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Special Event

LAPD Officer Admits to Corruption

Aired March 30, 2001 - 5:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you out to Los Angeles now and Charles Feldman, where we're expecting a news conference very shortly on a new development in the LAPD, Los Angeles Police Department, corruption scandal -- Charles?

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Frank, this is being billed by authorities as a major breakthrough in what has been an almost two-year investigation now into alleged corruption within the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department -- the second-largest police force, by the way, in the United States.

Up until now, you may recall everything has been based pretty much on the testimony of one former cop named Rafael Perez. He was caught stealing some drugs, he pled guilty to that and, in exchange, started telling authorities about all sorts of alleged corruption at the police department -- things like planting evidence, shooting unarmed and innocent people. And since that time, some 80 police officers have been under investigation, and about 100 wrongful convictions have been overturned.

But the problem has been that there's been no other police officer of any rank who has come forward to break the -- what is being called a code of silence to talk about corruption. That is, until now, and that's the significance of the development today. What has happened...

SESNO: Charles Feldman, let me interrupt you ever so briefly, if I may, because we want to bring our viewers another breaking story. We'll come right back to you.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

SESNO: Charles, we'll come back to you now, as we continue to monitor this LAPD story break; sorry for the interruption, but we just wanted to bring that to our viewers.

FELDMAN: Perfectly understandable.

And what I was saying though, Frank, is that the significance of this development today, of course, is that now for the first time there is another police officer who used to be connected to this antidrug and anti-gang-unit that was called CRASH who is making a plea agreement with federal and state officials. And in exchange, he is expected to give testimony that will back up a lot of what Rafael Perez has had to say about corruption within the LAPD, and may even say some things that are not so kind about Rafael Perez himself.

Authorities have been trying to break this code of silence now for a long, long time. Many people, in fact in the recent months have been talking about the investigation being stalled. There hasn't been any sort of massive conspiracy indictment or anything of that sort, which had been talked about, oh, going back a year or so ago when some of these allegations came into the public thinking. And to a large measure, the reason has been because of the difficulty in getting other police officers to come forward and say what they know.

Now, what I'm told by various federal and state officials is that the hope is that, by having this plea agreement with Nino Durden -- and here's the press conference. That is the Los Angeles County district attorney.

STEVE COOLEY, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: All right, good afternoon. Before others speak, we take questions. There's one issue I want to address. Let me explain why my office did not confirm the plea agreement with the defendant Nino Durden after it was entered into in court today -- there was no intention to withhold from any media source.

Late yesterday the U.S. Attorney Mayorkas, myself and Chief Parks met in this office and we agreed to hold a news conference today at 2:00 to answer all questions regarding this latest development in the Rampart case. It is unethical for anyone to discuss case settlement negotiations before a plea is entered; that's a matter of legal ethics. Mr. Mayorkas knows that, I know that, the defense lawyers know that. We cannot speak about case settlements before the plea is entered pursuant to the case settlement negotiations. Had our lawyers alerted media relations this morning that there were press in court -- you have all been notified at that time. That was not done.

But now you're going to have an opportunity to find out the latest development in this case from the principal parties involved: the U.S. Attorney's Office, the L.A. County D.A.'s Office, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Today we announce a significant step forward in resolving the Rampart corruption case. This does not end the investigation by any means, but it is an important advancement in the administration of justice. Suspended Los Angeles police officer Nino Durden pleaded guilty earlier today to six felony charges. He'll be sentenced to 7 years and 8 months in state prison. That's the maximum term for the crimes to which he's admitting. The defendant has also agreed to cooperate with local and federal authorities in their continuing investigation of corruption by officers in the Rampart division.

We've been working very closely with the U.S. Attorney's Office for some time. Also, the Los Angeles Police Department has been working with us, as well as the FBI to uncover layers of corruption and the officers responsible for it. There are other matters still under investigation.

Former officer Durden pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, two counts of perjury, two counts of filing false police reports and one count of grand theft person. These crimes were committed -- it's part of four separate incidents in 1996 and 1997 in cases handled by Durden and other officers in the Rampart division.

The obstruction of justice charge and one of the perjury counts relates to the shooting and the arrest of Javier Ovando in October of 1996. Durden admitted conspiring with Rafael Perez to cover up the fact that Ovando was unarmed when he was shot. Durden also admitted lying under oath when he testified falsely at Ovando's trial in February of 1997.

Durden additionally admitted to perjury and filing a false police report in the case of Miguel Hernandez in 1996. He admitted filing a false police report in the case of Jose Lara in 1997. And finally, Durden admitted to grand theft person when he stole money and a watch from a suspected drug dealer named Grace Cox in 1997.

Durden's plea today in Los Angeles County Superior Court is but the first half of what we have to announce. U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas will discuss federal developments in this continuing collaborative effort by law enforcement. Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks and Assistant FBI Special Agent in Charge James DeSarno will announce continuing activities to the extent they can regarding their investigations.

We'll now open it up for questions after Mr. Mayorkas makes a few remarks.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. ATTORNEY: Thank you, Mr. Cooley.

We are here today to announce that Nino Floyd Durden has agreed to plead guilty to federal felony charges for crimes that he committed while a police officer in the LAPD's Rampart division CRASH unit.

Late yesterday the United States Attorney's Office, joined by the Department of Justice's civil rights division, filed the criminal information charging Durden with three different conspiracies to violate individual civil rights and with the illegal possession of a semiautomatic assault rifle that was used to frame one of his victims.

Durden has agreed to plead guilty to all four charges and is expected to enter his guilty plea in federal court on Monday. In the first conspiracy, Durden and fellow CRASH officer Rafael Perez entered into a scheme to fabricate and falsify evidence, file false police reports, make false statements and testify falsely under oath in court to cause Javier Ovando to be unlawfully arrested, convicted and incarcerated.

In his plea agreement, Durden has admitted that, in October 1996, he and Rafael Perez were maintaining an observation post inside an apartment when Ovando entered the apartment. According to Durden, Ovando did not obey Durden's order to show his hands, but instead quickly turned towards Durden. Durden fired one shot and Perez fired three more times, seriously wounding Ovando.

After Durden and Perez realized that Ovando was unarmed, they planted an assault rifle with an obliterated serial number next to Ovando, lied in police reports that Ovando had been armed, caused him to be charged with armed assault on a police officer, and lied in court to support that charge. Based upon their false testimony, Ovando was convicted at trial and sentenced to more than 23 years in prison. The conviction was ultimately overturned.

In the plea agreement, defendant Durden also admitted to a second conspiracy with Perez, in which the two of them framed an individual named Jose Hugo Madrid (ph). Durden and Perez searched Madrid when they came upon him at the William Penn Hotel located at Alvarado and 8th Streets. Though they found no weapon on Madrid, they arrested him, transported him to the Rampart station, prepared false police reports which stated that they had found a fully loaded semiautomatic handgun in his possession and lied in court to support the false weapons charge that had been filed against Madrid. Madrid pled guilty and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

In the third conspiracy in April 1997, Durden and Perez obtained information that two individuals, Jorge Toscano (ph) and Cynthia Diaz (ph) might be involved in selling drugs from their apartment. Durden and Perez entered the apartment and detained Toscano and Diaz, but found no drugs or money. Nevertheless, they arrested Toscano and Diaz, drove them to the Rampart station and threatened them with incarceration if they did not reveal the location of any money hidden in the apartment. When Toscano admitted that he had money hidden in the apartment, Durden and Perez took him and Diaz back to the apartment and ordered him to show them where the money was hidden. According to Durden...

SESNO: You've been listening to a news conference on the latest ripples in the scandal involving the Los Angeles Police Department -- alleged word of corruption there, scandal that's entered a plea agreement -- the latest person involved in this scandal. And we'll be bringing you more details on this story as it develops.

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