enacted several years ago under which the city attorney's office would report to police officials if its lawyers believed officers were lying or lacking credibility, Delgadillo said.
The city decided against taking some cases to trial because of the records of implicated officers.
The average settlement was $400,000 but 30 plaintiffs received $500,000 or more. Javier Francisco Ovando, a gang member who was shot by police and left paralyzed, received the largest settlement $15 million.
The suspected gang member had been sentenced to 23 years in prison after two officers testified he was armed when he was shot. His conviction was eventually overturned.
As a result of the scandal, more than a dozen officers left the force. Some were fired and others resigned amid investigations of alleged misconduct.
Many of the misconduct allegations were made by ex-officer Rafael Perez, who later emerged as the main culprit after his accusations against other officers were largely disproved. The scandal began when Perez testified about police misconduct after he was caught stealing cocaine from a police evidence room.
Now that Saskatoon police have been named by Amnesty International, we should really pay attention to what has gone on in other cities with rampant racism
Any of us who live in a city where the police are failing to serve their communities (Saskatoon and Toronto can start the list) have an interest in familiarizing ourselves with the process which is now at work in L.A. It is a rich story (no doubt several film scripts are in the works) which demonstrates the seeming inability of huge bureaucracies to right themselves.
L. A. Mayor Richard Riordan is now faced with paying out millions and millions in legitimate claims from individuals who have been wronged. The debate is on about whether cleaning out a few bad cops (or a few hundred in the case of L.A.) can fix the problem or whether more dramatic solutions are called for. Follow this one!
This is the day that my punishment for having stolen narcotics is handed down. Though it does not take into account my greatest transgressions.
While sitting in my cell it dawned on me this would be my chance to . . . publicly apologize and ask for forgiveness for having violated the law, having violated several vows and oaths I've made to my wife, the citizens of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department.
But then the realization began to sink in, what exactly could I possibility say . . . that would be strong enough or geniune enough to warrant my pardon. The atrocities that were committed by myself and those who stand accused are unforgivable acts. The City of Los Angeles had and has a right, among other things, to a fair and just system of policing. Those rights in so many ways were violated.
Ever since I was a young boy living in Philadelphia, I dreamed of becoming a police officer. In June of 1989, that dream came true. For many years I proudly wore a badge of honor and intergrity and enforeced the laws in the standards befitting a Los Angeles police officer.
In the Rampart CRASH Unit things began to change. The lines between right and wrong became fuzzy and indistinct. The us-against-them ethos of the overzealous cop began to consume me. And the ends justified the means. We vaguely sensed we were doing the wrong things for the right reasons. Time and again, I stepped over that line. Once crossed, I hurdled over it again and again, landing with both feet sometimes on innocent persons. My job became an intoxicant that I lusted after. By then, I began to lust also for things of the flesh. The end result, I cheated on my wife. I cheated on my employer, and I cheated on all of you, the people of Los Angeles.
It didn't occur to me that was I destroying lives. The lives of those whom we victimized and their families who loved them. The life of my wife whom I love beyond all reason and indeed my very own life. I won't offer excuses as none could cure the pain experienced by the people I hurt, namely all of the wrongly accused and convicted, my family and friends, the criminal justice system, and the Los Angeles Police Department.
To those people in organizations that I have hurt, in such a profound way, and to the public at large, I now tell you with every beat of my heart and soul, that I am truly truly sorry. I am also sorry for ruining the public's trust in their police department. By revealing the unpleasant truths behind the badge that at one point I so proudly wore, I hope to right some of the many wrongs. I will make every effort now and until the successful conclusion of this investigation to cooperate, provide insight and knowledge as to what went wrong at Rampart Crash. . . .
There is no justification for my misdeeds, either on or off duty. I can only say that I sucummbed to the seductress of power. Used wrongfully it is a power that can bend the will of a man to satisfy a lustful moment. It can open locked bolts to facilitate theft. It can even subvert justice to hand down a lifetime behind bars. On the latter, I apologize to the courts and the juries that were my unwitting accomplices on those occassions that I wanted to secure convictions. Beside the exoneration of the innocent persons, I most want at this time is to remind the greenest rookie cops that they too have this power.
Used wrongfully.. . .[that power] can plant the defendant's feet firmly on the path to the death house. They need only to look to me and my impending prison sentence, to remind them that for whatever reason they might have to consider placing a finger on the scales of justice, it is morally indefensible and contrary to our constitution. I will ask rookie and young police officer alike to periodically revisit their oath and the reason they entered law enforcement. I will ask that you use me as an example of who you will avoid becoming. Do not let the pressure of status, numbers and impressing supervisors dicate the type of officer you become. The moment you cross that first line, it will be impossible to step back.
To the young officers, I want to leave you with some admonishments: Listen very closely because these are words that I wish someone would have shared with me. I want to admonish you that you will be enticed by fancy models and places that will make you believe that there is a purpose and a reason for what they want you to do and what they want you to be. You will hear such things as: solid, can be trusted, hunt for the big elephant, special chosen group. I admonish you to closely evaluate what you are being told with those words. I asure you that they will pale in comparison for what you will eventually be: shameful, regretful and disappointed. Above the threshold of doors that lead to CRASH offices, you will read such flip, awful statements as: "Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall." As well as "we intimidate those who intimidate others." To those mottos, I offer this: Whoever chases monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster himself.
Judge ...., I thank you and this court for its indulgence in its even-handedness in dealing with me through one trial and the preparation of another. I apolgize for having taken up the court's time and for earlier wanting more than the justice due me.
I would also like to thank Mr. Winston ....., my attorney who worked so tirelessly on my behalf. He is just as irreplaceable as an attorney as he is a friend. To my wife, whom I think is an incredible woman for having stood by me through all this. who asked me how could she have missed what was going on. I can only say this, I was living two unmistakeable lives and each day the bad would consume a little of the good. You were right. I was wrong, I was wrong. I pray that one day, I can demonstrate my worthiness of being forgiven. For the hope of God who has guided me through this road that I must travel. I thank you for blessing me with a second chance at life. My second half, I intend to live it wisely and without regrets. Thank you.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department patrols an area of more than 3,000 square miles -- areas not covered by the LAPD
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- While the Los Angeles Police Department continues to face the fallout from a corruption scandal, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is about to become the largest law-enforcement agency in the nation to embrace a full-time independent review system composed of civil rights lawyers and retired judges.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who says he is "fed up" with law enforcement officers who do not uphold the law, vows that he will soon implement the independent review system he proposed and the county Board of Supervisors has already approved.
Said Baca: "Certain people get attracted to this type of work; they pass our stringent background investigations, they get through our academies, they take an oath of office to defend the constitution of the state of California as well as the United States -- and what do they do? They go off in a total different direction. And I think the public is fed up with this, and I know I am fed up with it."
LAPD commission is part-time
By contrast, the commission that runs the LAPD is part-time, and the department has repeatedly rejected the notion of full-time civilian oversight.
In the LAPD Rampart Division scandal, three police officers face criminal charges, and on Sunday the Los Angeles Times reported that the district attorney's office may file criminal charges this week against a fourth.
Lawyers representing the three officers charged in the LAPD corruption scandal -- Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy, and Officer Paul Harper -- this week tried to get the Los Angeles district attorney's office disqualified from the case. But Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor denied the motion, ruling that lawyers had failed to prove that the district attorney's office is caught in a conflict of interest and that any conflict would result in an unfair trial for the officers.
Ortiz, 43, and Liddy, 38, have been charged with filing false police reports, and Harper, 33, with perjury. They were implicated of wrongdoing by former Rampart officer Rafael Perez, who has been cooperating with investigators in exchange for a lighter sentence after he was caught stealing cocaine from a police evidence lock-up.
LAPD officers are said to have beaten, framed and shot innocent people in the Rampart neighborhood, a largely minority area near downtown Los Angeles. So far, the revelations have resulted in 95 conviction dismissals. At least 70 police officers are under investigation.
Union voices objections
The union that represents most of the uniformed officers in the sheriff's department says it supports civilian review but doesn't like the notion of civil rights lawyers taking part.
Roy Burns, president of the deputy sheriffs' union, said, "We believe the citizens of L.A. county could honestly and fairly evaluate our conduct. It's ... hiring civil rights attorneys that concerns our membership. These are individuals who in the past have been our adversaries ... that have opposed us and, we believe, have an agenda."
With its more than 8,000 sworn personnel, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department patrols an area of more than 3,000 square miles with a population of more than 2.5 million people -- areas not covered by the LAPD or other municipal police departments.
And the sheriff says he wants the public to know there is a new sense of accountability at the department.
"If you screw up and violate policy," Baca says, or you go out and commit a crime and you wear a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department star on your chest, you have to face the ultimate responsibility for what you do wrong.
"And I'm not going to do anything to make it easy for a person who willfully violates policy."
CNN Correspondent Charles Feldman and Reuters contributed to this report.