By his own account, Javier Francisco Ovando was not one of Los Angeles’ angels.
Ovando was a member of one of the city’s violent street gangs, and thus, had come to the attention of the police before he was shot and critically wounded while unarmed during a confrontation on Oct. 12, 1996.
Four years later, he has become a symbol, authorities say, of what has gone wrong in the nation’s third largest city police force, behind New York and Chicago.
“People in the African-American and Latino communities have been saying for years and years and years that the police plant evidence, that the police are not truthful, and nobody believed them,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rita Walters, who represents District 9, which covers some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
“When the Rampart [case] broke, people said ‘Oh, my God, do the police really do these things?’”
Largely as a result of the case — involving endemic corruption in one Los Angeles Police Department division — the city of Los Angeles is expected as early as next week to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, giving the federal agency sweeping oversight and monitoring powers over the 9,300-member force.
It would be the fourth police force nationwide, after departments in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Steubenville, Ohio, and the New Jersey state police, to agree to federal monitoring since a 1994 law gave the Justice Department greater legal authority to intervene in cases of widespread police corruption or abuse.
The federal government is also in court to bring Columbus, Ohio, under its wing, and has had ongoing discussions with officials in New York City, where the police department has been under fire in recent years following the torture of Abner Louima in a Brooklyn station house and the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx. And in Detroit, Mayor Dennis Archer said last week he sought a federal review of fatal shootings by police in that city.
Officers Charged, Cases Overturned
Ovando’s case is the centerpiece of an investigation into widespread corruption into the Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. The case began unraveling a year ago when Officer Rafael Perez, caught stealing cocaine from police evidence, agreed to testify in what has arguably become Los Angeles’s worst police corruption scandal in decades.
Ovando served three years of a 23-year sentence for assaulting the officers before prosecutors figured out he had been framed and released him last fall (see story below). Perez’s partner, Officer Nino Durden, faces charges of attempted murder of the Honduran immigrant. He has pleaded not guilty.
“God is doing justice now,” Ovando, sitting in a wheelchair, told reporters at a press conference after Durden was arrested in July.
Since the corruption case was made public a year ago, nearly 100 prosecutions in Los Angeles have been overturned or set aside because authorities believe the actions of the arresting officers to be corrupt.
Four other police officers have been charged and dozens of others are currently under investigation for stealing drugs, lying in court and planting evidence in the far-reaching probe. City and federal authorities continue to investigate.
Beginning with the videotaped beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991, the past 10 years have brought an intense of focus on police brutality at the same time crime has dropped dramatically in the United States.